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Ranking the Biggest One-Hit Wonders in Sports

Zack PumerantzAnalyst IIIJanuary 6, 2017

Ranking the Biggest One-Hit Wonders in Sports

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    In a realm where legends are loved and busts are torn to shreds, most athletes fall somewhere in the middle, etching careers defined by consistency. But once in awhile, we're presented with the type of player who hints at greatness and then disappears almost immediately. 

    Like Vanilla Ice in 1989, these dudes briefly dominated the billboards and then found themselves walking down streets unnoticed or ignored.

    Yet their short-lived stardom wasn't forgotten, and their names were carved into the walls of athletic achievement—though never quite finished.

    Let's take a look at those who failed to master consistency: the biggest one-hit wonders in sports.

    Jeremy Lin beware.

25. Jerome James, NBA

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    For all of Isiah Thomas' faults as New York Knicks general manager, he had a somewhat legitimate reason for signing Jerome James to a five-year, $30 million free-agent contract in 2005.

    And to be honest, we're stretching it. Call me a devil's advocate.

    Having fluttered around five points per game during his first few years in the league, James exploded in the '05 playoffs with the Seattle SuperSonics, averaging 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in 11 games against the Kings and Spurs. Intriguing numbers indeed; perhaps promise truly was buried somewhere beneath that limited surface.

    A horrific first season with New York was a sign of things to come. He would never duplicate an already disappointing three points and two rebounds per game.

24. Brady Anderson, MLB

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    After four seasons as a reserve, then-28-year-old Brady Anderson finally got his chance to consistently start. Twenty-one home runs and 80 RBI (.271 average) looked good for the developing outfielder, and his role seemed cemented as a solid swinger.

    But the gifted Oriole wouldn't hit more than 16 dingers until 1996, when he somehow belted 50 long balls and drove in 110 runs, while securing a career-high .297 average. It was a magical year, yet more of an outlier than a hint at Anderson's potential.

    He would never hit more than 24 home runs again, leaving baffled Baltimore fans demanding more.

23. 2006 George Mason Patriots, NCAA Basketball

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    Never before had the Patriots advanced to even the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament. But that changed in 2006, when they inspired the world by defeating UNC, UConn, Michigan State and powerhouse Wichita State to advance to the Final Four.

    George Mason's miraculous run was cut short by the Joakim Noah-led Gators (the eventual champions). Since then, the school hasn't advanced past the first round of March Madness.

    But their Cinderella story gave hope to future underdogs.

22. Bud Smith, MLB

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    As a 21-year-old rookie southpaw with the Cardinals in 2001, Bud Smith finished 6-3 with a 3.83 ERA and one historic no-hitter (the last Cardinal to throw one).

    But after posting a 6.94 ERA the following season, Smith would quietly dissolve from the scene, never to be heard from again.

21. Scott Mitchell, NFL

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    Video clips of a promising left arm earned Scott Mitchell a chance with the Lions in 1994, especially after he'd thrived in place of an injured Dan Marino in Miami.

    After a part-time year in '94, Mitchell burst out with 4,338 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions in '95 (92.3 rating).

    He put up solid numbers in 1997, before embracing the pine with the Ravens and Bengals en route to retirement. Perhaps he'd like to thank receiver Herman Moore and tailback Barry Sanders for the assists.

20. Paul Henderson, NHL

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    An otherwise ordinary career was highlighted by three game-winning goals during the 1972 Summit Series against the U.S.S.R., the last one winning the series for Canada.

    While immortalized thanks to that game-winning goal, Henderson's NHL prowess was essentially nondescript.

    But what a performance he gave for three games 40 years ago.

19. Troy Hudson, NBA

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    Known for his stringy braids and sweet stroke, point guard Troy Hudson found himself struggling to make a serious impact during his first five years in the league.

    Once he arrived in Minnesota, however, Hudson found the spark he'd been looking for. He averaged a career-best 14.2 points and 5.7 assists during the 2002-03 season before erupting for 23.5 points per game against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

    That postseason run would earn him a six-year deal worth about $37 million, which was bought out four years later after injuries and limited production clouded his career.

    What a ride.

18. Derek Anderson, NFL

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    Once known for his powerful right arm, now only remembered for a vibrant rant in 2010, Derek Anderson has traveled a unique road to anonymity.

    After spot-starting the previous year behind Charlie Frye, the 6'6" signal-caller got his full-season chance with Cleveland in 2007. Anderson chucked for 3,787 yards, 29 touchdowns and a forgivable 19 interceptions.

    Since then: 19 touchdowns, 28 interceptions and his own warm nooks on the Arizona and Carolina bench.

17. Dallas Braden, MLB

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    Here's a case of good guy finishing first.

