August 21, 1920: George Ellison
George Ellison's one game in the major leagues, which was 99 years ago today, came in the most trying of circumstances possible. Five days earlier, in a game between his Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees, the Bronx Bombers' Carl Mays beaned Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman in the head. Just 12 hours later, Chapman, a beloved figure on the team and perhaps its best player, died from the injury. He is still the only major league ballplayer to ever die due to an injury sustained in competition.
Mays had a reputation for being a headhunter, so Cleveland and much of the American League threatened to stop playing until the Yankee hurler was no longer allowed to pitch. He was allowed to keep pitching as players and writers debated whether or not the beaning had been intentional. In the team's third game back after Chapman's death, they prepared for a doubleheader with Red Sox. In the first game of the doubleheader, Ellison had his name called in relief. The recent University of California-Berkeley graduate issued two walks, struck a batter out, and coaxed a double-play ball to end the threat. As quickly as his career began, that was it. He stepped off the mound after a clean inning and never returned in a big-league game.
His first big-league appearance was actually his first professional appearance as he didn't log any innings in the minor leagues beforehand. This would be unheard of now, but was relatively common practice back then when the modern farm system hadn't yet been established. Ellison did go down to the minor leagues, playing for the Portland Beavers in 1921 and 1922. There, he went 3-8 with a 5.82 ERA.
Those lackluster results in just 130 innings didn't afford him a chance to keep fighting in his pursuit of a big-league career. However, Cleveland did go on to win the 1920 World Series just a couple months after he appeared in his one MLB game. It was the Indians' first World Series title. The franchise would win just one more in 1948, which is still its most recent championship. Cleveland's active 71-year World Series drought is the longest in the major leagues by 13 years (Texas Rangers entered league in 1961 and have never won a World Series).