Last year I wrote a column here at THT of which I was quite proud: “The ten most impressive no-hitters of all-time.” With the help of the internet and my local library, I tried to determine the best hitting lineups held utterly hitless. I really liked that piece, but I made one big mistake. Like the mope that I am, I submitted it for publication on the last Monday in May, otherwise known as Memorial Day. That assured as small a readership for it as possible. D’OH!
Well, I can’t undo that mishap, but I can learn from that lesson with this sequel. After all, if it’s possible to find the 10 most impressive lineups ever to suffer the indignity of a no-hitter, I should be able to look up the 10 least impressive bunch of clodhoppers ever to go a game without a hit. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t instinctively start with the downbeat column last time, what with me being a Cubs fan and all.
I should note, in last year’s column, as a special addendum, I listed the single worst lineup ever no-hit, so the end result to this one won’t come as a surprise to those who read last year’s model. Then again, if you’re willing to read me on holidays, well: 1) thanks!, and 2) you’re probably going to read this one anyway. Besides, even if the first one has been listed, the rest of the list hasn’t.
The stat to focus on is good old fashioned batting average. Sure, other stats are more advanced in capturing a player’s overall value, but we’re not looking at that. Ability to get hits is what matters, and that’s precisely what AVG measures.
That said, a few other factors affect who makes this list. First is playing time. A lineup full of guys who went 6-for-20 on the season would be a lineup full of .300 hitters, but if any of them were really that good, they would’ve had more than 20 at-bats. No lineup exactly like that has taken the field, but sometimes there is a player or two like that out there.
Second, I’d like as broad a representation across the eras as possible. It’s more interesting that way. Also, an assemblage of .230 hitters from 2008 is a bit more embarrassing than a slew of .240 hitters from 1908. Then again, let’s not get carried away with this enforcing this guideline. There should be more from the deadball era than more hitter-happy periods.
Finally, please note that like all lists, this is purely subjective. There is no point making a list like this unless it’s going to be fun.
The Bats of Bleach: the worst lineups ever no-hit
I’m sure there are some I missed, but from those I didn’t, here are the lineups most predictably held hitless.
10. Nick Maddox vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers, September 20, 1907.
Before Brooklyn was “Dem Bums” they were just bums. This season came smack in the middle of an 11-year stretch without a winning record. As a team the Dodgers hit .232 in 1907, and while that’s terrible, it’s also better than their team average in each of the next three seasons. Here is the lineup (and batting averages) for the squad on this day.
Name Avg Casey, 3B 0.231 Lewis, SS 0.248 Jordan, 1B 0.274 Hummel, 2B 0.234 Batch, LF 0.247 Burch, RF 0.292 Maloney, CF 0.229 Bergen, C 0.159 Stricklett, P 0.148
Sure, it looks bad, but not tremendously bad. Seven of them are .229 or higher. Aye, but while few individuals are truly wretched, almost none are that good. Only two are above .250. Al Burch, who has the lineup’s best batting average at .292, was actually a part-time player having a flukishly high average. He spent the first half of the year with the Cards, where he hit .227. His career average was .254.
In turns out that almost every lineup has a couple of quality bats. That’s even true of those that are no-hit. This group possessed only one real bat of note, if you consider a bruising .274 offensive clip to be “of note.”
This lineup has one other element going for it that pushes it above all the contenders for this bottom rung: the presence of Bill Bergen. The man made Mario Mendoza look like Barry Bonds. Bergen was the worst offensive player ever. Not only was his career batting average under .200 (.170), but in nearly 1,000 games played, his OBP was even below that low water marker (.194). At least he had that ferocious .201 SLG to help himself out.
9. Virgil Trucks vs. the Washington Senators, May 15, 1952.
The 1952 Senators had a .239 team batting average, which was the worst by any no-hit club between 1917 and 1963. That helps the following lineup gain its admission here:
Name Avg Yost, 3B 0.233 Busby, CF 0.244 Jensen, RF 0.286 Vernon, 1B 0.251 Runnels, SS 0.285 Coan, LF 0.205 Marsh, 2B 0.042 Kluttz, C 0.229 Porterfield, P 0.190
Again, this isn’t necessarily a terrible lineup. It’s just one with little that impresses. They have some quality hitters here, but even some of them come with asterisks. Eddie Yost was a walk-driven OBP machine, but walks aren’t the issue here. Mickey Vernon won the batting title in 1953, but something went horribly wrong for him in 1952. Pete Runnels later won multiple batting titles, but this was his first full season.
Ultimately, only two guys batted over .251 that year. Meanwhile, the bottom portion of the lineup really was the bottom. How often does someone hit .042? OK, fine—it’s a bit of a fluke caused by small sample size. It’s still less than one-fourth Bill Bergen’s career mark.
As it happens, this was one of two no-hitters Trucks threw on the year. His other one made last year’s column, tied for seventh place as one of the most impressive lineups ever no-hit. Incredibly, he’s not the only hurler to make both lists.
8. Pud Galvin vs. the Detroit Wolverines, August 4, 1884.
This one is a bit tricky. My main source for this article is a book on no-hitters that goes back to 1900. For older ones, I first found out what nineteenth century teams that got no-hit had the worst lineup, and then used Proquest at my local library to see who took the field on the day in question.
Detroit hit .208 in 1884, which ties for the lowest mark in NL history. That got them on the Proquest list. However, papers back then didn’t list the modern boxscore. I only know who some of the players were for Detroit that day, and I don’t know at all who filled what slot in the batting order. For the slots I’m guessing on, I’ll put a question mark.
