First, you have to understand something about baseball geeks. We cherish weird stats and oddball player histories. Like a cross between Fox Mulder and George Will, we take joy in unearthing the unusual from those forests of names and numbers. We revel in anomalies like the perfect game and the unassisted triple play. .

So when a guy whose last name starts with "X" made it to the highest level of the minor leagues, we baseball geeks dropped our Bill James books and perked up their ears. About 40 major leaguers have had "Q" names, and there have probably been 100 "Z" players by now, but in more than a century of play, no major league player has ever -- ever -- had a last name starting with "X." And despite an extensive system that introduces hundreds of new players every year, the minor leagues in the late 1980s had only one "X" in their ranks. Joe Xavier was our guy.

For about three years, Joe was on the brink of breaking into the majors, playing second base at the minors' Class AAA level for the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics. Baseball America, a newspaper devoted to minor league baseball, instituted a Joe Xavier Watch on its back page, tracking Xavier's progress for two or three years. And all over the country, baseball geeks like me rooted hard for him.

Alas, being in "Triple A" is no guarantee of a ticket to the majors. Some players are just good enough to be Triple A fillers ... and Joe Xavier was apparently one such player, an average fielder whose bat didn't hold much power. After being released by the A's, he lingered in Class AA for a year in Greenville, S.C. before hanging up his cleats in 1991.

Xavier fans did get one last thrill during his last season when he appeared -- with photo -- in Sports Illustrated. A special issue on the minor leagues included a brief about Xavier mania and showed Joe holding two bats crossed like an "X."

Since Joe Xavier's departure, no new X-men have graced the minor leagues. Believe me, I check every year.

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