Monday, July 5, 2010


Most baseball fans are familiar with the star players, but who are the worst players? Keep in mind that a player must be good to even make it to the major leagues. Even the worst players were stars in high school or college. In most cases, they worked their way up through the minor leagues to become among the 600 or so best baseball players in the world. This article highlights those players with major shortcomings in their game who had other skills enabling them to stick around the big leagues for awhile.


The longest hitless streak belongs to former Chicago Cubs pitcher Bob Buhl who went 88 times without a hit over a two year period. But then pitchers aren't supposed to hit well. Although Buhl had the longest streak, another pitcher, Ron Herbel of the San Francisco Giants was actually a worse hitter. At the beginning of his career Herbel went hitless in 55 at-bats, got a hit, and then went hitless another 50 times. So he was 1 for 106 at the start of his career. Herbel's lifetime batting average over an 8 year career was a pathetic .029. These guys were hired for their pitching ability, not their hitting, and they were good pitchers. Buhl won 166 games in his career, and Herbel won 42 while losing 37.

Among position players, the worst hitter by far was Bill Bergen, an outstanding defensive catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 20th Century. During the 1909 season, Bergen went hitless in 46 at-bats;, the longest slump among position players. His 1909 batting average was only .139, the lowest in history among full time players. Amazingly, Bergen kept his job for 10 years, compiling a lifetime batting average of .170 with an on-base percentage of .194, the lowest in baseball history. The only modern player to approach that record for futility was Detroit shortstop Ray Oyler who batted a pathetic .135 in 111 games for the 1968 World Champions. Oyler batted 215 times as a utility infielder with only 29 hits. Oyler, a good glove man, parlayed his fielding ability into a major league career lasting 6 years with a lifetime batting average of .175.

Other inept hitters include San Diego third baseman Dave Roberts, the opposing pitcher's best friend, who hit .167 in 1974 in over 300 at-bats. Even worse was fellow San Diego infielder Dwain Anderson who in 1973 batted only .121 in 124 at-bats with no extra base hits. San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium is considered a pitchers' park, but this is ridiculous! Not surprisingly, the Padres lost 102 games in both seasons, finishing in last place.

Other players, some of them stars, suffered through long hitless streaks. For example, the Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio went 44 times without a hit in 1971 with Boston near the end of his career. Robin Ventura, a star third baseman with the Chicago White Sox went 41 times without a hit in his rookie season of 1990. Ventura received 10 walks during that streak, so his on-base percentage for that time was over .200. Slugger Jose Canseco went 40 times without a hit in the 1986 season.

Barely over the Mendoza line throughout his career, infielder Lenn Sakata, a Hawaii native, was one of the first players of Japanese ancestry to play in the majors. Ichiro he wasn't, but Sakata played 10 years in the bigs, mostly with Milwaukee and Baltimore, compiling a lifetime batting average of .230 with 25 homers. However, against the Chisox, Sakata couldn't buy a hit. From the start of his career in 1977 until 1983--six years--Sakata went hitless against Chicago pitching for 66 at-bats. On August 11, 1983, he finally singled off southpaw Floyd Bannister who was immediately removed from the game. Over his career, Sakata got 7 hits in 108 at-bats against Chicago for an .069 average. After his playing career, Sakata successfully managed several teams in the California League and holds the record for lifetime wins in that league.

Sakata was the unsung hero in a couple of major league records. He was the starting shortstop for Baltimore when they decided to play Cal Ripken Jr. instead. Ripken didn't miss another game for about 17 years. In another game with the O's on August 24, 1983, Sakata was inserted as the catcher for the only time in his career when the O's ran out of catchers in an extra inning game against Toronto. The pitcher was lefthander Tippy Martinez. The first three Blue Jays reached base and each thought it would be easy to steal second base against an inexperienced catcher. They never got the chance to test Sakata's arm, as Martinez picked each one off first base. In the bottom half of the inning, Sakata hit a home run to win the game.


