(I used to do this series back in the earlier days of this of the blog and have decided to bring it back. The basics are simple: I started following the Braves in 1991. In the nearly 30 years since, a lot of players have come through and wore a Braves uniform. Using a random number generator, I find a year from that sample and, after running the generator again, find a player to profile.)
2001 – Cory Aldridge
In the movie Field of Dreams, we learned about Moonlight Graham, a real player who, in 1905, appeared in one game with the New York Giants. He never got an at-bat as he was on deck when Claude Elliott flew out to end the top of the ninth. During his time in the outfield, not one ball was hit his way. The film gets much of the details wrong – for example, it wasn’t the end of the season, but a game in June. But we like that story regardless of the details. We enjoy weird little oddities like a player who played in one game during his major league career and never got an at-bat.
Cory Aldridge wasn’t quite like that. He got eighteen at-bats in his career. But he also carries a weird little oddity – just one hit. Okay, so that’s not super weird and notable, but one thing that does make it a little interesting is that it took 3,213 days – or nearly nine years – for Aldridge to get his first major league hit following that first at-bat. Or 277 billion seconds if you really love numbers.
Cory was born into a sports family. His father, Jerry, was a running back who played at Angelo State, where he was a 1978 First-Team All-American. The next year, the 49ers took him with the 119th pick of the draft. For you 49ers fans, that was the year the team took both Joe Montana and Dwight Clark. In 1980, Aldridge had his own Moonlight Graham moment when he played one game but didn’t get a rush or a pass thrown at him. He spent one year in the USFL, playing for the Oakland Invaders, before his football career came to a close.
A star at Cooper High School in Abilene, Texas, Cory was picked in the 4th round of the ’97 draft by the Atlanta Braves. While he would never get a lot of recognition as a big-time prospect, the Braves treated him like one. Quickly, he moved up the ladder. After a pair of years in rookie ball, he impressed onlookers in Macon and Myrtle Beach over the next two years. While he struck out a good amount, he was lauded for defensive skills, good speed, and plenty of pop.
In 2001, he opened some eyes during camp with a torrid spring. Sometimes, that can go a long way to impressing a manager enough to call on you when the time comes. Aldridge kept up his end of the bargain with a good season in Greenville, hitting .246/.323/.423 with 19 homers and 12 steals. Once September hit, Bobby Cox and the Braves called on Aldridge for a cup of coffee in the bigs.
His third appearance came on September 21st. In terms of games, only four games had transpired since his last appearance. But in terms of days, it was twelve. Obviously, the events of September 11 had put baseball, along with life, on pause as we collectively tried to recover from what happened in New York, Washington, and Shanksville. Aldridge was on the field for the first sporting event in New York since that horrific day. In the 8th inning, Julio Franco walked with two outs against John Franco. Aldridge was inserted as a pinch-runner and moved up to second base following a single by Chipper Jones. Armando Benitez got the call and Brian Jordan delivered a tiebreaking double to score Aldridge and put the Braves up 2-1. It’d be the only time Aldridge crossed home plate in the majors.
Of course, the events of the bottom half of the 8th are what we remember as Mike Piazza hit a two-run homer to give a city desperate for something to cheer about exactly what it needed.
Aldridge played five more times before the end of the season, striking out in his first major league at-bat the following day. On September 6, he batted four times in his only start and received a hat trick. Eight games, five at-bats, four strikeouts. But it was a taste of the majors for Aldridge. With that out of the way, there was an expectation he would compete for a fourth outfielder role in 2002.
Unfortunately for him, playing an inning in right field on the final day of the season was the last time he played for the major league team that drafted him. The following year, a shoulder surgery limited him to just 17 games of rehab in the Gulf Coast League. In 2003, it was obvious that something was wrong with Aldridge. His arm strength hadn’t returned and his hitting only suffered despite a return to Double-A. After a similar start to 2004 – again in the Southern League – Aldridge was released nearly seven years after the Braves drafted him. In another oddity of his career, Aldridge never played in Triple-A for the Braves.
Shortly after that, the Royals came calling. Surprisingly, this was before Dayton Moore’s early run in KC when he turned the organization into Atlanta-Midwest. Aldridge finished up with 18 homers and surprisingly-improved plate discipline in 79 games to close out 2004. It earned him a second year in the system and he hammered the ball at Double-A, hitting 27 homers in Wichita. He even got a taste of Triple-A, though he struggled over 24 games there.
