Every MLB Team's Biggest One-Hit Wonder Ever
There are many stories in baseball lore. There are the all-time baseball greats like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and the like. There are now those connected to the steroid era and those who make up the newest generation of stars.
Then there are these people. Some baseball players had a moment of greatness, whether it was a few games, a season or even a couple seasons, and then disappeared into history due to injuries, ineffectiveness or just because they were lucky to have such a moment at all.
Every team has at least one player that fits here. Some are obvious, like Detroit's Mark Fidrych, yet others are tougher to determine. What follows is a one-hit wonder for every MLB team.
Baltimore Orioles: Wally Bunker
The youth movement for Orioles pitching in the mid 1960s was a big success en route to a World Series win in 1966 and another in 1970. Jim Palmer became a Hall of Famer, and Dave McNally had a great career as well.
Wally Bunker, on the other hand, makes this list. In 1964, at the age of 19, Bunker had a 19-5 record with a 2.69 ERA en route to a second-place Rookie of the Year finish. He has a decent year in 1965 and a couple mediocre years after that.
He became a part-time starter after developing a sore arm, and despite a decent comeback year with Kansas City in 1969, he retired at 26.
Boston Red Sox: Daisuke Matsuzaka
I hate putting active players on these kinds of lists, as they can always have a comeback year and work their way off. In Dice-K's case, the experiment seems to be over.
The Boston Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007, which was considered a great pickup. After a solid first year, he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008 and may have won the Cy Young had it not been for Cliff Lee's breakout performance.
Since then, he's had an average season and two bad ones and is now recovering from Tommy John surgery.
He had a great career in Japan and may build on it after his contract is done next year, but this slideshow is just on MLB careers.
New York Yankees: Kevin Maas
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The Yankees are a tough team to have on such a list, as you don't think of one-hit/one-season wonders generally when you think of the Yankees. Nonetheless, there are a few flashes in the pan, particularly during World War II, when all the good players were serving in the military.
While that symbolizes several people I considered putting on here, such as Johnny Lindell, I instead picked perhaps a more obvious one in Kevin Maas. In 1990, he came out of nowhere to hit 10 home runs in his first 72 at-bats, a major-league record, and hit 21 in 79 games.
He had a decent year in 1991 as a full-time starter, hitting 23 home runs, but the rest of his stats, especially his slugging percentage, plummeted, and he was out of the league after 1995.
Tampa Bay Rays: Rocco Baldelli
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This is an easy choice, partially due to his career and partially due to the short history of the Tampa Bay Rays. The first-round pick in 2000 burst onto the scene in 2003 as a 21-year old, having a great all-around season and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting.
He had another solid season in 2004, but a torn ACL and Tommy John surgery cost him the 2005 season. He seemed to bounce back in 2006, but further injuries and a mitochondrial disorder derailed his career, and he called it a day in 2010.
Toronto Blue Jays: Kelly Gruber
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There are few examples of flashes in the pan when it comes to the Blue Jays. Jose Bautista has proven he is certainly not a one-hit wonder, Joe Carter did far more beyond his 1993 World Series-winning homer and Josh Towers had one good season but wasn't exactly a wonder.
Indeed, the only player who really fits is Kelly Gruber. He had six years as a Blue Jay under his belt, including three full ones, before breaking out in 1990. He made the All-Star team, hit .274, had 31 HR and 118 RBI and finished fourth in MVP voting, as well as won a Gold Glove.
His defense fell off after that, and his offense did soon after. Two more average seasons with the Jays (holding on just long enough to be part of a World Series-winning team) and another with the Angels was it for his career.
Chicago White Sox: Thornton Lee
Despite a 16-season career, Lee only had one season that was really noteworthy. After joining the White Sox in 1937, he was a solid part of the rotation before breaking out in 1941.
In 1941, he went 22-11 for the White Sox with a league-leading 2.37 ERA. He had three spotty seasons and was solid again in 1945 but was 38 by then and was pretty much done.
It's difficult to count 1945 as a comeback anyway since the stars were serving in World War II.
Cleveland Indians: Joe Charboneau
This is an easy one. In 1980, the Indians were continuing their losing ways, finishing around .500 for the second straight year due to a lack of pitching. However, there was reason to be excited, as Super Joe Charboneau bust onto the scene.
