Monday, August 13, 2007

One Game Wonders - The Best Cups of Coffee In The Majors

Next Sunday marks the 56th anniversary of the most famous “cup of coffee” in major league history: Eddie Gaedel’s appearance for the St. Louis Browns on August 19, 1951. Gaedel, a 3’7”, 65-pound entertainer hired specifically by Browns owner Bill Veeck to draw attention to his last place team, assumed a deep crouch (Veeck supposedly measured his strike zone at about an inch and a half) and drew a four-pitch walk from Detroit’s Bob Cain in his only career plate appearance.

Gaedel’s upcoming anniversary shines a light on one of the most interesting and least appreciated parts of baseball: the “cup of coffee” career. Technically, the phrase could be used to describe anyone who spent a brief period of time in the majors, but the strictest interpretation limits the group only to those who appeared in a single major league game. According to Baseball-Reference.com, which has a separate page for just this type of player, that list numbers somewhere over 1,000.

Most of those situation were completely normal – a guy gets called up from the minors, has his number called once, the team sends him back down and he never gets the call again. Because it’s baseball, however, there were guaranteed to be oddities mixed in with the group. Using the BR.com Cups of Coffee page, I found several players whose only game was, for whatever reason, memorable.

Walter Alston, St. Louis Cardinals (September 27, 1936) – The Fates have a sense of humor sometimes. A decent minor league player, Alston made his major league debut in 1936 as a fill-in for Hall of Fame slugger Johnny Mize, striking out against Chicago’s Lon Warneke. That was it for Alston in the majors until the mid-1950s, when he took over as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He stuck around in that role for 23 seasons, guiding his teams to seven National League pennants, four World Series victories, and over 2,000 wins, and eventually earning a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Adam Greenberg, Chicago Cubs (July 9, 2005) – The Cubs were winning, 8-2, when manager Dusty Baker tabbed Adam Greenberg to pinch-hit against Florida’s Valerio de los Santos in the top of the ninth inning on July 9, 2005. Greenberg, a left-handed hitter with a game built on speed, stepped in – and almost before knew it was on the ground, struck in the head by a runaway fastball from de los Santos. It was his last major league plate appearance. In the two years since, he has struggled mightily, bouncing through several organizations. To date, he and Fred Van Dusen are the only two players to be hit by pitches in their only career plate appearances.

Moonlight Graham, New York Giants (June 29, 1905) – Graham enjoyed a most unremarkable major league career, playing the field in one game and never getting a chance to bat, but something about him caught the eye of W.P. Kinsella, who included the Giants outfielder as a character in his book, “Shoeless Joe”. Though the facts of his baseball career were treated liberally by the writers of the movie “Field of Dreams”, Burt Lancaster’s riveting portrayal in the film has guaranteed that Graham will always be viewed as a kindly old doctor who turned down his chance at a major league career in exchange for a life spent helping others.

John Paciorek, Houston Colt 45s (September 29, 1963) – The oldest of three Paciorek brothers who played in the majors, John debuted with a terrific game against the New York Mets in 1963. Batting seventh and playing right field in the final game of the season, Paciorek went 3-for-3 with two walks, three runs batted in, and four runs scored. So why didn’t he reach the majors again? According to the BR.com Bullpen, he aggravated a back injury over the winter and struggled for the rest of his career.

Allan Travers, Detroit Tigers (May 18, 1912) – Never in major league history has there been a more unlikely starting pitcher. Following the suspension of Ty Cobb days before, the entire Tigers team struck in support of their teammate, leading the manager to fill in the gaps with local college students. One of those students was Travers, who got hit hard (26 hits, 14 earned runs) but battled gamely for eight full innings.

Larry Yount, Houston Astros (September 15, 1971) – Despite being credited with one game pitched for Houston in 1971, Larry Yount never threw a pitch in anger to a major league hitter. Oh, he was brought into the game on September 15, 1971 to face the top of the Atlanta Braves batting order (Henry Aaron was due up third), but it didn’t exactly work out as planned: Yount injured himself while warming up and had to be replaced. That replaces Moonlight Graham’s Hollywood alter ego as the most disappointing career in major league history.

1 Comment:

John said...

larry yount is hall of famer Robin's brother