Every Major League baseball player remembers his first at-bat like it was yesterday. He can tell you about the feeling of walking up to the plate, of hearing the crowd, of watching the pitcher wind up, and of course the feeling of that first pitch coming in.
Adam Greenberg had that moment on the night of July 9, 2005. Called up from the minor leagues that very day, Greenberg put on the uniform of the Chicago Cubs, took his seat on the bench and waited until the ninth inning when the manager told him he was pinch hitting.
The very first Major League pitch he ever faced was a 92 MPH fastball that struck him squarely on the helmet. The sound of the impact was sickening, and Greenberg collapsed in agony.
He was immediately sent down to the minors for rehab, but symptoms of vertigo and post-concussion syndrome set him back to the point where he never again reached the level where he was deemed ready for the majors.
Seven years have passed and Greenberg still dreams of playing in the majors. He is playing at the lowest level of the minor leagues, but will be on the Israeli team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
One person intimately familiar with the Greenberg story is sports filmmaker (and crazed Cubs fan) Matt Liston. Liston watched that game on TV and the image of Greenberg writhing on the ground is one he has never forgotten.
Liston believes baseball’s official rules have been unkind to Greenberg. He is designated as having been a Major League Baseball player, but, because he was hit by a pitch, he does not have an official MLB at-bat to his credit.
Though not a PR professional by trade, Liston ought to be. He started a petition on Change.org asking any MLB team to give Greenberg a chance to have one at bat. He also launched a Web site, oneatbat.com, to tell Greenberg’s story and to solicit signatures for the petition.
This is the time of year when clubs can increase their rosters by 15 players, so Liston argues it wouldn’t be a huge deal to give one deserving guy one at-bat in a meaningless situation.
Liston’s petition and the Adam Greenberg story have captured the attention of both fans and press alike. The petition has over 17,000 signatures. Liston has used his camera to record interviews with numerous MLB players, all of whom say they would gladly give up an at-bat to give Greenberg his overdue shot.
The Greenberg “one at- bat” story has garnered a significant amount of earned media, having been picked up by NBC, CBS, ESPN, the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune and dozens of other media outlets.
Liston’s efforts are a perfect example of what happens when you mix passion, a great cause, the use of video, and word-of-mouth to tell your story. Even if you are a PR amateur, if you have a great story to tell, you tell it in a human and powerful way and you get that story in front of a targeted audience, you can spread your message like wildfire.
That’s the brilliant PR part of the story.
Here comes the other side.
As of September 10, the Chicago Cubs were 54-86, 29.5 games out of first place and long ago eliminated from any shot at the playoffs. This is the same Cubs franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908.
It is pretty fair to say the Cubs fan base could use a feel good moment. It’s also pretty fair to say the Chicago Cubs organization is in desperate need of some positive PR. Such a PR opportunity has been dropped in their lap.
The team is well aware of the Greenberg story and they are exceedingly aware of the petition and the publicity that petition has been getting. Putting Greenberg into the lineup, giving him his long-awaited “one at-bat,” would produce a wealth of good will in a season that has sorely been lacking in feel-good moments.
Remarkably, rather than embrace the Greenberg story, the Cubs issued this cold statement:
“Adam made the big leagues based on merit in 2005,” Chicago GM Jed Hoyer said in a statement. “While it is unfortunate he got hit in his first at bat, he is in the Baseball Encyclopedia as a major leaguer and he should be incredibly proud of that. We wish him the best, but there are no plans to add him to the roster now or in the future.”
What should have been a no-brainer— from a PR point of view— could turn into a major headache for the Cubs organization. A little flexibility, a little spontaneity could go a long way.
While fans are loyal, their loyalty can’t be taken for granted. In case the Cubs haven’t noticed, there’s another team in Chicago, the White Sox, who just happen to reside in first place in their division.
There’s still time. The Cubs should step up to the plate and let Adam Greenberg do the same.
– Jon Gelberg
Follow Jon @Jon_Gelberg