Charboneau hit .289 with 23 HR and 87 RBI en route to winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Unfortunately, injuries caused him to play only 70 more games in his career, and even when he did play in 1981 and '82, he did not look like the player he was in 1980.
Detroit Tigers: Mark Fidrych
When 21-year-old Mark "The Bird" Fidrych came on the scene in 1976, the Tigers finally found someone who could be an ace of the pitching staff and take over for Mickey Lolich in that role.
That year, Fidrych went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA. Not only was he Rookie of the Year, but he was second in Cy Young voting as well.
The following season, he tore his rotator cuff, effectively the kiss of death for pitchers before 1980, and he only played 27 more games over four seasons.
Kansas City Royals: Bob Hamelin
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Something about the AL Central brings promising rookies to stardom for one season—then that's it. After being a September call-up in 1993, Hamelin took charge of the Royals in 1994, hitting 24 HR and batting .282 in the strike-shortened season.
After winning the Rookie of the Year Award, he hit .168 in 72 games the following year, and while he had a slight comeback season with Detroit in 1997, he never really got that swing going again, retiring in 1999.
Minnesota Twins: Zoilo Versalles
The 1965 Minnesota Twins had a dream run en route to being AL champs. One would expect the leader of such a team to be Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva or Jim Kaat. Instead, Zoilo Versalles came out of nowhere to have one of the most improbable MVP seasons.
In 1965, Versalles hit .273 with 12 triples, 126 runs, 45 doubles (all league-leading), 77 RBI and 21 stolen bases en route to winning the AL MVP. His WAR of 7.6 that year was five points higher than his next-best season and quite close to his career WAR of 11.
While he had a few solid years leading up to 1965, no one expected him to become that great for one year.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Jarrod Washburn
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The 2002 World Series-winning Angels had veteran leadership in Kevin Appier and a promising up-and-comer in John Lackey, but the ace of the staff that year, seemingly coming out of nowhere, was Jarrod Washburn.
After four solid seasons, he had a Cy Young-caliber season in 2002, going 18-6 with a 3.15 ERA, as well as being instrumental in getting the Angels to the World Series against San Francisco. He had a decent career after that but never won more than 11 games in any season and was done after 2009.
Since Washburn had other very good seasons, it may be a stretch to put him on the list, but he never did quite recapture that 2002 glory.
Oakland Athletics: Joe Berry
The Athletics have had more than their share of flameouts over the years, including Mark Mulder, Joe Hauser and Barry Zito, but few were really one-hit wonders. The closest they have is the unique case of Jittery Joe Berry.
Berry made his debut for one game for the Cubs at the age of 37 and joined the Athletics in 1944 at the age of 39. He had two great seasons as a reliever, with ERAs of 1.94 and 2.35, leading the league in games finished both seasons.
After another season, he called it a career—one that was as brief as it was great.
Seattle Mariners: Dave Fleming
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It was a toss-up between Fleming and Paul Abbott, but the latter's noteworthy season was due to luck rather than productivity (17-4 but an ERA+ of 98), so Fleming gets the nod here.
In 1992, the 22-year-old had his first full season with the Mariners after pitching in nine games the year before. He and Randy Johnson were a great one-two punch that year, and they combined for about half of Seattle's wins that year.
After a 17-10, 3.39 ERA year, he followed it up with 12 wins the next year but struggled with arm problems, which saw his ERA skyrocket and eventually led to surgery, causing him to be out of the majors after 1995.
Texas Rangers: Dave Stenhouse
For this one, you have to go all the way back to the second Washington Senators in 1962. The team was led not by journeyman Tom Cheney, who almost made it to this list, or longtime starter Claude Osteen, but 28-year-old rookie Dave Stenhouse.
In his first full season, he made the All-Star team and went 11-12 with a 3.65 ERA, leading the team with 11 wins and 197 innings pitched. The next two seasons, he went 5-16, failed to break 100 innings and had walk totals about equal to his strikeouts, and he toiled in the minors for another couple seasons.
Atlanta Braves: Bill James
There are three noteworthy figures named Bill James in baseball. There's the sabermetrician Bill James, there's Big Bill James, pitcher in the dead-ball era mostly with the Tigers, and there's Seattle Bill James, whose 1914 season is just what this slideshow is about.
James made his debut for the Boston Braves in 1913, going 6-10 in 24 games. In 1914, he went 26-7 with a 1.90 ERA with well over 300 innings pitched en route to a third-place MVP finish (as the top pitcher in the voting, he would likely have won the Cy Young Award had it existed at the time). Not only that, but he went 2-0 in the World Series en route to a win for Boston.
