February 11, 2005
One Dance Only
If you were pressed at gunpoint to make a short list of baseball's most famous one-game players, I think it would look something like this:
Gaedel is famous for his novelty, Alston for his post-playing managerial career, Graham for being fictionalized in one of the most popular baseball books/movies ever and Paciorek for having the best-ever one-game career.
One-game players have always fascinated baseball fans. This is for many reasons, but chief among them is it causes people to wonder if it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. As frustrating as it must have been for Paciorek to have his career end prematurely at the age of 18, it still has to be more rewarding than having no career at all.
Which leads us to a different question: is it better to have a two-game career or a one-game career? Nobody cares much for two-game players. Who, after all, makes lists that include Chick Cargo, a man who played two games for Pittsburgh in 1892? Nobody, that's who. One-game players are--for lack of a better phrase--singled out for their accomplishments. In fact, Baseball-Reference.com now keeps a database dedicated to these men. They call it the "Cups of Coffee" list. It inspired me to think about who of recent vintage was going to join it and who would manage to play again and avoid inclusion in its rolls.
To look at this, I decided not to include the multitude of one-gamers from 2004. I figure a lot of them will be back this year to forever rid themselves of the one-game tag. Instead, I focused on the men who--so far--appeared in only one game in the five-year period from 1999 to 2003. For the most recent of these, I went into some detail on what transpired in their only game. This is because for anyone who experienced the rarified air of major-league competition, the beauty of it would have to be in the details of the experience--Ron Wright's game notwithstanding. We'll also look at what they did in 2004 and assess their chances of ever getting off the list.
What happened? The Phillies were kicking the Braves all over Atlanta and had built an 18-3 lead heading into the seventh. Third baseman Tomas Perez already had a grand slam and two other hits when Chapman was sent up to pinch-hit for him against Jung Bong leading off the inning. Chapman flied to right and then played three innings at third base, during which no action came his way. The top of the ninth ended with him on deck, denying him his second big-league at-bat.
2004: .222 translated EQA at Wilmington (Royals) of the Carolina League. He seems to be going backwards.
What happened? The Cardinals led 10-3 heading into the fifth when the Reds rallied to make it 10-6. With two outs and a man on first, Sardinha (who had had a staggering 114/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio the year before at Chattanooga) was sent in to hit for Jason LaRue. Woody Williams struck him out looking. He came to bat again in the seventh in the exact same situation: Russell Branyan on first via a walk and two outs. This time he lined out to center field against Steve Kline. He caught four innings.
2004: Sardinha had more than 300 at-bats at Triple-A Louisville with a .212 EQA, while continuing to build his reputation as a strong defender. Clay Davenport believes he could be called up "at any time."
What happened? There was a time when the Pirates were figuring Wright for some big things. On August 28, 1996, they traded Denny Neagle to the Braves to get him and a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Jason Schmidt. Wright's lone appearance came three franchises later. He was the starting designated hitter that day, batting in the seventh slot. He came to the plate with men on first and second and nobody out in the second inning and became Kenny Rogers' only strikeout victim that day, getting caught looking. In the fourth, he came to the plate with men on again and this time, mayhem ensued when he hit into a 1-6-2-5-1-4 triple play. In the sixth, he came up with Ruben Sierra and John Olerud on first and second and promptly smacked into a 6-4-3 double play. He was then lifted in favor of Mark McLemore before he could add to his total of six outs. Sierra and Olerud combined to go 5-for-5 with a walk in front of him (9-for-9 overall). It is time to consider that Wright's one-game career may need to be added to the most-famous ever. He's the anti-Paciorek.
2004: Did not play.
What happened? The Sox had already tagged Detroit pitchers for nine runs and trailed by eight when Keller, a right-hander who had been promoted that very day, was brought in to get things over with in the home eighth. He walked Royce Clayton, struck out Kenny Lofton and then walked Ray Durham. Magglio Ordonez then tagged him for a three-run bomb. He got another out, walked Frank Thomas, surrendered a single and retired Carlos Lee to close out the inning. The Tigers lost 12-1 and he departed the majors with an ERA of 27.00.
2004: Keller threw 40 innings for two different Double-A teams with a translated ERA of around 7.00.
What happened? After a nice 2000 season at Double-A Norwich, Parker made his major-league debut at Yankee Stadium, starting the fourth game of the 2001 season. He allowed seven runs, including homers to Carlos Delgado and Jose Cruz, and left without getting an out in the fourth. Four days later, he was placed on the disabled list with an injured shoulder. He missed the rest of the season and all of 2002 as well.
2004: It's been a long road back for Parker. He had just 30 innings pitched at Triple-A Edmonton with a translated ERA of just under 7.00.
What happened? Sobkowiak entered the game to start the ninth with Atlanta trailing 3-2. He surrendered a double to Cliff Floyd, who later scored on a single by Mike Lowell, and the Braves lost 4-2. That marked the end of the 2001 season and the end of Sobkowiak's career.
2004: Did not play.
What happened? Originally an 88th-round draft choice, Seabol's sole major-league at-bat came in a game during which the Yankees were in the process of throttling the Jays, 16-5. He batted for designated hitter David Justice in the home seventh and was put out.
2004: He was the regular third baseman for Triple-A Memphis (Cardinals) with a DT EQA of .271. That came on the heels of a .285 mark in 2003. This is good stuff. Davenport opines: "He can play; he needs a space." Stacked up behind Scott Rolen is not a good place to be.
What happened? Christman entered the game in the home seventh with the visiting Rockies down 9-4. He surrendered Reggie Sanders' second home run of the game, although this one was a solo shot and the first one (off Ron Villone) was a grand slam. That was the only baserunner Christman allowed while striking out two. He spent the rest of the year at Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League.
2004: After missing the entire 2003 season, he pitched fairly well at Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners) last year with a 4.66 ERA in 39 innings.
What happened? The A's worked Green for six walks in his big-league debut, a starting assignment in the fifth game of the season. Aside from the walks, Green was touched for just five singles as he surrendered two runs in six innings. He, unlike many others in this small, one-game fraternity, can at least boast an ERA of 3.00. The game was eventually lost 4-2, but he did not get the decision. Semi-famous--at least around Anaheim--as the loophole who helped get Francisco Rodriguez onto the postseason roster in 2002.
2004: Started 29 games in Triple-A Salt Lake City (Angels) with a translated ERA of 5.53. He's going to need a lot more than translation to get people to see past his 5-16 win-loss record, though.
What happened? You've got to like a player named Pedro Santana. It's a quintessential baseball name, that's for certain! Santana played second base in the home eighth and made a putout. He did not get to bat, alas.
2004: Has not played for some time.
Clay Davenport and John Erhardt contributed lots of good stuff to this piece. Retrosheet's files, linked above, were a great resource as well.