It hasn’t happened in the minors since 1961. The Pacific Coast League hasn’t seen it since 1933. And the major leagues haven’t experienced it since 1941. It’s a .400 season, and Rick Short of the New Orleans Zephyrs is in pursuit.
Short, a Washington Nationals farmhand, is just another feel-good story in the feel-good story of the Nationals’ first season in D.C. He made his major-league debut earlier this season after 11 seasons in the minors. And now he’s trying to join the likes of Aaron Pointer, Ox Eckhardt and Ted Williams.
With a 2-for-3, two-home run performance last night, Short’s at .402 for the season with 17 games to go and enough at bats to qualify for the league batting title, a requirement he reached last night. He’ll have a bit of a challenge in front of him — as if hitting .400 weren’t hard enough, he’ll have to do it as the Zephyrs travel from New Orleans to Omaha (as they did last night), back to New Orleans, on to Oklahoma and then up to Iowa. All without a day off — at least not a team day off; the Zephyrs play those 17 games in the next 17 days.
Aaron Pointer was the last minor-leaguer — and therefore, the last player in affiliated ball — to hit .400 when he batted .402 for the Salisbury Braves of the Western Carolina League in 1961. Though the history of minor-league baseball features several leagues with the same name that have no linear history, the WCL in 1980 became today’s South Atlantic League. Pointer went on to reach the majors in 1963 and was part of the only all-rookie lineup in major-league history. He also had a few sisters who went on to a decent singing career.
Ox Eckhardt played for the San Francisco-based Mission Reds in 1933 when he hit the improbable .414. In 1928, the year before he first played in the Pacific Coast League, Eckhardt scored three touchdowns as a fullback for the New York Giants. He went on to a brief major-league career.
New Orleans plays at Omaha tonight as the Rick Short countdown continues.