Courtesy Players: In a More Genteel Time

"Now in the game temporarily as a courtesy runner for Wile E. Coyote at first base, it's...." ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Productions

“Now in the game temporarily as a courtesy runner for Wile E. Coyote at first base, it’s….”
~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. Productions


Courtesy Players

From a manual count of the list recorded on Retrosheet, we found 98 instances in which courtesy runners were legally permitted in MLB baseball history, dating back to the first confirmed time on 8/01/1877 in the St. Louis at Louisville game. The last legitimate use of a courtesy runner happened on 7/02/1949 in a game played between the St. Louis Browns at the Cleveland Indians.

Courtesy runners were banned from the game prior to the 1950 season, but the new rule apparently was “forgotten” one more time when a 99th and illegal instance slipped by the memories of both the officials and club management in a 8/10/1952 doubleheader that featured the Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh. This time, permission was granted for the use of of a “courtesy fielder.”

“In the top of the ninth of the second game of a twin bill, Pirates catcher Clyde McCullough was injured and could not continue. The Pirates two other catchers, Eddie Fitzgerald and Joe Garagiola, had already been used in the game as pinch hitters. With the approval of Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta, Fitzgerald was allowed to replace McCullough. The Cubs won the game 4-3. Under the playing rules in effect since the 1950 season, that was an illegal substitution that the umpires should not have allowed.” – Retrosheet.

Courtesy Mid-Play Runners

Retrosheet also reports two instances since the legal end of normal base-to-base courtesy running was “almost” totally eliminated in 1950 in which courtesy runners were allowed at mid-play points in which a runner incurred a serious debilitating injury. Here’s the verbatim report from Retrosheet on those two examples:


9/7/1977 (Brewers at Angels) – In the bottom of the 6th, Bobby Bonds was on 2nd base with one out and attempted a steal of third. Catcher Charlie Moore’s throw hit Bonds in the head, sending him to the hospital. The ball ricocheted out of play, but Bonds couldn’t make the trip home. Instead, substitute runner Gary Nolan (a pitcher) scored the run.

9/14/2005 (Red Sox at Blue Jays) – In the top of the 5th, Gabe Kapler was on first when Tony Graffanino hit a deep fly ball near the line in left that Kapler thought might be in play, so he started running hard. As he rounded second base, he ruptured his left Achilles tendon and sprawled on to ground. The ball went over the fence for a homer, but Graffanino wisely stopped at second base while Kapler was attended to. After many minutes, Kapler was loaded onto a cart and taken off the field. Alejandro Machado, appearing in his 4th Major League game, entered as a pinch-runner and scored his first Major League run in front of Graffanino.

~ Retrosheet.


It’s amazing in itself that the mid-play need for a courtesy runner only came up twice – and that both instances only arose after the general practice ban in 1950. In general, one might expect that mid-play running injuries would have happened far more often than twice in 120-130 years of official play. Perhaps other examples are either awaiting discovery, or else, they now find themselves buried beyond hope of any recorded discovery among the facts available for some of those ancient games.

Courtesy Relief for Defensive Players

Although courtesy replacements for offensive players were far more common in the history of courtesy player use, it’s not hard to see the rule coming into play for the aid of defensive players, going all the way back to the Elysian Fields days of the 1840s, even if evidence is not present to confirm it.

Common sense prevails where factual proof is unobtainable. If you have ever played in a summer amateur league in some of the places that are available, you will know that what we say here is true.

Imagine the games at Elysian Fields of New Jersey back in the 1845 Cartwright Rules and Knickerbocker Club days. Imagine further a time or two there when a defensive player may have plead his case for nature-call mercy at the start of an inning because of all the beer he consumed coming over from Manhattan across the Hudson River. Under those most dire circumstances, surely somebody would have been allowed to temporarily “fill in” on the field for a few minutes as the pleader attended to the “un-filling” of his bursting bladder.

The Pecan Park Eagle loves the fact that we have historians who care enough about the game of baseball to gather this massive and still ongoing bank of data on a subject like the arcane history of the courtesy player. And why not? It too is part of baseball history. It too is simply another of the many ingredients that have gone into making baseball “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Keep the faith, friends. Each day you hear from The Pecan Park Eagle is also another day closer to Opening Day!



eagle-0range Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas





One Response to “Courtesy Players: In a More Genteel Time”

  1. Cliff Blau Says:

    The Fitzgerald case isn’t a courtesy fielder, it’s re-entry, which has been against the MLB rules since 1876. There are at least four other times this happened, though.

    The mid-play runners aren’t courtesy runners; they were actual pinch-runners substituting for a player who was removed from the game.

    Cute cartoon.

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