In 1949, writer Ogden Nash wrote “Line-Up for Yesterday”, a poem that paid tribute to some of the greatest ballplayers in history up to that point by going through the alphabet. Three letters did not have representation:
- I, which was used as a joking reference to himself writing the poem.
- Z, for zenith, as a way of saying that these players were the top of the game.
- And, of course… X, because there weren’t any ballplayers with a last name starting in X. To make up for it, he just paid tribute to Jimmie Foxx.
Time has gone on, and, well, there still isn’t an MLB ballplayer with an X starting their last name. But, I was wondering- are there any candidates for it? After all, there are a lot of baseball players, and those players come from an increasing number of countries, some of which have different languages where having an X at the start of your name is more common.
So let’s go through the history of X-named ballplayers and see who has come closest so far, and see if there is anyone who may have a shot in the near-future.
The closest so far: Joe Xavier.
The closest baseball has ever come to having a Major Leaguer with an X at the start of their last name came in the late 1980s and the 1990 season, when Joe Xavier reached AAA. An infielder with the Oakland, Milwaukee and Atlanta organizations, Xavier later told “The Greatest 21 Days” blog that he may have had a shot at the big leagues if not for being traded to Milwaukee, which had a glut of infield prospects at that time. Alas, the fact that he never was able to crack the big league roster meant that the X portion of MLB reference material would remain empty.
The most recent one: Gui Yuan Xu.
Technically, Xu is his first name, but under western naming convention his family name of Xu comes last and therefore if he were to make the big league that is where he would be found in the index of baseball history.
Putting aside that, though, Gui Yuan Xu is the most recent minor leaguer who would have broken the “X” barrier if he made the bigs. A rare pro ballplayer signed from mainland China, Gui Yuan played three years in the Orioles organization before being released this past spring.
Anyone coming up in the college ranks?
The outlook for X-named ballplayers right now is not looking good. A look at the Baseball Cube (which is better than even Baseball Reference when it comes to college ballplayers) shows no current or recent prospect-level college ballplayers with names starting with X, at least at the Division I level. While there surely must be some high school players with surnames that begin with X, I am not a big enough expert on the prospects at that level to say if any of them may have a shot of one day breaking the “X” barrier.
Ultimately, the best hope of one day having a ballplayer with a X at the start of their surname may lie in mainland China. While many ballplayers in Taiwan transliterate names with the “shoo” or “choo” sound into English with “Ch” instead of “X”, on the mainland the X seems far more common.
To see how that is, you need only look at the Baseball Reference page for players who have had their surname begin with “Xi”. Most of them are Chinese players who were on the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association either last year or this year. The AirHogs entered an agreement before the 2018 season to more-or-less give most of their roster over to China’s national team, as China prepares for the return of baseball to the Olympics in 2020 and likely then 2028. Six of those Chinese players on the 2018 AirHogs had names starting with “Xi”, and at least one of them has returned in 2019.
Now, the stats for them don’t exactly impress, with only one of the “Xi” (reliever Qi Xin) having statistics that I’d call “good”, but who knows? Perhaps one day a Chinese player with a surname that starts with X will catch somebody’s eye, just as Gui Yuan Xu once briefly caught the Orioles’ eye. And perhaps one day they will make the big leagues, breaking the “X” barrier once and for all.
So will we have a MLB player with a last name starting in X anytime soon? Probably not, but you never know…