A phantom ballplayer can be one of two things:
- Someone who is incorrectly listed in source materials as playing in a Major League Baseball game, often the result of typographical or clerical errors. Most of these types of phantom players date from the 19th or early 20th century, with at least one showing up as late as World War II.
- A player who spent time on an active major league roster, but never actually appeared in a big-league contest.
Phantoms who never were
- Edward L. Thayer supposedly played one game for the George Fair. (19th and early 20th century players sometimes played under assumed names in an attempt to circumvent contractual obligations with another club.)
- Turbot (which is also the name of a fish) was once listed as playing one game for St. Louis in 1902. In his anthology This Great Game, author Roger Angell listed him on his All-Time Fish Names Team and bemoaned the fact Turbot had been dropped from the encyclopedia. ("I don't know what happened to him, but we need him in the outfield.")
- A catcher named Dienens (no first name given) was listed in early baseball encyclopedias as having played one game for the 1914 Chicago Chi-Feds of the Federal League. Later research showed that the game was actually caught by the Chi-Feds regular second-string catcher Clem Clemens—historians reading a handwritten scorecard of the game had incorrectly deciphered "Clemens" as "Dienens".
- Lou Proctor was listed as playing one game for the 1912 St. Louis Browns, drawing a walk in his only plate appearance. Research in the 1980s, however, revealed that the at-bat actually belonged to the Browns' Pete Compton. According to legend, Proctor was actually a Western Union operator who inserted his name into the box score as a prank. However, whether Proctor actually existed—even as a prankish telegraph operator—is unknown.
Real players who never played
- Al Olsen is an unusual example of a verifiable real-life person who never played a major league game, but was included in official major league records for many years. Olsen, a career minor league pitcher, was credited as appearing in one game on May 16, 1943, as a pinch hitter (walking, and then stealing a base) for the Boston Red Sox. But research by the Society for American Baseball Research in the 1980s showed that while Olsen had been with the Red Sox during 1943 spring training, he was released and picked up by San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before the 1943 season began. Olsen pitched on May 15 for San Diego, and given wartime travel restrictions, could not have arrived in Boston for the game the following day. Olsen himself says "It wasn't me. I was a left-handed pitcher. I couldn't hit my hat. Besides, I never played a game in the major leagues." The pinch-hitting appearance probably, but not definitely, belongs to Leon Culberson; it also could have been Johnny Lazor, who wore uniform number 14, the same number Olsen wore in spring training.
- The Sporting Life of February 24, 1906, reported that pitcher Jimmy Whalen sent in a contract to the New York Highlanders, although it is unclear if Whelan ever made the team's active roster once the season was underway. Regardless, he never appeared in a major league game, though he won over 250 games in the minors.
- Pitcher Bill Stewart was on the roster of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, but never played. It's unclear, however, if he was ever on the team's active roster, as he had been injured the previous winter.
- First baseman Jeff Jones was briefly on the Philadelphia A's roster in 1920, but never played. As with several other players of this era, it is not definitively established if Jones was ever actually on the A's active roster during the season.
- Outfielder Lou Almada made the major league roster of the New York Giants out of spring training in 1927, but was hurt just as the season began, and never reached the majors again. In 1933, his brother Mel Almada became the first Mexican to play in the majors.
- Minor league pitching legend Jake Levy was reported in at least one contemporary account to have signed with the New York Giants in September 1927, without ever getting into a game. Peter and Joachim Horvitz' The Big Book of Jewish Baseball, meanwhile, list Levy's stint on the Giants bench as having occurred in 1932. However, whether Levy actually spent any time at all on a Giants' active roster is a matter of some dispute.
- In September 1951, outfielder Bill Sharman spent time on the roster of the Brooklyn Dodgers without getting into a game. Sharman also remains the only player to be ejected from an MLB game without ever actually playing in one, when umpire Frank Dascoli tossed out the entire Dodgers bench for arguing with a call at home plate on September 27, 1951. Sharman is far more notable as a professional basketball player and coach than as a baseball player; he is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
- Pitcher Ed Nottle spent a few days on the 1963 Chicago White Sox active roster. He pitched in a mid-season exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs, and then was returned to the minors.
- Infielder Ike Futch was called up briefly by the Houston Astros in 1966 but did not play in a game due to a knee injury.
- Outfielder Ed Kurpiel was called up by the St. Louis Cardinals in September 1974, but did not appear in a game.
- In September 1977, no fewer than three ballplayers who never played in a major league game served a couple of weeks' time on major league rosters, all of them pitchers: Tom McGough of the Cleveland Indians, Pat Cristelli of the California Angels, and Ed Ricks of the New York Yankees. (Scott McGough, the son of Tom McGough, is currently a minor league pitcher in the Miami Marlins organization.)
- Catcher Harry Saferight made it to the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the last few weeks of September, 1979. but failed to appear in a game. He was the on-deck batter on three different occasions but all three times the Pirates batter ahead of him made the third out of the inning.
- Jamie Werly, the 1981 Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher, was listed on the 1982 New York Yankees opening day roster, but never appeared in a Major League game. Arm soreness prevented him from pitching early in the season, and he was sent down to Triple-A by mid-April.
- The 1983 Kansas City Royals briefly employed two never-needed catchers to back-up regular backstop John Wathan at different times. Duane Dewey was on the roster for two weeks, May 16 to June 1; later, Russ Stephans spent time on the roster from June 29 to July 5.
