January 29, 1890: Ed Conwell
Born a true Chicago boy, Ed Conwell couldn't possibly know that he would one day betray his hometown by playing with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. It was clear from an early age, though, that baseball was his sport and he would stop at nothing to reach the sport's highest level of competition. That path was more muddied in his day as he worked his way up during the early 1900s, but he caught on with the Class-D Portsmouth Cobblers at just 19 years old.
In his first professional season, he recorded just 19 hits in 118 at bats, good (in the most general sense of the word) for a .161 batting average. Remarkably, the young, raw talent was brought back for a second season in 1910 and went 98-for-471, which gave him a .208 batting average over a much greater sample size. Somehow, a switch flipped in 1911 with Portsmouth as he figured out how to hit professional pitching. Conwell went 160-for-523, a drastic improvement all the way up to a .306 batting average. He was so impressive, in fact, that the St. Louis Cardinals decided to give him a shot in September as the season wound to a close.
On September 22 at Robison Field in St. Louis, the Cardinals hosted the New York Giants, who were running away with the National League pennant. Fred Merkle, whose "boner" mistake had cost the Giants the 1908 pennant to the Cubs, was in the Giants' starting lineup at first base. Conwell was part of a double switch, which saw him go in defensively at third base after Denney Willie pinch hit for starting third baseman Wally Smith.
Luckily for Conwell, he stayed in the game long enough to get one major-league at bat under his belt. Unfortunately, Conwell couldn't muster much of anything and struck out. He was later replaced in the game by Mike Mowrey and had to watch the rest of the game from the bench. As it turned out, the game was a thriller. St. Louis, down three runs with six outs to go, rallied for one in the eighth and two in the ninth to send the game to extra innings tied 3-3. However, New York scratched a run across in the top of the 10th and won 4-3.
That was the last action Conwell would see and even given the short sample size, it was unsure whether or not he would get a chance again. He spent the next three years at Portsmouth trying to prove himself, never hitting below .292 for a single season. Conwell moved up to the Class-B Waco Navigators in 1915 and he played there for the next three years. His batting average steadily dropped each year from .281 to .245 to .227 and it was clear his career was drawing to a close. He barely played in 1918 and despite hitting .318 (149-for-469) at Class-B Evansville, he decided it was time to hang them up.
All in all, Conwell was nearly a .300 lifetime hitter in the minor leagues, but all that got him was one at bat at the game's highest level. He achieved his dream, but only for a moment, bringing up the age-old question: is it better to have played in the majors and left quickly or to never have played in the majors at all?