A friend calls Larry Littleton every now and again and pretends to be a reporter who's interested in Littleton's brief Major League career.

The friend, a former player, has pulled this prank so often that Littleton can't tell whether his friend is trying to do it again or a real reporter is on the other end of the telephone line this time.

But Littleton says he's figured out a way to tell the difference, and it works. So the call he got from a "reporter" this time turned out to be anything except a prank.

"I checked your area code," he says.

Those three digits don't lie. Still, Littleton was caught by surprise when a curious reporter did call and ask him about his playing days. Littleton knows his big-league career lasted 45 days in 1981. In those 45 days, his boyhood dream came to life as an outfielder that season with the Indians.

In college, Littleton never really pictured himself some day playing for a Major League club. He never thought he'd get drafted, but he was actually selected twice.

The Red Sox first selected Littleton in the seventh round of the 1975 First-Year Player Draft. He didn't sign, though. Instead, he chose to complete another year at the University of Georgia and compete for an SEC baseball championship.

His school didn't win a title in '76, but he earned a degree in business and was a first-round pick in the secondary phase of that year's draft.

"I was tying my shoes getting ready to go to class, and I heard it on the radio," Littleton says. "I looked at my roommate and said, 'I guess I'm going to the Pirates.'"

Gimme a break
He floated around in Pittsburgh's Minor League system for several years, and never really came close to a callup. At the time, the Pirates were loaded. They had Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Bill Robinson ahead of Littleton.

So the Pirates had no roster spot for Littleton -- not in '79. He caught a break that offseason, when the Pirates dealt him and another Minor League prospect to the Tribe for relief pitcher Larry Anderson.

"If I had stayed with the Pirates, I probably wouldn't have made the big-league club," Littleton says. "My break was going to be in Cleveland."

It certainly was. He spent the 1980 season in the Minors as well. In 1981, he made a strong case for himself during Spring Training.

"The funny thing was that I've never had a good Spring Training," Littleton says, "and I just happened to hit well that spring."

He hit so well, in fact, that Indians manager Dave Garcia added him to the club's 25-man roster that broke camp.

Two games into the season, Littleton made his Major League debut on April 12, 1981, for the Tribe. He pinch-hit for Rick Manning in the ninth inning against Brewers reliever Jamie Easterly at Municipal Stadium. In that first at-bat, Littleton grounded out to shortstop Robin Yount, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career.

No problem. Surely, Littleton would shake off any first-game-in-the-Majors jitters and stroke a single in his next game, right? Or the game after that? Or, perhaps, a couple of weeks down the road?

Well, that first hit never happened for Littleton. Most of his at-bats came as a pinch-hitter, and he started just four games over that 45-day span with the Tribe.

"There's a different mindset on how you approach it," he says. "I was always used to starting. I didn't have a problem that I wasn't starting, but I think what happened is the longer you go without a hit, the more you think, 'Should I be aggressive, should I not?'"

What if?
Littleton nearly got that a hit a month into the season against Twins left-hander Jerry Koosman. Littleton started the game, batted second and came to the plate in the fifth at the Metrodome with no outs and the bases loaded.

He lined a pitch from Koosman to center. Mickey Hatcher caught the ball, but second baseman Dave Rosello, the runner on third at the time, scored. Rosello's run earned Littleton an RBI and a sacrifice fly.

Had that liner veered left or sliced right, maybe Littleton has a lengthier stint with the Indians. Maybe he earns a few more starts in Garcia's lineup. Maybe he eventually settles in with the club and plays the next seven or eight seasons.

Maybe. Instead, the Indians sent him back to the Minors with an 0-for-23 on his slate.

"After a while," Littleton says, "I was at the point that the first-class hotels and everything was getting old. I wanted to produce. I wanted to help a team. I hadn't done it at that point. I really was just in the mood to get back to playing once I was sent back down."

After tasting the bigs, a player can take only so much of life in the Minors.

"You get to a certain point where you think, 'I'm becoming a journeyman Minor Leaguer,'" Littleton says. "You're really going to have to do something to get back there."

He never did enough, however, to return to the Majors. The next 25 years of his life were forever altered because of that '81 season. That year in Spring Training, he befriended Steve Spiegle and his 7-year-old son. Spiegle would later create a job opportunity for Littleton at Merrill Lynch, the investment company.

And each job Littleton has worked since is partly a result of his relationship with Spiegle, whose son, who once asked Littleton for an autograph, is now his stockbroker.

"If I look back at anything on baseball, there's nothing negative," says Littleton, who has two children with his wife, Ginger. "I will say that one of the best things that happened to me was meeting the Spiegles. They're just very close to me."