    Until 2010 came around, Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden had a combined record of 14-21. Not worth a double take. Then, as expected, came another ordinary year: 11-14 with a 3.50 ERA in '10.

    Yet buried beneath the routine surface was the 19th perfect game in MLB history. On May 9th, Mother's Day, Braden honored the death of his mother and shut the Rays down in flawless fashion.

    While he wouldn't do much else on the diamond, Braden would receive a community service award the following season to make his mark.

16. Shane Spencer, MLB

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    The cherubic outfielder was first called up to the major leagues in 1998 at the seasoned age of 26, finally ready for his shot.

    After hitting 10 home runs in September (three grand slams in 67 at-bats), Shane Spencer was added to the Pinstripes' postseason roster faster than George Steinbrenner could scream "winning." His memorable deep shot against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series would help propel the Yanks to the World Series and an eventual championship.

    Spencer became a stout role player, but nothing more as his Yankees won three more titles during his tenure.

    He hit 49 more home runs over the next six years, far from his historic rookie-year September.

15. SlamBall

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    Now, this intricate creation had some serious potential. Essentially a realistic version of NBA Street with trampolines and the freedom to derail opponents, SlamBall catered to the masses.

    However, four five-minute quarters (20 minutes overall) wasn't sufficient enough for fan enjoyment, and after two seasons on Spike TV (2002-03), the sport seemed finished.

    After a brief comeback in 2008, SlamBall disappeared faster than Hank Williams Jr. at a Democratic convention.

14. Rich Thompson, MLB

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    It may have taken 13 long seasons, but 33-year-old minor leaguer Rich Thompson finally made peace with the game he loves...baseball.

    Thompson was drafted in 2000 and made his major league debut in 2004 as a Rule 5 selection of the Kansas City Royals. Six appearances later, and he was sent back down.

    Eight years later, the Rays' aged "youngster" was back and ready to swing the wood. On May 17th against the Red Sox, Thompson came to the plate and took a hack on a 1-0 pitch. Chopper up the middle past a sprinting Dustin Pedroia for his first hit and first RBI.

    13 years, 90 feet and a round of applause.

13. Jack Fleck, Golf

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    After winning an 18-hole playoff by three strokes over the legendary Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open, Iowa-bred Jack Fleck had reached the pinnacle of greatness.

    Not only had he defeated his icon, but Fleck's first-round deficit of nine strokes opened the door for the best comeback ever by a U.S. Open winner.

    From caddying a local dentist in the mid-'30s and serving in the Navy during World War II to standing on top of the golf world, Fleck's road to prosperity was one for the ages.

12. Ickey Woods, NFL

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    Remembered for his Ickey Shuffle, fullback Ickey Woods did record a memorable 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns in his rookie season (228 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs to propel the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII).

    That would be it for Woods, though, as a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in the second game of his sophomore season would keep him out 13 months. His spot was filled by Harold Green upon his return, and in 1991, Woods would injure his right knee in the preseason.

    Woods was finished at 26.

11. 1966 England National Team, Soccer

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    It's worldwide knowledge that England and soccer go together like copy and paste. And because of this fact, it's odd that the national team only has one FIFA World Cup Final victory to its name.

    When it achieved prosperity in 1966, beating West Germany 4-2 in the final, England became the first host to win the tournament since Italy in 1934.

    Since then, a semifinal appearance in 1990 has been it.

10. Akili Smith, NFL

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    Thirty-two touchdown passes in only 11 starts was all Oregon senior quarterback Akili Smith needed to convince professional scouts that he was the real deal.

    Raw and talented, yet completely unseasoned, Smith was eventually chosen with the third pick of the '99 draft, behind Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb. Quite the unimpressive crop, in retrospect. 

    Smith would never find his niche with the Bengals, throwing for 2,212 yards, five touchdowns and 13 picks while completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes during his four NFL seasons.

    These days, he's focused on his degree.

9. Don Larsen, MLB

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    If not for one memorable Game 5 during the 1956 World Series, Yankee hurler Don Larsen would've been yet another average pitcher to come through the ranks.

    But because of his perfect game against the defending champion Brooklyn Dodgers, Larsen continues to represent the mecca of perfection.

    A record of 81-91 seems far from noteworthy until we realize Larsen is the only man in history to pitch a perfect game during the World Series, and one of two to do it during the postseason.

    Yogi's epic leap into Larsen's arms was the ultimate finish.

8. Rich Beem, Golf

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    There was a time—1995 to be exact—when Rich Beem escaped the Dakotas Tour and began selling stereos and cell phones in Seattle. This wasn't the life for a club artist, and he soon returned to the green.

