This annotated week in baseball history: June 5-11, 1925

On June 8, 1925, Eddie Gaedel was born. This got Richard thinking about other famous one-game players.

In baseball history, there have been nearly 1000 players who appeared in one game and one game only. Baseball Reference lists all of them under the heading of “Cup of Coffee” but it hardly seems to even rise to that level. Perhaps “Sip of Coffee” would be more accurate.

An overwhelming majority of these players is unknown, and those that have escaped obscurity often did so only for a feat related to their one-game appearance. But that does not mean those stories are not worth telling. This week we’ll look back at some of the stories of players whose time in the major league field was just one game more than mine.

Arguably the most famous one-game player of time, Eddie Gaedel is also one of baseball’s stranger stories. Certainly the only player listed at less than four feet tall and 100 pounds, his one appearance came leading off the second game of a doubleheader on August 19, 1951. Not surprisingly for a man standing just more than three-and-a-half feet tall and wearing number 1/8, Gaedel walked on four pitches as Tiger pitcher Bob Cain was unable to follow his catcher’s advice to keep the ball down.

(Bill Veeck, the man behind the idea, specifically instructed Gaedel not to swing, supposedly claiming he was on the roof with a sniper rifle ready to fire at the first sign of a swing.)

Gaedel is one of only 21 players who have a plate appearance in their only major league game but not an at-bat. Of the 21, Gaedel and 12 others drew a walk, five were hit by a pitch and three sacrificed. Though Gaedel is the most famous name on that list, the most productive was probably Dutch Schirick, who drew a walk and then stole second and third for the Browns in 1914. Schirick would never play in another game, but did go on to a long career as a Judge in New York State, so that’s something.

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Pete Rose, more games played than every Sip of Coffee player combined. (Icon/SMI)

The most recent to match Gaedel’s accomplish was Kevin Melillo, who walked in his sole PA for the A’s in 2007, and like Gaedel, never played the field. As of this writing, Melillo is batting .327 with a .900 OPS for the Angels’ Triple-A club, so he might yet earn his way off the list.

(Incidentally, Gaedel’s grandnewphew, Kyle Gaedele (sic) was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the sixth round of the draft this year.)

If Gaedel is not the most famous one-game player, then the honor surely falls to Moonlight Graham.

Unlike Gaedel, whose story was huge news at the time, Graham’s was largely unknown until well after his death. Graham played just one game for the Giants in 1905, but famously did not come the plate.

Graham would surely have fallen into the same anonymity that characterizes most of the other 35 non-pitchers who appeared in a game without coming to the plate.

But of course, W.P. Kinsella choose Graham’s name and story—he left baseball to become a Doctor—to serve as a character in Shoeless Joe, and the North Carolinian’s fame was increased even moreso when the novel was made into Field of Dreams.

(The Graham character was played, in part, by Burt Lancaster, which is pretty good.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sip of Coffee players seem to specialize in unusual names. Among those who saw just one game of action were Honey Barnes, Goat Cochran, Earl Huckleberry and my personal favorite, Red Bird. Also of note name-wise are the two separate players with the name Andy Harrington, who appeared in just one major league game. They are, apparently, no relation.

Judging who had the best single day is, of course, a somewhat subjective thing. When it comes to hitters, my vote would go to John Paciorek. Paciorek appeared in his one game for the Houston Colt .45’s in 1963. Coming to the plate five times, Paciorek had three singles and two walks, driving in three runs while scoring four. Paciorek was just eighteen that day and would play in the minors through 1969, but he never earned a return trip to the big show.

Among pitchers, the competition is tougher, but I will give it to Ray Brown, who threw a complete-game five-hitter to earn the win for the Cubs in 1909. In addition to his pitching prowess that day—which included just two earned runs and two strikeouts—Brown supported his own cause by driving in a run.

(I choose Brown over some pitchers who allowed fewer runs as they were largely pitching before the twentieth century or against inferior competition.)

Of course, not all players had such success in their one game. Several pitchers failed to record an out in their only appearance, but the worst day might go to Joe Cleary. The Irish-born Cleary appeared in just one game for the Washington Senators in 1945, giving up five hits and three walks—leading to seven runs—while recording just one out. That gives him a nightmarish 189.00 ERA for his career.

No batter had a day quite that bad in his only game though several, including John Callahan and Snapper Kennedy, went 0-for-5 in their only appearance.

But it must be said that the worst story of all comes from Larry Yount. To begin with, Yount was the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount. So any comparison to his brother was bound to be a tough one. But for Larry Yount, it would be even crueler.

Coming off a minor league season in Double-A, Yount was called up to the Astros. In a mid-September game at the Astrodome, Yount warmed up in the bullpen and was announced to pitch the ninth inning. By the time he had taken the mound, his elbow began to hurt. He considered pitching through it, but ultimately decided to play it safe and was removed from the game.

Yount returned to the minors in 1972, but would post ERAs of 5.15 and 6.72 the next two years, althought the latter season was in Denver. Yount would never return to the majors and retired after the 1975 season, just as his brother’s career was beginning.

There is, of course, no shame in only playing in the majors for one game. So while their stories might obscure, they are worth telling.

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Comments

  1. Mr.Fox said...

    One Hall of Famer might be mentioned in this group, Walter Alston had 1 at bat in 1 game in the mid 30s.

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