However, he only played 14 more games in his career after his arm went dead. It was likely a torn rotator cuff based on others on the list, but there's no way of knowing.
Florida Marlins: Dontrelle Willis
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Technically, Dontrelle Willis had two great seasons, but he is such a perfect example of a flash in the pan that I don't feel right not including him.
Willis won the ROY Award in 2003 after going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA. After a modest second season, he had his dream year in 2005, going 22-10 with seven complete games and five shutouts, finishing second in Cy Young voting.
Following one more moderate season, that was it for him. He hasn't had an average season since, and the window of opportunity is pretty much shut at this point.
New York Mets: Bob Ojeda
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Depending on who you ask, Ojeda is known for two things. To some, he's known as the survivor of the tragic 1993 boating accident that claimed Steve Olin and Tim Crews. To others, especially Mets fans, he's known for his amazing 1986 season.
He started his career with the Boston Red Sox and had six solid seasons before being traded to the Mets in 1986. In his first season, he went 18-5 with a 2.57 ERA, was a clear All-Star snub and finished fourth in Cy Young voting.
In the playoffs, he went 2-0 in four games and, more importantly, kept his team in it in Game 6. He played eight more seasons and was entirely decent but was unable to recapture his 1986 glory.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmie Foxx
This may be the strangest story of any on the list, and since the Phillies stunk during the year Jimmie Foxx played for them, it's hard to call this a wonder.
The great Hall of Famer had wrapped up a pit stop with the Chicago Cubs in 1942 and 1944 that made his career look like it was done. Nonetheless, the Phillies picked him up for 1945, and he hit .268 in 89 games. That's not the wonder.
Where the greatness comes in was that he stepped into the pitching rotation due to how bad it was, and in nine games, two of them starts, he went 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA and was arguably the best pitcher on their roster.
That's right—Foxx pulled a Babe Ruth the opposite way, and watching that had to have been a wonder.
Washington Nationals: John Patterson
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While the Montreal Expos had their share of great seasons, many were by consistently great players like Tim Raines and Gary Carter. Once they moved to Washington, out popped another career that had one great season and then nothing.
John Patterson was exactly that. After two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he joined the Expos in 2004, where he became a full-time starter. The following year, despite a 9-7 record he had an amazing year, finishing with a 3.13 ERA, about 200 innings, 185 strikeouts and a complete-game shutout.
Patterson ended up being another victim of arm trouble, and he played 15 games the next two seasons. His lone good season ended up being the source of half his career wins.
Chicago Cubs: Dick Ellsworth
As the 1963 season began, Ellsworth was considered an innings-eater at best. He had three full seasons under his belt but lost 20 games for the Chicago Cubs, who in the early '60s had almost no pitching to speak of anyway.
Suddenly, the pitching as a unit was far better in 1963, and Ellsworth led the charge, going 22-10 with a 2.11 ERA, 185 strikeouts and a league-leading 167 ERA+, pitching 290 innings in the process. He remained a Cubs starter for three more years but went back to being average.
After losing 22 games in 1966, he bounced around to a few more teams, and his career ended in 1971, with his lone season in Boston in 1968 being the only time he got close to the 1963 season's magic.
Cincinnati Reds: Pete Schourek
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The obvious selection here would be Johnny Vander Meer, the only pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters. However, he had several great seasons and All-Star games, so he's not on here. Instead, we have pitcher Pete Schourek.
After being a spot starter for the Mets and Reds for four seasons, Schourek's 1995 season came out of nowhere. In 29 starts, he went 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA and finished second in Cy Young voting to Greg Maddux.
Various arm injuries and witnessing the death of umpire John McSherry on the field in 1996 led to a slump. He pitched six more years but had no success in any of them.
Houston Astros: John Paciorek
Sometimes you only get one shot at major-league glory, and you have to make it count. John Paciorek did just that in his one and only game for the Houston Colt .45s in 1963.
On September 29, Paciorek had five plate appearances, two walks, three hits, four runs and three runs batted in en route to a 13-4 victory. Despite a perfect debut, he had pretty poor stats in the minor leagues and was lucky to even get that 1963 opportunity.
Back surgery cost him the 1965 season, and he was never a threat to get back to the majors after that.
