The End of June

by Patrick Dubuque

jgDan April was a 38th-round draft choice by the Tampa Bay Rays. He did not pitch in April. He barely pitched at all. He came in relief for a single game of low-A ball, pitched 1.1 innings of scoreless relief, and then immediately quit.

He’s one of the few players to know in advance it’s their last game. For most, even if it’s the end of the season, there’s always one more year, one more spring training to get some balls to fall in, to get that curve breaking. And if it’s a demotion, there’s always a trade, a chance to claw back to the bigs. There’s always hope.

June Greene probably knew it was his last game. If not right away, at least by the end.

The date was July 6, 1929. The Cardinals had lost eleven straight, including the first half of a doubleheader that afternoon. Greene hadn’t pitched in nearly a month, but he had to have an inkling that today would be his day. The Phil’s starter, Claude Willoughby, faced six batters; all six would score. His replacement, Elmer West, faced two and walked them both. The Cardinals scored ten runs before the Phillies got a chance to bat.

Julius Foust “June” Greene was a pinch-hitter/pitcher, an unusual hybrid; at least, if we define people by what they do and not who they are. Having weathered an abyssmal month of June, he’d broken an eleven-game hitless streak that lasted nearly a month and a half. That single hit had brought up his OPS from .284 to .387.  His ERA, after a couple of ugly relief stints in garbage time, stood at nineteen.

Through four innings the Cardinals led fourteen to four, and the Phillies’ third reliever, Luther Roy, was wearing down. After giving up a few hits to start the fifth, the call came in: now, in the most meaningless of games, it was time for June Greene. It was always this time for him. In all 31 games he’d appeared in, his team had lost 29 of them. Some rosters have players who act as good luck charms; in that sense, Greene was the raven.

Greene didn’t have it. We don’t know what he did have, if he ever did; we don’t know what he threw, or how hard, or what the weather was like that day or how many people were in the stands. We don’t know Greene, or what he was like or how he felt or what he was thinking, after every batter, every pitch, his dreams disappearing in front of him.

All we know is this:

4.2 12 11 11 1 3 2

In real life, this game didn’t exist. If it were played on a schoolyard, in its pure form, the players would have quit, or stopped keeping score. But numbers and records don’t reflect the uselessness, don’t understand that we all have to go through motions sometimes. It’s a rare glimpse at the cruelty of baseball: that there is no giving up, no running out the clock, no submission. Greene had to keep pitching just to be allowed to stop pitching.

A game seen by almost no one, one that would best be forgotten, was captured for history. In the eighth, as Greene gave up his second grand slam of the day (itself a shared record), the Cardinals scored their 28th run, a modern-day mark that would stand for nearly eighty years. The Times misspelled his name in the recap, perhaps mercifully.

He played five more years in the minors, lived forty-five. But before that, before the rest of his life, he had one more inning to pitch. In the ninth, his pink slip probably already filled out and waiting in his locker, his team losing 28-5, he retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth. In the bottom half, the Phils put up one, but Greene’s career ended in the on-deck circle.