    As he prepped for the '02 PGA Championship, Beem enjoyed victories at the 1999 Kemper Open and the International. Still, he remained, a snarling underdog.

    Coming down to the wire of the Championship, Tiger Woods birdied his last four holes for a 67, while Beem secured a 35-foot birdie and fended off the greatest golfer in recent memory.

    He hasn't won since.

7. Mark Fidrych, MLB

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    He would fix cleat marks into the pitcher's mound, talk to himself, talk to baseballs and fascinate his fans with the rest of his baffling antics.

    Mark "The Bird" Fidrych was a once-in-a-lifetime specimen who came and went faster than the Cardinals' rally squirrel of 2011.

    All his oddities were embraced when he finished his rookie season 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA. Ten wins the rest of his career would, however, cloud his early promise, as an untreated and undiagnosed torn rotator cuff would seal the end of his baseball career by the age of 26.

6. The XFL

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    The weird thing about the XFL is that nobody except Vince McMahon was anxious to see it born, and nobody except the cheerleaders will miss it when it's gone.

    It was opinions like this, from ESPN's Hunter S. Thompson, that truly summed up the XFL. Sparked by WWE owner Vince McMahon in an attempt to bring frustrated NFL fans over to a more ruthless, perhaps rule-relaxed league, the XFL eventually became a breeding ground for those who weren't good enough for the pro game.

    Triple-A football, if you will.

    Here's some perspective: Former NFL journeyman QB Tommy Maddox was MVP in the XFL's lone season.

5. David Tyree, NFL

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    Former Syracuse star David Tyree never caught more than 19 passes in a season during his six-year career.

    In the end, all he needed was one.

    Well, maybe two, considering he pulled in a five-yard touchdown pass for his first touchdown of the season to give Big Blue a 10-7 lead late in the game.

    Then came the magic.

    The gravity-defying, heart-wrenching snag during the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII cemented him in Giants and NFL history for good. His hellacious reception, with the Giants down 14-10, would set up Eli Manning's game-winning fade to Plaxico Burress four plays later and, naturally, a comfortable retirement.

    He never caught another pass.

4. John Paciorek, MLB

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    Unaware he'd soon record arguably the greatest one-game career in major league history, recently-promoted outfielder John Paciorek joined his Houston Colt .45s for the final game of the 1963 season against the Mets.

    In five at-bats, Paciorek naturally hit three singles, earned two walks and scored four runs while driving in three.

    Back surgery in 1964 caused him to miss the 1965 season. He then played in the minors until 1969, never to be seen on a major league diamond again.

    1.000 batting average in cement.

3. Timmy Smith, NFL

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    With Smith fixed behind George Rogers at the running back position, playing time was limited for the rookie. But 126 yards in the regular season would soon be eclipsed by Smith's monstrous, albeit unexpected start in Super Bowl XXII due to Rogers' injury problems.

    A Super Bowl-record 204 yards and two touchdowns helped propel Smith's Redskins to a 42-10 victory over the Broncos. He would rush for 470 yards the following season and retire for good in 1990 because of injuries.

2. Jimmy Glass, Soccer

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    You heard that right—goalkeeper Jimmy Glass scored the most important goal in Carlisle United history back in 1999.

    Knowing they had to beat Plymouth Argyle to hold the Football League spot they'd held since 1928, Carlisle brought on goalkeeper Jimmy Glass on loan from Swindon because of his club's injury problems.

    Ten seconds before the end of stoppage time, Glass pranced up the pitch and kicked a corner into the back of the net to keep Carlisle in the league and send Scarborough down to the Conference.

    We'll allow BBC commentator Derek Lacey the ferocious finish:

    Referee looks at his watch...and here comes Jimmy Glass! Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass is coming up for the kick—everyone is going up...there isn’t one player in the Carlisle half! Well, well...and the corner kick comes in...and...the goalkeeper's punch...oh...Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass, the goalkeeper, has scored a goal for Carlisle United! There's a pitch invasion! There is a pitch invasion! The referee has been swamped—they're bouncing on the crossbar!

1. Buster Douglas, Boxing

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    At 23 years old, with a record of 37-0 and 33 knockouts, a beastly demeanor and a ferocious appetite, Mike Tyson was on his way to becoming the greatest heavyweight of all time. 

    Until James "Buster" Douglas arrived at the Tokyo Dome in 1990.

    Douglas shocked the world with his 10-round victory over the untouchable Tyson and then urgently faded into oblivion. About eight months later, Douglas would lose his only title defense to Evander Holyfield in a third-round knockout before disappearing on an eating binge. 

    He would make a comeback in '96, following a deadly diabetic coma, before retiring again in '99.

    Never to be heard from again.

     

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