Ray Peters: The Modern Moonlight Graham
“Moonlight” Graham, best remembered as the tragic figure in the movie Field of Dreams, was a real baseball player, who really did get into only one major league game in his entire career without recording an at-bat. Unfortunately he is just one of many players whose major league career was measured in hours instead of base hits, home runs, and innings. Pitcher Ray Peters lasted all of two innings in the majors, but it was something he’ll never forget.
The lanky right-handed Peters was a first-round pick of the Seattle Pilots out of Harvard University in 1969. He was a highly-regarded amateur, having been drafted four times previously, but electing to finish his college education before starting a baseball career.
Peters was a hard thrower. Norm Shepard, his coach at Harvard, once said, “A pitcher like Ray comes along just once in a while. He was one that could throw the ball by the hitter. You don’t get a real stopper like Ray every day.” He finished with a college record of 17-5.
The 1969 Pilots were a 64-win team and their pitching staff was led by the immortal Gene Brabender. Peters was seen as a potential savior for the floundering expansion team. He dominated in the minors after signing, going a combined 12-4 with a 2.98 ERA between three levels.
Peters struggled in 1970, posting a 5.08 combined ERA in the minors. However, he was brought up for his MLB debut with Milwaukee (the Pilots moved from Seattle and became the Brewers) in early June.
On June 4th, Peters toed the rubber of a major league mound for the first time. He started against the Cleveland Indians, but was removed after two innings, having forfeited six hits, three walks and four runs—a performance that earned him the loss.
Despite the inauspicious debut, Peters was given another five days later against the Detroit Tigers. He allowed a single to Dick McAuliffe, walked Elliott Maddox, and then walked eventual Hall of Famer Al Kaline, before being lifted, without having recorded an out. All three base runners went on to score and the Brewers succumbing 8-3, with Peters being tagged with another loss.
Peters was demoted back to the minors after his two starts. Sadly, he never pitched in the major leagues again. He pitched in the minors through the 1971 season before calling it a career. He had a 22-23 minor league record with a 4.50 ERA. In addition to his two major league losses, he also had a 31.50 ERA, giving up seven hits and five walks in two innings. More information about his career statistics is available here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/peterra01.shtml.
Albeit brief, Peters enjoyed his time in baseball. He shared some of his memories with me and clearly has few regrets about the opportunity he was given, which isn’t something every pro player can say.
Ray Peters Questionnaire:
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jimmy Reese, by far. Google him.
What was the strangest play you ever saw as a player?: Bases loaded and I’m pitching. The batter hits a line drive between my legs (I never touched the ball). The ball ricocheted into the third base dugout without passing third base. No one touched it, so it was a foul ball! I struck the guy out and ended the inning!
What type of pitches did you throw, and which was your best pitch?: Fastball, slider, curve and changeup. Depending on the day, the fastball or curve was my best pitch.
If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: Be injury free!
What else would you like us to know?: I played with and against some interesting guys. One of my first roomies in pro ball was Tom Kelly, former manager of the Twins and a very nice guy. My catcher at Portland was John Felske, former manager of the Phillies, and my catcher at Eugene was “Stump” Merrill, former manager of the Yankees.
Though my major league career was a matter of days, I was fortunate to pitch against my childhood batting heroes. Al Kaline was my favorite right-handed batter and Vada Pinson my favorite left-handed hitter. I walked Kaline and got Pinson (who should be in the Hall of Fame) to fly out, after singling in his first at bat.
Luck plays a great part in sports. In my two innings I gave up only singles, four of which were broken-bat bloops. Against Detroit, I walked two and one batter got a single. I was taken out with the bases loaded and no runs in, and the reliever comes in and gives up a grand slam home run, and I’m sent to the minors! That’s life.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew.