The Cup Of Coffee Club: The Ballplayers Who Got Only One Game
May 31, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Of the 17,808 players (and counting) who’ve run up the dugout steps and onto a Major League field, only 974 have had one-game careers. [...] The Cup of Coffee club is filled exclusively with people who do not want to be members.
posted by Chrysostom (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Hey Kid! You were good.
posted by Danf at 1:17 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

That was both fascinating and sobering to read, with that twang of Americana sentimentalism that seems to define so much of baseball. A whole club of folks who embraced a dream and saw it realized for minutes, only. Still better than most.
posted by weeyin at 1:20 PM on May 31, 2012

My favorite was Larry Yount.
posted by drezdn at 1:21 PM on May 31, 2012

And here's why:
Yount holds the unique distinction of being the only pitcher in MLB history to appear in the official record books without ever actually having faced a batter. In his only major league appearance on September 15, 1971, he had to leave the game during his warm-up pitches due to injury.
posted by drezdn at 1:24 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Heartily approve of the moonlightgraham tag on this post.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:27 PM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

1 > 0
posted by chavenet at 1:32 PM on May 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Another sad story is Matt Tupman: one plate appearance, one hit, later suspended for drug use.
posted by mattbucher at 1:38 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related: Mike Price was probably the only University of Alabama football coach never to lose a game.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:44 PM on May 31, 2012

Outside The Lines story about Adam Greenberg, including video of his one at-bat.
posted by The World Famous at 1:50 PM on May 31, 2012

'Cup of Coffee' must be one of the saddest things in sports. Dream over.
posted by Cranberry at 2:03 PM on May 31, 2012

As grum@work noted over on Sportsfilter in a similar thread from last week, all One-Cup Wonders must tremble before the majestic greatness that is John Paciorek:
One game, 3 for 3 with 2 BB, 4 runs, 5 RBI
Reading his wiki entry, it seems he was a September call up who had his appearance in the final game of the season for the [then] Houston Colt .45s in 1963, but had back problems and surgery and missed the entire 1965 season. He played in the minors through 1969 but never really showed enough promise to warrant another call-up.

Oddly, John Paciorek had not one but two brothers who also played in the majors: the much younger Jim, who only played 48 games in 1987 for the Brewers before going to Japan, and the one-year-younger Tom, who had a respectable career playing for 18 seasons from 1970-1987, followed by a 20-year broadcasting career for teams such as the White Sox, Tigers, Mariners, and Braves. Since Tom retired in 1987, the same year that Jim had his brief career, this game in April of 1987 appears to be the only time the two younger Paciorek brothers were in the same game, and they were both there as apparently defensive replacements in extra innings.

The Brewers won, 7-5, after 12 innings at Texas.
posted by hincandenza at 2:14 PM on May 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Only 974? Assuming the 17,808 number is right that's about 5%. That's huge - one out of every 18 players.
posted by true at 2:23 PM on May 31, 2012

It's still just 5 percent, which is . . . 5 percent. I wouldn't call 5 a "huge" number but YMMV.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:38 PM on May 31, 2012

> the one-year-younger Tom, who had a respectable career playing for 18 seasons from 1970-1987

He was a Met in '85, but I barely remember him. Hit .284 in 46 games with... one RBI. Yup, on to Texas.

Great post; I love this kind of delving into odd corners of baseball history.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on May 31, 2012

I'd be interested to see what they after they left baseball. What do you do when the dream has gone?
posted by arcticseal at 3:19 PM on May 31, 2012

I don't know jack about baseball, so would someone explain to me why it might be that the vast majority of Cup of Coffee players seem to be from the beginning of League history? The list goes from 1871 to 2012. By 1915 we've got 500 Cup of Coffee players, just about half of the total but less than a third into the history of the League. By 1941, halfway between 1871 and today, we're all the way up to 748, fully 77% of the total. If the numbers were flat, there would be seven or so a year. The last decade only saw about thirty-five.

Are the Majors just smaller than they used to be? What's the deal?
posted by valkyryn at 3:50 PM on May 31, 2012

valkryn: my guess is that sports medicine is better than it used to be.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:02 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

valkryn: In modern baseball, 40-man roster and other rules protecting the rights of major-league players and limiting their movement up and down from the minors prevents teams from just bringing up minor leaguers whenever they feel like it.
posted by thecjm at 4:03 PM on May 31, 2012

Valkyryn, I wonder if it has anything to do with the September call up period and some of the other rules regarding 40 man rosters and number of permissible callups. I'm supposing that with a September call up period (where you can expand your roster to include minor leaguers) there are many occasions where a guy will get more than a one game look--since this period is largely used by clubs to evaluate their minor league players in major league competition.

So prior to the September callup period roster expansion, I can imagine that guys were just called up frequently as needed--like, a player sits for a game with a minor injury and he's replaced by a minor leaguer just for the game, and then the minor leaguer goes right back down. If something like that were to happen now, and it occasionally does, there's a very good chance that the same player could be called up again in September.

On preview, what thecjm said.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:16 PM on May 31, 2012

I think another reason is that baseball pays real money now, giving marginal players an incentive to stick with it longer.
posted by chrchr at 4:49 PM on May 31, 2012

Looks like in 1876 they only played about 60-70 games. By 1900 they were playing 138ish games per season. Fewer games radically increases the possibility of playing only one game in a season (and hence only 1 game in a career that only lasts a single season).

I don't think that explains the whole effect. Combined it with pay and expansion though, and I think it does start to make sense.
posted by Chuckles at 8:34 PM on May 31, 2012

Wow, there were 33 in 1912 alone!
posted by Chuckles at 8:39 PM on May 31, 2012

My theory is probably wrong.. The strike shortened season of '81 didn't have a spike in cup-o-coffee players, and the '94 strike actually saw a dip to zero!!

Meanwhile the World War II years seem to see a spike, and the WWI years are sky high, but years before and after WWI are high too.
posted by Chuckles at 8:45 PM on May 31, 2012

It might just be that as baseball became more professional and the stakes got higher, coaches and teams were more cautious about calling up likely prospects, leading to fewer cup of coffee players?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:20 PM on May 31, 2012

I think that this:

40-man roster and other rules protecting the rights of major-league players and limiting their movement up and down from the minors

and this:

baseball pays real money now

...are probably the main causes. The first would impose some formal barriers to calling up guys and ditching them right away. But the second would impose some informal barriers too. It isn't just that the players have an incentive to stick with it--they did anyway--but that the team has an incentive to be more careful about taking risks. Even the "poorest" teams have a median salary close to half a million.

Thanks guys!
posted by valkyryn at 4:05 AM on June 1, 2012

I didn't see this linked anywhere, so for those like me who know nothing about baseball and were curious about the name....

(*shrug* I was inventing a lot of weird explanations myself)
posted by NikitaNikita at 12:38 PM on June 1, 2012

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