Ten least-likely guys to break up a no-hitterby Chris Jaffe
January 23, 2012
Not that it matters, but so close.
It’s happened many times in baseball history. A team pitches for nine full innings (or more) and walks away having surrendered just one hit. One hit allowed is almost always enough to win the game, but it’s always enough to keep a pitcher from making a bit of history.
All pitchers would like to throw no-hitters, but it rarely happens. A one-hitter sure beats a loss, but it’s got to be a bit frustrating. If only that one pitch had been a bit different, the game might have been something more than a simple victory.
Oh well. Oftentimes, the guy getting the hit is a star, perhaps even a Hall of Famer. More often he’s at least a solid player. Yeah, but then there are other times. There are times the guy isn’t a star or a role player. He’s someone who, well, sucks. Sometimes the player getting the hit is a guy who has no business whatsoever getting the hit. Yet he did anyway.
Let’s look them up. Who are the least likely batters to be that guy, the only batter standing between the pitcher and a no-hitter?
Since 1919, there have been 958 times in the regular season a team pitched at least nine innings and allowed exactly one hit. There are all also 10 such postseason games on record. So we’re looking for the least likely out of that bunch.
Please note one key qualifier: The team has to throw nine full innings, which does throw out a few games. For example, on Sept. 9, 1965, in one of the most famous pitching duels of all time, Chicago Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley threw a complete-game one-hitter but only went eight innings. The opposing Dodgers turned that hit into a run, and with Sandy Koufax pitching a perfect game, that’s all they needed for a 1-0 win.
It was a great game, but eight innings isn’t nine. We’re looking at the 968 times a team went at least nine innings.
To make the list, we’ll look at a few things. Most importantly is hits per plate appearance (H/PA), as that tells us how likely a guy is to get a hit. Let’s also look at good old-fashioned batting average. Also, let’s note guys who didn’t play much at all, either that season or in their career. If they were so good (and thus deserving to break up a no-hitter), they would’ve played more.
There’s no magic formula for putting this list together, but those are the key factors at work. In general, H/PA means the most.
Okay, with that said, here’s the list:
10. Only three games? Sept. 29, 2007: Florida Marlins’ Paul Hoover (season numbers: 3 H, 8 AB, 8 PA, .375 AVG, .375 H/PA).
There are several fun factors for Paul Hoover. First, he played in only three games in 2007. That’s the fewest by any of the 968 one-hit hitters.
The elusive Paul Hoover
The elusive Paul Hoover
Second, his three hits in 2007 weren’t an aberration for him. Though he played in parts of seven seasons, he only has 25 career hits in 40 games. Weird. He keeps making the majors but never gets any playing time.
And here’s a nice added bonus: He wasn’t even supposed to play in this game. Florida’s starting catcher in that day’s game against the Mets was Miguel Olivo.
However, in the fifth inning, Olivo was ejected for throwing a punch at Jose Reyes. (Strangely, Olivo and Reyes were supposedly friends, too).
And Hoover’s hit wasn’t even much of a hit. It was an infield grounder that dribbled so weakly even a backup catcher could beat it out.
One final note, by getting that hit, he prevented John Maine from pitching the first no-hitter in franchise history. A half-century of baseball and the Mets franchise still doesn’t have a no-hitter.
And Paul Hoover, of all people, is one reason why that’s the case.
9. Worst pinch hitter comes through: Sept. 11, 1965: Mets’ Cleon Jones (season numbers: 11 H, 74 AB, 76 PA, .149 AVG, .145 H/PA).
Cleon Jones turned into a nice hitter, but he wasn’t one in 1965. His .149 batting average is the third-lowest for any position player that accounted for his team’s only hit. His OPS+ on the year was seven. That’s right, it was in single digits. His H/PA is “only” sixth-worst among position players, which is why he ranks back here.
Jones wasn’t even supposed to play that day. However, the Mets had pitching problems, and in the fifth inning they needed a pinch hitter for the night’s second reliever. That pinch hitter was Jones, and his single was the only hit Atlanta’s Tony Cloninger allowed all night long.
8. Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson: May 25, 1957: Indians’ Eddie Robinson (season numbers: 6 H, 39 AB, 46 PA, .154 AVG, .130 H/PA)
Eddie Robinson was a nice player for a number of years, but those years were all but over, as 1957 proved to be his final season, and it went out with a whimper. Not only did he get a total of six hits all year (spread out over three teams), but his single on May 25 was his first hit of the year.
To be fair, he hadn’t played much—zero starts and only 14 PA—but it was May 25, and he didn’t have any hits yet. In this game, he got a second-inning double off Chicago’s Dick Donovan for Cleveland’s only hit.
Robinson got three more hits in a doubleheader the next day, and then a pinch-hit homer on May 28. Then he went 1-for-16 in 19 PA to end his career.
