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Rick Robinson: Cincinnati Reds' "Moonlight" Greene Recalls Sole Appearance in Majors

Written by Rick Robinson, RCN contributor

Like many baseball fans, I feel myself jonesing for baseball – the smell of fresh cut grass, the crack of the bat and snap of a ball hitting a leather glove.  Instead, I find myself watching a whole bunch of baseball movies and listening to simulated games on Josh Lewin’s podcast of The Throwback League. 

One of the classic movies I have watched a few times this year is Field of Dreams, where a farmer builds a baseball diamond in his corn field for a bunch of dead baseball players. Yeah, I know. When it is put in those terms, it sounds kind of silly. But, when the Lord takes me from this earth, I sincerely want James Earl Jones to attend and read his speech on the importance of baseball.

Part of the movie surrounds Kevin Costner’s character searching for a guy named Archie “Moonlight” Graham. A baseball player turned small-town doctor, Graham played in precisely one game, but never got an at bat. The story of Moonlight Graham was real. He played ball and appeared in one major league game. 

In baseball parlance, getting to the Show for one appearance is often referred to as a “Cup of Coffee.”

This past week, I had the opportunity to talk with Rick Greene – a lanky 6’5” right-hander who had his Cup of Coffee in 1999 with the Cincinnati Reds. Rick Greene is our Moonlight Graham.

When Louisiana State University won the College World Series in 1991, Greene was on the mound for the final out. His college effort earned him a first-round draft pick as the Detroit Tigers chose him 16th overall. However, before he would join up with the Tigers, there was the Olympics in Barcelona. Cuba won the gold medal that year and Greene earned a trip to the hospital with a torn ACL.

His career for the Tigers never went too far beyond Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida and Greene ended up being the “player to be named later” in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. While he was in the Brewers' farm system, he learned how to throw a split-finger pitch. Suddenly, his numbers improved, and he started to move up in their system. Yet the call from the Brewers’ home office never came.

At the end of the 1998 season, he was approached by Dave Miley of the Reds, who said if Greene did not re-sign with the Brewers, the Reds were interested. The next year, with a wife and twin babies, he was living in Indianapolis.

Reds skipper “Trader Jack” McKeon had seen Greene pitch in a split squad game during spring training. He must have liked what he saw because in June, Greene got the call to come to Cincinnati and join the 40-man roster.

“It was everything they talked about in Bull Durham,” Greene told me. “But more. We were staying in a fancy hotel. People were carrying our bags. Heck, it may have been the first time the twins slept in real wooden cribs.”

On June 19, 1999, Greene’s Olympic teammate Ron Vallone took the mound for the Reds against the Brewers. Vallone got shellacked in the first. As Greene had been pitching short relief in Indianapolis, he was as shocked as anyone when Don Gullett tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey rook. Get warmed up.”

Vallone had given up six runs in 1/3 of an inning when Greene made his way to the mound at Cinergy Field. Like most pitchers, he remembers every pitch of the game. He started a little rocky but got out of the first inning thanks to a Barry Larkin-to-Pokey Reese-to-Sean Casey double play.

When he got to the dugout, Johnny Bench met him at the steps. Bench had been retired for years, but occasionally dressed out for games. Even though Eddie Taubensee was catching, Bench started talking to Greene like the Hall of Famer was still behind the plate. “Calm down, rook”, Greene recalls Bench saying. “Deep breaths. You deserve to be here.”

At the end of each inning, people kept asking Greene how he was feeling. “Being a closer, I hadn’t thrown this many pitches in over a decade,” Greene said. “But I also remember thinking this may be my only time on an MLB mound. I wasn’t about to tell anyone my arm was hurting.”

In the end, Greene went 5 and 2/3rd and threw 95 pitches. At the plate, he struck out twice. Despite a 10-1 loss, Joe Nuxhall interviewed him as the "Red of the Game", earning him a $50 gift certificate to Montgomery Inn.

A couple of days later, when Greene showed up at the Astrodome for a road series against Houston, pitcher Stan Belinda was already in the locker room. Greene knew instinctively that his trip to The Show was about to come to an end. Before he left, he did join in on the celebration of Hal Morris’s tenth anniversary in the big leagues. “They passed around a bottle of Jack Daniels and we all took a swig,” Greene remembered.

It was a tough finish for the Reds in 1999. A one-game playoff against the New York Mets kept them out of the wildcard spot. When the team got a bonus for playing the game, even though Greene never made it back up, the players voted him a share.

Today, Rick Greene is well known around Baton Rouge, Louisiana for his business ventures and for founding the 2 Seam Dream Foundation, a charity that raises money to fight cancer. 

When I interviewed Greene, I forgot to ask his MLB nickname. I think “Moonlight” Greene has a nice ring to it!

See Rick Robinson's books here.