The baseball definition for a “Cup of Coffee” is a short time spent by a minor leaguer at the major league level. I have been unsuccessful in finding where or when the term originated, but it generally means the player was a major leaguer long enough to have a cup of coffee. One way a player can get a cup of coffee is via the September call-up when teams are allowed to expand their rosters from 25 players to 40. Many players joining teams during September make just an appearance or two, and never return to the big leagues.
In 1970, the first year of Milwaukee Brewers baseball, there were two such short player appearances. Both are notable because they came prior to the September call-ups. Pitcher Ray Peters made just two starts and saw his career last about a week. He pitched against Cleveland and Detroit on June 4 and June 9, giving up 12 base runners (7 hits and five walks). He was blasted for 7 earned runs in 2 total innings. Peters lost both games and was returned to the minors afterward.
The subject of this research interview, Bruce Brubaker, was another two appearance pitcher. He first appeared in a major league game for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1967 and not again until he pitched for the Brewers in 1970. In the game for the Dodgers he was hit hard, giving up five runs, including a two run homer.
Brubaker was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1941 and originally signed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959. He pitched in their minor leagues until 1963, including a brief stint with the Eau Claire Braves in 1960. In 1964 he was rated second of all the pitching prospects in the International League. It looked like a great major league career was on the horizon. After the Braves, Brubaker then spent time in the minor leagues with Detroit, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. He was traded from Los Angeles to the Seattle Pilots for pitcher Jerry Stephenson on January 1, 1970. The Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers later that spring and their minor league players were then affiliated with Milwaukee.
Brubaker was called up to the Brewers in early August when relief pitcher Dave Baldwin was hurt. While Brubaker had mainly been a starting pitcher throughout his minor league career, the Brewers planned to use him in a relief role, at least for the time being. He wore #31 for the Brewers and was listed as 6’1” and 198 pounds.
Brubaker was used in relief late in a game on August 5 against the Chicago White Soxat Comiskey Park. He faced eight batters and gave up two hits and two runs in two innings of work. One of the hits was a home run and came well after the game was out of reach. The Brewers wound up losing 9-3 in front of a mere 4583 spectators. It wasn’t exactly an awful appearance overall, but probably the timing of Brubaker’s appearance wasn’t the best. The Brewers weren’t having a great year by any means and made several trades as a way to move out players they inherited from the Seattle Pilots.
Brubaker was sent back to the Brewers AAA team in Portland (Beavers) after that one appearance. His final MLB pitching record was a total of 3.1 innings pitched and a 13.50 earned run average.
Brubaker recalls, “After pitching in relief in Chicago, our manager, Dave Bristol, told me, ‘Hey Bru, you throw good. I’m going to use you a lot.’ But then they traded for Dick Ellsworth, a left hander, and I was sent back. Very disappointing!” He added, “I just wanted an opportunity to start in the big leagues!”
The Brewers had been without a left hander for two months, and when Ellsworth was acquired from the Cleveland Indians, he filled that void. Ellsworth was 30 years old and had been a former All Star, plus had a 22 win season with the Chicago Cubs in 1963. As the 1970 Brewers season dragged on they seemed to acquire more veteran players such as Ellsworth, and unfortunately that left a lot of younger players with talent in the minor leagues.
Brubaker reported to the 1971 Brewers spring training camp in Tempe, Arizona. Manager Dave Bristol remarked that he liked his “live arm” and Pitching Coach Wes Stock said “We liked what we saw of him” in regards to the 1970 major league appearance. Stock added, “You never know about a guy until you give him a chance.” In an interview from February, 1970, Brubaker commented “You look at my record and tell me what was wrong. I’ve been at the Triple A level every year since 1964 and never had a season where I didn’t pitch over 200 innings. Sometimes over 300 innings if you include winter ball. But in 10 years I’ve only pitched three innings in the majors…”
“I had a good record for all these clubs, Syracuse, San Diego, Spokane and Portland, and I’ve faced probably all the top hitters at one time or another, with the exception of guys who skipped over Triple A. Yet, I haven’t made it.”
Brubaker admitted that Portland wasn’t a great team. In our correspondence he said, “I was the 1970 Opening Day starting pitcher in Portland and led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts that year. Not a very good team! We finished 26 games out (of first place).”
Brubaker did play a total of 14 years professionally, all in the minors with the exception of those two big league games. He tallied over 2100 innings pitched in the minors and had a great career at all levels.
He left baseball after pitching for the Brewers minor league Evansville AA team at the age of 30. He told me, “I hurt my shoulder at Evansville and retired there in April of 1972.”
Since that era was before the time of large contracts and signing bonuses, Brubaker needed a job after retiring from baseball. He says, “I started selling new Fords and worked my way up until I could buy my own Ford-Lincoln-Mercury-Mazda dealership in 1990 in Owensboro, KY. We built a new facility in 2000 and we now have four different dealerships.” His dealership is called ‘Champion’ and today his sons Bruce III and Tyler are running the business. Meanwhile, Brubaker says, “My wife Leda and I are enjoying our 72 foot motor yacht ‘Championship’ that we keep in Miami Beach.”
Leda Brubaker’s nephew, Jorge Posada, was the regular catcher for the New York Yankees since 2000 until retiring after the 2011 season. In 2003 when the Yankees played in the World Series, Brubaker was quoted as saying “It was nice to see Jorge was the same humble, polite young man he always was. He’s a great kid like (Derek) Jeter, Bernie (Williams). Those guys are good kids. They really are.”
While his time in the majors was a cup of coffee, Brubaker says “I’m one of the few central Pennsylvanians to have played major league baseball. I also pitched for PA in the 1953 Little League World Series in Williamsport, the first year it was televised.”
Many thanks to Bruce Brubaker for kindly answering my questions and providing the unique card posted below.