Milwaukee Brewers: Tommy Harper
In 1970, the expansion Milwaukee Brewers (second season total counting the 1969 Seattle Pilots) needed a playmaker to get their team moving. They found exactly that in third baseman Tommy Harper.
Harper was the speedster of the Pilots in 1969, stealing 73 bases, and had played for eight seasons prior. The following season, he showed that he could be an all-around player too, hitting .296 with 31 HR, 96 RBI, 38 SB and 7.7 WAR and finishing sixth in MVP voting.
His power never reached those levels again, and once his speed had left him in the mid 1970s, he was done.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Reb Russell
This is a unique situation, as Russell actually started out as a longtime solid member of the Chicago White Sox rotation during the dead-ball era. He went 80-59 with a 2.33 ERA in seven seasons, and due to arm injuries he avoided being part of the Black Sox team.
In 1922, Russell had been out of the league nearly three seasons, and he converted to an outfielder and joined the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 60 games, he hit .368 and led his team in home runs with 12. He had another solid year in 1923 and then became a star in the minor leagues for a few more years.
Now we know where Rick Ankiel got the idea.
St. Louis Cardinals: Mark Whiten
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With how Allen Craig has been playing in the World Series, he could end up on this list in the future. For now, though, the player who fits for the Cardinals is one whose moment of glory was very short yet still rings true, and that player is Mark Whiten.
Whiten was considered a talented player who just had to focus when he was brought to the Cardinals in 1993. He did just that, hitting 25 HR and 97 RBI, and in a game on September 7, he hit four HR with 12 RBI, both tying major-league records.
He was good the following year as well, but after leaving the Cardinals before the 1995 season, he never found his footing and never came close to a 12-RBI performance again.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Luis Gonzalez
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This is a stretch, as Luis Gonzalez actually had a great career unlike others on the list, but he is included due to how great his 2001 season was and due to the short history of the Diamondbacks.
Gonzalez already had an 11-season career under his belt in 2001 and was coming off a 31 HR season, a new career high. His stat line was explosive, to say the least: .325 BA, 57 HR, 142 RBI, 100 BB and 7.6 WAR, just to name a few.
He had a couple more good years, but 2001 was a statistical anomaly for him that happened to come at the perfect time, especially since it was the year the Diamondbacks won their lone World Series.
Colorado Rockies: Marvin Freeman
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Starvin' Marvin Freeman is certainly an obscure person to most MLB fans, even though his career was not all that long ago. He spent seven seasons with the Phillies and Braves as a reliever before joining the Colorado Rockies in 1994.
The Rockies converted him into a starter, and the results were immediate. In 19 games, Freeman went 10-2 with a 2.80 ERA, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting.
After the strike ended the season and play resumed in 1995, that version of Freeman disappeared, and after two full seasons with an ERA around six, he was done.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Karl Spooner
If you kept up with Strasburgmania last year, then you likely have seen this name before. If not, Karl Spooner was a pitcher who made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. The 23-year-old was only a late-season call-up and was just set to be a starter the last couple games of the season.
In his two starts, Spooner had two complete-game shutouts with 27 strikeouts and seven hits. His success in late September was such that he was poised to be the next big thing and a key part of the 1955 rotation.
He injured his arm early that year, and after an 8-6 record in 29 games trying to pitch through it, his arm trouble forced an early retirement.
Luckily for the Dodgers, another lefty was brought up in mid 1955 to be the next big thing after Spooner fell off. That lefty was Sandy Koufax.
San Diego Padres: Butch Metzger
In 1976, the still relatively new San Diego Padres were building up their talent. Dave Winfield was leading the hitting, and Randy Jones led the pitching. Butch Metzger, meanwhile, became the closer after two seasons and 14 total games in his career.
Metzger went on to pitch 77 games and go 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in the process. Partway through the following season, he was traded to the Cardinals and had a decent year there.
Due to issues with his control, he only played two more seasons after winning the award.
San Francisco Giants: Masanori Murakami
Masanori Murakami's career was brief. The 20-year-old joined San Francisco in 1964, and in two seasons, 54 games total, he went 5-1 with a 3.43 ERA.
What makes him a wonder is that he was the first Japanese player to play MLB, over 30 years before Hideo Nomo came onto the scene, yet he's not someone whose name pops up much in baseball history. Perhaps it's due to his short yet wondrous MLB career.
He moved on to Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball after his stint with the Giants and played there until 1982.