7. How could a hitter this bad get so many PA? April 26, 1975: A’s Ray Fosse (season numbers: 19 H, 136 AB, 147 PA, .140 AVG, .129 H/PA)
A few years ago, I wrote an article for The 2011 Hardball Times Baseball Annual on the best and worst benches in baseball history. The 20th century’s worst bench, adjusted for era and park, belonged to the 1975 A’s. Ray Fosse is a big part of the reason that was the case.
His batting average and H/PA are both among the worst ever for a guy who got the only hit. He didn’t just lack hits, he lacked everything. He had five extra-base hits in 82 games played. He walked eight times and stole no bases.
Yet despite playing in a lineup stocked with talent on April 26, Fosse was the guy who laced a single against California’s Frank Tanana. Billy Williams, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Bert Campaneris, Claudell Washington, Phil Garner and Sal Bando all went hitless, as did the lineup’s only never-All-Star, Angel Mangual.
6. Good timing for your only hit of the year. April 21, 1956: White Sox’s Earl Battey (season numbers: 1 H, 4 AB, 5 PA, .250 AVG, .200 H/PA).
Earl Battey was a pretty good player, but for purposes of this list, he has one resounding claim to fame: He’s the only guy to get exactly one hit in a season and have that one hit be the only hit in a one-hitter.
Like Paul Hoover, Battey wasn’t supposed to play this day. Sherm Lollar was Chicago’s starting catcher. But then the White Sox allowed 13 runs in the second inning to the Kansas City A’s, and the team decided to give old Sherm a breather. Battey singled against KC’s Art Ditmar in the fourth inning, and that was all Chicago could do on the day.
5. 26 up, 26 down. April 20, 1990: A’s Ken Phelps (season numbers: 18 H, 120 AB, 143 PA, .150 AVG, .126 H/PA).
Ken Phelps was a Moneyball player before there was Moneyball. He was a masher who drew a ton of walks but was widely ignored because his batting average was never that good.
After a nice run with the Mainers in the 1980s, Phelps was playing out the string by 1990. It was his last season, and he split it with the A’s and Indians, but he had one nice moment of revenge for himself.
On April 20, 1990, Seattle pitcher Brian Holman was one out from throwing a perfect game against the A’s. Manager Tony LaRussa decided to call on Phelps as a pinch hitter, and he responded by bashing a home run.
Phelps wouldn’t get a hit for another week, going 0-for-12 with a walk. He wouldn’t hit another home run ever.
4. (TIE) The Tom Seaver duo: April 15, 1970: Phillies’ Mike Compton (season numbers: 18 H, 110 AB, 121 PA, .164 AVG, .149 H/PA. July 9, 1969: Cubs’ Jim Qualls (season numbers: 30 H, 120 AB, 124 PA, .250 AVG, .242 H/PA).
The Jim Qualls game is more famous, but it’s the Mike Compton game that causes this duo to make the list. Qualls is just piggybacking here.
In the Qualls game, Tom Seaver flirted with perfection. He retired the first 25 batters he faced, fanning 11 along the way. Then came Qualls, the No. 8 hitter in the order, playing in just his 18th major league game. Of course, he singled, becoming the Cubs' only baserunner in the game. Qualls went on to a short career, in which he got exactly 31 lifetime hits, but that includes one some still remember.
Thirty-one lifetime hits is one of the lowest totals ever for a position player that broke up a no-hitter but, improbably, it’s not the lowest by anyone that broke up a Tom Seaver no-hitter.
The year after Qualls, Seaver again got burned by a No. 8 hitter, in this case Phillies catcher Compton. Playing in just his 12th game, he laced out his seventh career hit. Compton ended the season, and his big-league career, with just 18 hits. That’s the fewest career hits by any non-pitcher who got the only hit in a one-hitter.
3. The worst position player ever. Sept. 9, 1993: Padres’ Luis Lopez (season numbers: 5 H, 43 AB, 44 PA, .116 AVG, .114 H/PA).
Yes, it’s only a sample size of 44 PA, but it’s an impressively horrible sample size. Luis Lopez wins the award for worst batting average for a position player who got the only hit. He also has the lowest H/PA. Oh, and his OPS+ of –33 (yes, negative 33) is nearly the worst for anyone, including pitchers.
Oh, and there’s another distinctive feature for Lopez: This was his first career hit. He’s the only position player whose first career hit was the only hit for his team in the entire game. It came off Atlanta reliever Mark Wohlers in the eighth inning. The team had taken out starting pitcher Kent Mercker for a pinch hitter because the game was tied, 0-0. Atlanta won in 10 frames, 1-0.
2. (TIE). Opposing starting pitchers. (Too many to name right here).
Question: How many times has the only hit in a full game come from the bat of the opposing pitcher? Answer: 17 times.
