Cup of coffee
A "cup of coffee" is a North American sports idiom for a short time spent by a minor league player at the major league level. The idea behind the term is that the player was only in the big leagues long enough to have a cup of coffee before being returned to the minors, or simply to describe a brief stint served with a professional team. The term originated in baseball, is extensively used in ice hockey, and rarely in basketball since the NBA has never implemented a true farm system.
One example of how this term is used in a sentence was during the 1996 film The Fan, in which Robert De Niro's character, a middle-aged former pitcher, says, "I was in the bigs for a cup of coffee myself until my arm went south."
Notable baseball cups of coffee
One well-known variant of the cup of coffee is the September call-up, in which major-league clubs call up additional players to the big leagues from the minors on Sept. 1, when rosters expand from 25 players to 40. This is by definition a cup of coffee, because September is the last month of the baseball season. Notable players who made their debuts in September include Mike Piazza (21 games in September 1992) and Baseball Hall of Fame member Ryne Sandberg (13 games with the 1981 Philles).
Francisco Rodríguez made his big-league debut by pitching 5⅔ innings in September for the Anaheim Angels. Included on the Angels' postseason roster as a replacement for an injured player, he won five playoff games for Anaheim and helped them to a victory in the 2002 World Series, all before he won a regular-season game in the majors.
Another famous baseball player who made his debut with a cup of coffee was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who played five games in 1908, five more in 1909, and twenty games in 1910 before finally making the bigs for good in 1911.
For many players, a cup of coffee is all they ever get in the major leagues. Notable cups of coffee include:
- Walter Alston. Alston struck out in his only career at-bat for the 1936 St. Louis Cardinals. He would go on to manage the Dodgers for 23 years in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, winning seven pennants and four World Series championships. He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
- Joe Nuxhall. Nuxhall appeared in one game for the 1944 Reds at the age of fifteen, during a time when the manpower requirements of World War II were making it more challenging for MLB clubs to fill out their rosters. He is the youngest person ever to appear in a big-league baseball game. (Nuxhall came back in 1952 and had a 14-year career.)
- Detroit Tigers replacement team. When Ty Cobb was suspended for fighting a fan in the stands, sixteen members of the Tigers voted to go on strike in support of Cobb. Unable to field a team for their May 18, 1912, game in Philadelphia, the Tigers scrounged up nine replacement players from around the city. Philadelphia drubbed the replacement Tigers 24–2. Pitcher Allan Travers went the whole game for Detroit, giving up 24 runs (a modern-day record), 14 of which were earned. Of the nine replacement players, the only one to ever appear in a big-league game again was Billy Maharg, who made it back for one more game in 1916 (and later was one of the fixers behind the Black Sox Scandal). The real Tigers, threatened by American League president Ban Johnson with lifetime bans, came back for their next game.
- Eddie Gaedel. Gaedel, who was three feet, seven inches tall, was put on the roster of the 1951 St. Louis Browns by maverick owner Bill Veeck and sent into a game as a pinch-hitter on August 19. His uniform number was 1/8. The promotional stunt ended when pitcher Bob Cain, throwing at the smallest strike zone of all time, walked Gaedel on four pitches. Major League Baseball voided Gaedel's contract the next day and he never appeared in a game again.
- Moonlight Graham. Graham was an outfielder who played two innings of one game on defense for the 1905 New York Giants, neither making a putout nor getting a chance to bat. He would leave baseball and enjoy a long career as a doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota. His story was made famous when author W.P. Kinsella included it in his novel Shoeless Joe, which was then adapted into the hit movie Field of Dreams. (Graham's story is reported incorrectly in the movie and in other sources. Contrary to the film's assertion that Graham only played one half-inning, the Society for American Baseball Research discovered that he actually played two innings. Also, there was at least one base hit to the outfield while Graham was in the game, so he might have gotten the chance to field a ball in play.)
- Adam Greenberg. Greenberg was a Chicago Cubs farmhand who got called up in 2005. In his big-league debut, on July 9, Greenberg was hit in the head with the first pitch he ever saw in the majors. Seven years later, and after an online publicity campaign on his behalf, Greenberg got another at-bat as a member of the Miami Marlins. He struck out swinging.
- Fred Van Dusen. Van Dusen was a September call-up for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1955. In his first plate appearance as a pinch-hitter, he was hit by the third pitch he saw. He never made it back to the majors. With Greenberg getting his first official at-bat, Van Dusen is once again the only player to be hit by a pitch in his only major-league plate appearance, and to never play the field.
