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A Bottomless Cup of Coffee

If you riffle pastthe Alous and just beyond the Boyers in The Baseball Encyclopedia, pausingbefore the Conigliaros and the DiMaggios, you'll find a major league baseballfamily almost as big as any of them, the two sets of Boyle brothers: Jack andEddie and their nephews Buzz and Jim. Of those Cincinnatians, Jimmie Boyle hadthe shortest professional career--indeed, the shortest possible professionalcareer--playing a single inning of a single game for the New York Giants at thePolo Grounds 80 years ago this summer.

And while morethan 900 men have appeared in one--and only one--game in the majors, Boyle didso without ever setting foot in the minors. "Not on the way up," sayshis son, Patrick, "and not on the way down."

It's anextraordinary trick, like painting one fresco on the Sistine ceiling without aladder, but Jimmie Boyle remains an elusive figure, a less-celebrated versionof Moonlight Graham, who made one appearance for the same Giants--and the samemanager, John McGraw--in 1905.

Graham gainedglobal fame when Burt Lancaster played him in Field of Dreams. Boyle wasfleetingly famous after graduating from Xavier in 1926, when he promptly joinedthe Giants for $250 a month, his every workout breathlessly chronicled in TheNew York Times, in which Boyle shared the sports pages with Ty Cobb and BabeRuth, Bobby Jones and Bill Tilden.

There were 40,000fans at the Polo Grounds on June 20, 1926, to see the Giants host the Pirates.Before the top of the ninth, with the home team down 8--0 and Sunday-afternoonshadows playing across the field, McGraw removed catcher Paul Florence. As theTimes reported the next day, "Jim Boyle from Xavier College got behind thebat." It was after 5 p.m. when Boyle crouched to catch Chick Davies, alefty who would lead the National League in saves that season. The Pirates wentdown without a score, and Boyle didn't bat in the bottom of the inning. And yetthat three-out career was less a cup of coffee than a shot of espresso: Itnever left his system.

In July, stillmoldering on the bench behind Florence, Boyle wrote to his parents from St.Louis. "To the best mother in all this big world," he began, beforemarveling at his good fortune to "realize an ambition that I have harboredsince birth." That ambition was to play in the big leagues. The letter wassigned "James" and dated July 24, 1926. Beneath the date, in impeccablescript, Boyle proudly affixed, "New York Giants."

You can almost seehim in his room, fountain pen in hand. Boyle's roommate on the road was HeinieMueller. Twenty-five seasons later, Heinie's nephew Don would break his anklesliding into third just before Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard Round the Worldat those same Polo Grounds.

Boyle's son,Patrick, now 65 and retired in Reno, says, "Dad was a typical Cincinnatian.They go away for two weeks and get homesick. I think he knew he'd be assignedto the minors the next season, and the minors were not his thing." JimmieBoyle wore bespoke suits and buffed his nails. He'd play in the big leagues ornot at all.

A dozen years agoPatrick bought a ball signed by 25 members of the '26 Giants from a New Yorkdealer for $1,500. There were six Hall of Famers on that baseball, but Patricktreasured only one signature: jimmie boyle in a clear, bold hand.

"We get lotsof calls from folks looking for Mel Ott and John McGraw autographs," ownerJohn Brigandi of Brigandi Coin Co. told Sports Collectors Digest in 1994,"but this has to be the first one looking for a Jimmie Boyleautograph."

It wasn't thelast. For several years one of Jimmie's daughters, Ann Burns of Cincinnati,received letters from a young baseball-crazed doctor in Madison, Ala., seekinganything signed by Jimmie Boyle. Three summers ago he pulled into her driveway."I gave him a class assignment from third grade with Dad's signature at thetop," says Burns. "It was all I could find, he's been dead solong."

Jimmie Boyle diedof leukemia on Christmas Eve of 1958. His brief appearance at the Polo Groundsled his obituary in The Cincinnati Enquirer: "Requiem High Mass for JamesJ. Boyle, 54, former major league baseball player and for 26 years salesmanager for Aluminum Industries, Inc., will be intoned at 9:30 a.m. Saturday inSt. Antoninus Church." The story noted that Boyle left a wife, Clare; ason, Patrick; and two recently married daughters, Ann Burns and JaneRushin.

It was my mother'sstories about her father that first sent me to The Baseball Encyclopedia at ourlocal library, where I happily got lost in the sports stacks. They looked likeskyscrapers--unscalable--to a 10-year-old dreaming of a life in sports.

To this day,people say I look like my grandfather.

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More than 900 men have appeared in only one game in themajors, but Boyle did it without ever setting foot in the minors. Not on theway up and not on the way down.