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MLB Fields Historic 20,000th Player

The Seattle Mariners' José Godoy became Major League Baseball's 20,000th player when he took the field against the San Diego Padres Friday.
Gregory Bull
The Seattle Mariners' José Godoy became Major League Baseball's 20,000th player when he took the field against the San Diego Padres Friday.

When Seattle Mariners backup catcher José Godoy took the field in San Diego Friday, he made history as Major League Baseball's 20,000th player in 150 years.

Godoy, a 26-year-old from Venezuela, left St. Louis for Seattle last November, originally signing a minor league contract before his invitation to 2021 spring training. When he made his first major league appearance Friday, the Mariners trailed the San Diego Padres 12-1 at the bottom of the sixth inning, ESPN reported.

The crowds didn't erupt with cheers when Godoy crossed the MLB milestone, and the San Diego Padres ultimately swept the Mariners 16-1, but Seattle had prepared for the occasion. The Mariners posted a video skit of Jeopardy! legend Ken Jennings on the team's official Twitter account.

The first known openly professional baseball team was fielded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1869. And Deacon White of the Cleveland Forest Citys recorded the first hit in the history of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, recognized as the first major league, in 1871.

But reports of baseball "mania" go back to at least the 1840s, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. When the Civil War erupted, both sides used baseball as a way to escape from the conflict.

In World War I, 227 major league players served in the military, including future Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Branch Rickey and George Sisler, according to the Hall of Fame. That figure grew to over 500 in World War II, which led to the founding of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to make up for the loss of male players serving in the war. Starting around the 1940s, the U.S. is said to have worked to design grenades in size, shape and weight to closely resemble a baseball.

America's pastime has seen its share of interesting people in its history. Nefarious bank robber John Dillinger played semipro ball before his life of crime and even caught games at Wrigley Field in Chicago while on the run from the FBI. Perhaps the most famous player of all time — the Sultan of Swat, the Great Bambino — Babe Ruth, was reportedly sent to the hospital after eating 12 hot dogs, accompanied by eight bottles of soda, between two games in a double header.

In 2020, the shortened schedule and games played without fans led the 30 teams in the MLB to lose a total of $1.8 billion compared to a profit of $1.5 billion in 2019, according to a Forbes analysis. Empty stadiums across the country later became mass vaccination sites to help bring the country out of the pandemic.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.