Johnny Cooney started his career as a pitcher, and later became a center fielder and first baseman. Cooney batted 3372 times over a 20 year career beginning in 1921 and hit 2 homers which came in successive games in 1939. He was a good hitter, compiling a lifetime batting average of .286. The fewest career homers for a Hall of Fame position player was longtime Chicago White Sox catcher Ray Schalk with 11.


Allan Travers, a 20 year old college student from St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia was unable to make the school's varsity baseball team, although he was a violinist in the school orchestra. He also played third bass in the band. On May 18, 1912, in a Walter Mitty scenario, Travers was recruited off a street corner to pitch for the Detroit Tigers against the Philadelphia A's when the Tigers team went on a one-day strike to protest the suspension of star player Ty Cobb for attacking a heckling fan. Cobb was unaware that the fan was handicapped--the fan was missing a hand and two fingers on the other hand from an industrial accident. Nearby fans pleaded with Cobb to stop beating a man with no hands. Cobb replied, "I don't care if he has no feet!"

Travers pitched a complete game against the A's who went on that season to win the World Series. He surrendered 26 hits, 24 runs (14 earned), 7 walks and 1 strikeout, and suffered the loss in a 24-2 rout. His catcher was tigers manager Hughie Jennings who advised him to throw slow curves and no fastballs because he was afraid the young man would get killed. Travers was paid $25 for the game. He never pitched again in the majors. He later became a Catholic priest and eventually was promoted to Dean of Men at the Jesuit college.


Dennis Martinez of the 1983 World Champion Baltimore Orioles would qualify. He won 7 and lost 16 with an earned run average of 5.53. Other than that season, Martinez had a distinguished pitching career, winning 245 games, including a perfect game. Won-lost records aren't always a reliable measure of a pitcher's ability. In 1953, Don Larsen won 3 and lost 21 for the St. Louis Browns who couldn't hit at all. After he was traded to the NY Yankees, Larsen became a respectable pitcher , best known for pitching a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Jose de Leon went 2 and 19 with with a somewhat respectable 4.70 ERA, for the 1985 Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that lost 104 games. DeLeon also became a decent pitcher in later years with Chicago and St. Louis.


Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds struck out 223 times last season, breaking his own record of 204, set one year earlier. Why do they keep this guy in the lineup? Well, his 44 homers and 102 RBI's is a good reason. This season, he is striking out even more--41% of the time--109 times in his first 75 games. He has 18 homers, but he's batting only .219. I personally find it painful to watch a guy like that--constantly fanning the air and not moving runners along. Reynolds broke the previous record of 199 strikeouts set one year before that--2008--by Phillies' slugger Ryan Howard. Once again, the Phillies can live with the guy because he is perhaps the best power hitter in the league with 58 homers one season. Sammy Sosa used to drive me crazy with his strikeouts, but he hit over 60 homers in three different seasons. The worst hitter in terms of strikeouts was Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax who struck out approximately 50% of the time during his career. But then he was perhaps the greatest pitcher of his era, holding most of the pitching strike out records. He was a fine athlete who could hurl the ball 100 mph, but at the plate, he just couldn't get wood on the ball.

No article of this type would be complete without mentioning Milwaukee Brewer announcer and former third string catcher Bob Uecker who created a second career describing his ineptness on the ball field. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, April 22, 2007). "Mr. Baseball", a notoriously weak hitter, joked that the high point of his career was receiving an intentional walk from the great pitcher Sandy Koufax. Although he didn't mention it, Uecker had homered off Koufax earlier in the game. In one season, although he warmed the bench for more than half the games, Uecker still led the league's catchers with 27 passed balls and 11 errors, and was a candidate for Least Valuable Player if there were such an award. In fairness to Uecker, he had to catch for knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro, and none of the other catchers relished catching his difficult serves which were compared to eating jello with a fork. Uecker hit one grand slam homer in his career--off the aforementioned Ron Herbel.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johnny Cooney had the fewest career HR for a position player? Duane Kuiper hit *1* and he even had 7 more career at-bats than Cooney.

September 19, 2012 at 11:41 AM  

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