- Pitcher Mark Leonette was called up by the Chicago Cubs on July 3, 1987 and was sent down on July 11 without making an appearance in a game. He wore #32 while with the club.
- Infielder Armando Moreno spent one day, August 5, 1990, on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster and did not appear in the game.
- Terrel Hansen (OF/1B) was on the active roster for the 1992 New York Mets for two games, April 30 and May 1.
- Outfielder Bruce Dostal spent four games on active roster of the Baltimore Orioles in June 1994. On two consecutive nights, manager Johnny Oates told Dostal he would pinch-run for Harold Baines if Baines reached base; both times, Baines was retired.
- Joel Chimelis (IF/OF) was briefly called up to the San Francisco Giants from June 4–6, 1995. A replacement player who had crossed the picket lines during the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike, Chimelis was unpopular with his Giants teammates as a result of this action (even though other replacement players had and would continue to appear in major league games). After calling a players-only meeting to which Chimelis was not invited, the Giants players threatened to revolt if Chimelis was allowed to play. The Giants management capitulated, and Chimelis was quickly returned to the minors without ever appearing in an MLB game.
- Pitcher Billy Percibal was on the active roster of the Baltimore Orioles for 8 days starting September 21, 1995. However, the roster move was clearly simply a favour to Percibal—he was recovering from bone spur surgery he had undergone just two days prior, and was not about to pitch in a major league game at that time.
- Pitcher Jesus Martinez, brother of major league pitchers Pedro Martinez and Ramon Martinez, spent time on the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers in September, 1997.
- Outfielder Luke Wilcox was briefly called up by the New York Yankees in 2000, but never appeared in a game. He wore #50 with the Yankees.
- Pitcher Jeff Urban was on the San Francisco Giants active roster from April 26–30, 2003 and from August 1–2 later that year. He didn't make an appearance either stint.
- Catcher David Parrish, son of Tiger great Jorge Posada was hit in the face with a ball during a game. Parrish never got into a game, however. He wore #57 during his short stint as a Yankee.
- Catcher Tim Gradoville appeared on Philadelphia Phillies active roster for 18 days in September 2006.
- Pitcher Rule V Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays; sold by the Rays to the Chicago Cubs; released by the Cubs; signed by the Phillies; and then returned to the Twins rather than keeping him on the major league roster (which was a condition of being a Rule V draft pick.) Lahey managed to do all this without ever throwing a pitch in regular season play for any other organization than the Twins.
- Pitcher Luis Munoz spent two games in July, 2008 on the active roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates. His fate was probably sealed before he ever arrived, with Pirates general manager Neal Huntington saying of his call-up to the majors: "I would not anticipate Luis being here for an extended period of time. It was a step short of desperation." Two days after his arrival, Munoz was removed from the Pirates roster and designated for assignment. He was eventually sent to the farm system of the Seattle Mariners.
- Catcher Brian Jeroloman† was on the active roster of the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays for the final 37 days of the season, but never got into a game.
- Pitcher Jason Rice was on the active roster of the Oakland Athletics beginning on September 1, 2011 after being acquired from the Boston Red Sox organization. However, he was claimed off of waivers by Cleveland on September 6 and was assigned to AAA Columbus without making a major league appearance.
- Catcher José Yépez† was called up by the Seattle Mariners on June 29, 2011 but was sent down on July 6 without making an appearance in a game. He wore #35 while with the Mariners.
- Pitcher Michael Antonini† was on the active roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 from April 24 to April 27 and May 28 to May 29.
- Pitcher Marcus Walden† was on the active roster of the Toronto Blue Jays from April 5-9, 2014, but did not appear in a game.
- Frank De Los Santos† and Arnold Leon† also became phantom players during the 2014 season. De Los Santos was on the active roster of the Chicago White Sox from May 3-4, 2014. Leon was on the active roster of the Oakland Athletics from May 7-8, 2014.
- Pitcher Aaron Northcraft† was on the active roster of the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the 2014 season, but did not appear.
† denotes an active professional baseball player who could lose his status in the future if he returns to the major leagues and appears in a game.
- Pitcher Larry Yount, older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, appeared in one game for the Houston Astros in 1971, but due to an injury he suffered while warming up, never actually faced a batter.
- SS/2B Chet Trail was the only player ever who was eligible to be on a postseason roster, but who never appeared in a regular season or postseason game. Trail was the 25th player for the 1964 New York Yankees during the season under a special 1964 rule permitting one bonus player to play in the minors while being charged to the 25-man roster. Baseball commissioner Ford Frick ruled that Trail was eligible for the Yankees World Series roster, however he was never formally activated, and did not actually appear in the series.
- Pitcher Brian Mazone was to start a game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006, but the game was rained out and the Phillies never even activated him to their roster. He spent the rest of his career, which ended in 2010, in the minors. "That's a tough thing to shake," Mazone said. "I was getting called up by the Phillies in 2006 to make a start [replacing Randy Wolf], and the game got rained out and they sent me back down without activating me. Randy came up to me here and apologized. Not that he did anything wrong, he just felt bad."
- Berkow, Ira (1990-01-31). "Sports of the Times; The Ghost Who Batted For Boston - New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- "Pirates promote Munoz; Cleveland claims Bulllington." www.post-gazette.com, 2008-07-10. Retrieved 2013-01-07.