After a small run with the Mets in 2006 and a year-and-a-half in the White Sox organization, it looked like Aldridge may have reached the end. He was about to quit when a former teammate gave him a call and asked if he wanted to join him with the Somerset Patriots in independent ball. At first, Aldridge balked at going to independent ball, thinking he was too good for that, but he got some good advice. If you’re going to quit, at least quit on a positive note.
Aldridge would play in Somerset, but not until much later. Instead, he found a home in Newark with the Bears and he crushed it for them, hitting .365/.440/.565 with seven dongs in 62 games. That kind of dominance opens some eyes and Aldridge re-joined Kansas City for the rest of the year, playing in Double-A once again. The following year, he was named their Triple-A Player of the Year with a .316/.361/.582 slash and 22 homers. However, it didn’t earn him a shot in the majors.
It was disheartening for Aldridge, who saw a team in the midst of another terrible year making the choice they couldn’t use him in any way.
In 2010, he considered going overseas and trying to make money there, but stayed stateside after the Angels offered a spot for him in spring training. He impressed the Angels during camp, leading them in OPS. He believed he had done enough to make the roster after Mike Scioscia made it a point that he would keep the best 25 players and it didn’t matter who they were. Aldridge thought he showed he should be on that final list. But instead, he was assigned to Triple-A despite a 1.202 OPS in 38 at-bats.
Through it all, even though he was now 31 and had been in the game for over a decade, Aldridge kept at it. He got off to a great start in Salt Lake for the Angels and stayed ready. As he attended his brother’s wedding on the day before Independence Day, he got the call that he had waited for since 2001. With his family around for the wedding, he let them know he was headed back to the bigs. The next day, on July 4th, he appeared in his first game since October 7, 2001. He went 0-for-2 and 0-for-4 the next day as he started in right field. Three days later, another 0-ffer. He was now 0-for-14 in his major league career.
Finally, on July 10, the stars aligned. The Angels were getting completely rocked by the A’s. By the time he replaced Bobby Abreu for the bottom of the sixth, the A’s were leading 13-0. In the 8th, Ross Wolf came on for Oakland. With two outs, Brandon Wood extended the inning with a seeing-eye single. That brought up Aldridge. Wolf quickly got ahead of him 1-2 and was looking for his third K. But Aldridge had other plans, lifting a long fly ball to left field.
The left fielder Matt Watson had a bead on the ball, but couldn’t make the leaping catch. It rebounded away from Watson and Aldridge never stopped running, pulling into third base with a triple that scored Wood. It wasn’t the start of a rally – Oakland won 15-1. Nevertheless, after nearly nine years and over a thousand games in the minors, Aldridge finally had a major league hit.
Unlike what you see with young stars who get their first hit, there was no big celebration. Everyone just assumed the veteran and former member of the Braves had popped a few hits in his time. After being stranded on third, he grabbed his glove and went to play right field while trying not to cry from being overwhelmed by the moment – even if he was the only person in the stadium acknowledging it.
The next day, Aldridge got another start and he went 0-for-3. Soon after, he was sent back to Triple-A. It would be the end of his major league career.
After finishing up a tremendous campaign in Salt Lake, Aldridge played in Mexico, Korea, and had another stop in Salt Lake along a short run in the Blue Jays’ organization. He also finally played for Somerset in 2013, including a three-homer game in Game 3 of the Atlantic League Championship Series. The third homer was a walk-off bomb.
Following a brief run in Monterrey in 2015, Aldridge’s career has come to a close. He’s looking for work in the “real world” along with being a hitting instructor. You follow his quite active twitter account for updates.
In parts of 19 seasons, Cory Alridge played in a shade over 2000 games when you include winter and foreign leagues. And while his major league stat line of 1-for-18 in 13 games with nine strikeouts probably won’t ever be part of a trivia answer, it’s hard not to feel inspired by his story. It would have been so easy to give up, but Aldridge persevered. He kept pushing himself to have a big major league moment.
No, it didn’t take place in Game Seven of the World Series with two strikes, the bases loaded, and down by three like we dream it up in our heads as kids. It came in a blowout in the middle of summer at a mostly empty Oakland Coliseum. And while it meant the world to him, nobody else even knew about it at the time. Still, most of us would do anything to be in his shoes and feel what he felt on that night while getting crushed by the A’s.