- Bumpus Jones. Jones made his major-league debut on October 15, 1892, the last day of the season, for the Cincinnati Reds. Jones threw a no-hitter. He pitched in twelve more games in 1893 and then was gone from the majors forever.
- Mark Kiger. Kiger is the only player to have only appeared in a playoff game and never in the regular season. He made his debut with the Oakland Athletics during the 2006 ALCS and only played two games at second base as a defensive replacement. He never got an at-bat. Since he was only in the playoffs, Kiger is extremely difficult to find in baseball encyclopedias.
- John Paciorek. Paciorek played one game with the 1963 Houston Colt .45's on the last day of the season. He came to the plate five times, and did the following: two walks, three singles, three RBI, four runs scored, career batting average and on-base-percentage of 1.000. Of the 27 players in MLB history with batting averages of 1.000, Paciorek is the only one with three at-bats.
- St. Paul Saints. In 1884, the Union Association began operation, and is listed in many sources as a third major league. However, the league faced multiple problems, including an uneven distribution of talent (the league champion St. Louis Maroons went 94-19) and poor attendance in a country that suddenly was oversaturated with baseball teams. As the season wore on, teams began to fold, and the league scrounged around for replacements. The last of these replacements were the minor-league Saints (Apostles), an entire team that got a cup of coffee when they were invited into the Union Association. They played exactly nine games, all on the road, at the end of the season. The Saints went 2-6-1. Three other UA teams played 25 games or less, with the Saints playing the fewest. The Union Association folded in January 1885. (Although the league is conventionally listed as a major league, this status has been questioned by a number of modern baseball historians, most notably Bill James in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. James and other baseball historians have noted the league's extreme instability and lack of major-league talent; James has also found that the contemporary Baseball Guides didn't consider the Union Association to be a major league.)
- Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker. Moses Walker played 42 games for the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings. His brother Welday also played for Toledo that year, debuting after Moses and playing for six games. The Walker brothers are the first known Black major league baseball players, predating Jackie Robinson by 63 years. The Toledo franchise folded after 1884 and player boycotts (Cap Anson being a ringleader) upheld baseball's color barrier. (Recent research indicates that William Edward White, who played one game in 1879, preceded the Walkers, although White's ethnicity can't be definitely determined and likely was not known to baseball authorities.)
- Larry Yount. Yount, the brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, appeared in a game without ever appearing in a game. He was summoned from the bullpen to pitch the top of the ninth inning for the Houston Astros on September 15, 1971. Yount hurt his elbow while warming up and was removed from the game before ever throwing a pitch. He never made it back to the big leagues. By official rule, pitchers who leave the game due to injury after being announced are credited with a game appearance; thus Yount is listed as playing in one game despite never actually doing so.
- Ron Wright. Wright appeared in one game for the 2002 Seattle Mariners. In that game he accounted for six outs by striking out, hitting into a double play, and hitting into a triple play.
- Mike Piazza Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Ryne Sandberg Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Joe Jackson Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Walter Alston Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Tenure and Age Records by Baseball Almanac
- SABR Biographical Research Committee, reporting that Fred Chapman (listed in the Baseball Almanac page as playing a game at age 14) was actually a "Frank Chapman" who was 26 at the time
- Allan Travers Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Billy Maharg Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- BIOPROJ.SABR.ORG :: The Baseball Biography Project
- Eddie Gaedel Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Moonlight Graham Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Field of Dreams Movie Site - Shoeless Joe Jackson
- SABR :|| SABR-Zine | The Real Moonlight Graham
- ESPN - Greenberg won't let dream slip away - MLB
- Adam Greenberg Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- "An Out Well Worth Waiting 7 Years For", New York Times
- "UNC alum Adam Greenberg gets second chance in majors", Associated Press
- Bumpus Jones Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Mark Kiger Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- John Paciorek Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- 1884 St. Paul Apostles Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
- Baseball Prospectus | Unfiltered
- Walker, Moses Fleetwood - Negro Baseball Player
- Before Jackie: The Life And Times Of Moses Fleetwood Walker
- toledoblade.com - Prestige of 1st black major leaguer likely no longer belongs to Toledo
- ESPN - Was William Edward White really first? - MLB
- Whatever happened to Larry Yount?
- Larry Yount
- Neyer, Rob. Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups. 2003, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-7432-4174-6, p. 104.
- Mariners 9, Rangers 7, April 14, 2002
- "The Short and Happy Career of Ron Wright, New York Times
- List of 'cups of coffee' at Baseball Reference—all the players in MLB history who appeared in exactly one game