That’s more than I would’ve guessed, but there you go. There’s no sense in discussing them all, so this list will have to suffice. It lists the date, team of the hitting pitcher, his offensive stats on the year and his name. Here they are, in chronological order:
Date Team H AB PA Avg H/PA Guy 6/8/1919 CHW 10 54 63 0.185 0.159 Red Faber 8/27/1925 WSH 42 97 107 0.433 0.393 Walter Johnson 6/9/1947 CHC 7 56 59 0.125 0.119 Hank Borowy 8/30/1948 DET 19 92 108 0.207 0.176 Hal Newhouser 9/13/1951 STL 5 46 46 0.109 0.109 Al Brazle 5/12/1953 CLE 25 91 104 0.275 0.240 Early Wynn 8/22/1958 WSH 11 69 73 0.159 0.151 Russ Kemmerer 5/23/1960 PIT 3 16 16 0.188 0.188 Bennie Daniels 7/15/1963 BAL 16 79 92 0.203 0.174 Robin Roberts 4/13/1964 WSA 14 90 103 0.156 0.136 Claude Osteen 5/4/1966 STL 14 41 45 0.341 0.311 Ray Sadecki 6/29/1974 STL 10 63 73 0.159 0.137 John Curtis 9/21/1986 HOU 9 91 95 0.099 0.095 Bob Knepper 6/8/1992 NYM 3 27 30 0.111 0.100 Anthony Young 8/18/2003 COL 2 13 15 0.154 0.133 Chin-hui Tsao 5/1/2006 COL 8 62 75 0.129 0.107 Jason Jennings 8/13/2010 PHI 10 67 72 0.149 0.139 Cole Hamels
Some of these guys were good hitters. Walter Johnson could always hit, and Ray Sadecki had a great season.
Hamels: The most recent pitcher to ruin a fellow hurler's no-hitter.
Hamels: The most recent pitcher to ruin a fellow hurler's no-hitter.
Bob Knepper has the lowest batting average, and his game was especially fun because he hit a triple—the only thing preventing San Diego pitcher Jimmy Jones from throwing a perfect game. Weird.
Speaking of opposing pitchers, some of these hits came against Hall of Famers. Bennie Daniels' came against a young Koufax.
Al Brazle’s hit came against Warren Spahn. That’s impressive, especially given that Brazle has the worst OPS+ of them all: -41. Eventually, Spahn would throw a no-hitter, but it took him nine more years.
Whitey Ford had no such luck. He won 236 games in his career but never threw a no-hitter. The closest he ever came was May 12, 1953, when an Early Wynn single got in his way. Ouch.
Yes, Wynn was a good hitter for a pitcher, but that “for a pitcher” is a heck of a qualifier. Also, Wynn’s single was an infield single. Ford lost his no-hitter on an infield single by the opposing pitcher. Ouch, indeed.
Finally, Tsao only had two hits in his entire career, but one of them prevented Steve Trachsel from throwing a no-hitter. I’m not sure which is more embarrassing, having the opposing pitcher ruin your no-hitter or being a team nearly no-hit by Steve Trachsel.
1. (TIE). Relief pitchers. April 28, 1935: Phillies' Orville Jorgens: (season numbers: 6 H, 62 AB, 68 PA, .097 AVG, .088 H/PA. June 28, 1935: Pirates' Mace Brown (season numbers: 4 H, 24 AB, 27 PA, .167 AVG, .148 H/PA
It’s bad enough to lose a no-hitter because the opposing starting pitcher got a hit off of you, but to lose it when a reliever sneaks out a hit? Aw man, that’s as low as it gets.
It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened twice. Incredibly, the two times were exactly two months apart.
On April 28, 1935, something happened to Phillies starting pitcher Euel Moore, and he had to leave the game after facing just three batters. In relief came rookie Orville Jorgens, making just his fifth career appearance. 0-for-2 previously in his career, he managed to lash out a single against Giants pitcher Hal Schumacher.
Jorgens and Luis Lopez are the only guys whose first career hit was the only hit their teams got in a game. Strangely, both ended up having really horrible seasons at the plate.
Two months later, on June 28, 1935, another rookie got his unlikely chance at offensive glory. On that day, Pirate starting pitcher Jim Weaver didn’t have it, nor did initial reliever Ralph Birkofer. That pair allowed eight runs while only recording five outs.
In came pitcher Mace Brown. Like Jorgens, it was just the fifth game for Brown. Unlike Jorgens, he’d previously gotten a hit—one hit, to be exact. On this day, he got his second hit. He also prevented the Cubs from scoring any more runs, but that didn’t matter. Between their 8-0 lead and Roy Henshaw’s near no-hit pitching, the game was already over.
But Henshaw must’ve been bugged that it was only a near no-hitter. If he could have just gotten the reliever out, it would’ve been a no-hitter. He and Hal Schumacher suffered the most annoying way to blow a no-hitter, losing it to a pitcher who wasn’t even supposed to be in the game.
Aside from that, there are plenty of other odd nuggets I discovered about one-hitters while researching this piece. But I’ll save those for another time.
References and Resources
The Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com was vital for creating this list.
I also did a Google search to look up the game account for the Paul Hoover game.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.
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