As near as I can tell, here are the men Pud Galvin no-hit:
Name Avg Scott, 1B 0.247 Farrell, 3B 0.226 Hanlon, OF 0.264 Wood, OF 0.252 Meinke, P 0.164 Buker, UT 0.135 Bennett, C 0.264 Wiedman?, OF 0.163 Geiss?, UT 0.177
The paper did list items such as who struck out or drew walks or committed errors, as well as the pitchers. Based on that, I determined seven of the nine slots.
I’m pretty confident I got the other two right. First, starting pitcher Frank Meinke doubled as the team’s starting shortstop. Since he obviously wasn’t at second base, and because the record shows normal utility infielder Harry Buker played, that makes it quite likely that regular starting second baseman Bill Geiss was in the game. Stump Wiedman might be wrong, but he’s the best guess for the final outfield slot.
As for the lineup, four bats under .180 and none higher than .264 equals the most pathetic hitless lineup of the Gilded Age.
7. Hideo Nomo vs. the Baltimore Orioles, April 4, 2001.
Hideo Nomo showed up in last year’s column as well, with his Coors Field no-hitter coming in second place (and looking back it may have belonged in first). If nothing else, he’s had the greatest discrepancy in no-hitter degrees of difficulty.
Here’s the Boys from Baltimore:
Name Avg Anderson, LF 0.202 Bordick, SS 0.249 DeShields, DH 0.197 Segui, 1B 0.301 Richard, RF 0.265 Mora, CF 0.250 Ripken, 3B 0.239 Fordyce, C 0.209 Hairston, 2B 0.233
Perhaps it wasn’t as bad as the Wolverine lineup above, but at least I know who actually started here. How in hell in this day and age does a team produce a lineup where a majority of its starters end up batting below .240 for the season?
David Segui, who possessed the only good batting average of the bunch, played in only 82 games that year. Everyone else penciled in batted below the AL’s league-wide average (.267). That ain’t good. The man with the second best batting average on the day, 27-year-old Chris Richard, lasted just two more seasons in MLB.
Fun fact: when April ended, the Orioles were only hitting .228.
6. Len Barker vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, May 15, 1981.
This wasn’t just a no-hitter, it was also a perfect game. Thus it qualifies as the worst lineup ever held without a baserunner. Toronto’s starters on the day were:
Name Avg Griffin, SS 0.209 Moseby, RF 0.233 Bell, LF 0.233 Mayberry, 1B 0.248 Upshaw, DH 0.171 Garcia, 2B 0.252 Bosetti, CF 0.234 Ainge, 3B 0.187 Martinez, C 0.227
You know, the averages might suck but that is a tremendously talented bunch. This might be the best batch of bad bats ever beheld. None were particularly good in 1981 (most were too young), but almost all of them had impressive careers.
Most of them made All Star games. George Bell was a three-time All Star and won an MVP award. While it was a very ill-deserved MVP, it takes quite of bit of talent to gain one of those trophies. Veteran slugging first baseman and singles-hitting Damaso Garcia both made two. Alfredo Griffin was Rookie of the Year two years prior. Twenty-one-year-old Lloyd Moseby became part of baseball’s best outfield in the 1980s. Even Danny Ainge made an All Star team. OK, fine, so he did it in the NBA.
Even the other guys were pretty good, though. Willie Upshaw never made an all-star game, but he was good enough to garner some token vote MVP support one year. Buck Martinez lasted three decades as a catcher. Then there’s Rick Bosetti. He once led the league in games played. For the least remarkable guy in a lineup, that’s rather remarkable.
Regardless, these guys really sucked that year. The team batted .226, a full 30 points below the league average, and also the worst mark by any team in the 1980s. Actually, it is the lowest batting average by any team in the last 37 years. That’s especially bad given that they had a designated hitter.
5. Eric Milton vs. the Anaheim Angels, September 11, 1999.
In some ways, this no-hitter is the real inspiration for both this and last year’s column. I remember Rob Neyer wrote a column about what a dreadful lineup it was, full of forgettable September call-ups and batting-impaired regulars. That planted the seed in my brain to compare no-hit batting orders.
So who were the men who so annoyed Neyer? These guys (because several had such little playing time, I’ll include a column for games):
Name Avg G Davanon, RF 0.200 7 Palmerio, CF 0.278 109 Greene, LF 0.243 97 Glaus, 3B 0.240 154 Decker, DH 0.238 28 Luke, 1B 0.300 18 Hemphill, C 0.143 12 Durrington, 2B 0.180 43 Sheets, SS 0.197 87
Yup, that’s a lineup even Eric Milton could no-hit. (OK, that’s not fair as Milton was a very talented young’un before he devolved into a master of the gopher ball.)
Sure, Matt Luke hit .300, but he played in 18 stinkin’ games (and had only 32 plate appearances in them). The year before, in real playing time, he hit .213. Also, 1999 was his last year.
Not only were they a bunch of kids, but it’s safe to say a decade later that they didn’t exactly pan out. Troy Glaus is a fearsome hitter, but he’s better at slugging and drawing walks than at hitting. Purely in terms of getting a hit, the most talented man in the lineup was Orlando Palmerio. That is an astoundingly pathetic sentence to write.
4. Frank Smith vs. the Philadelphia A’s, September 20, 1908.
This is a fun one because not only did Frank Smith hurl a no-hitter when his White Sox were in the midst of one of baseball’s greatest pennant races, but 12 days later his team of “hitless wonders” were on the wrong end of a perfect game. (The losing pitcher in that game, Smith’s teammate Ed Walsh, struck out 15 and only allowed four hits, losing 1-0 in baseball’s greatest pitchers’ duel.)
Back to the game in question, though. Here is the lineup Connie Mack penciled in vs. Chicago:
Name Avg Nichols, SS 0.216 Oldring, LF 0.221 Murphy, 1B 0.265 Coombs, CF 0.255 Seybold, RF 0.215 Manusch, 3B 0.156 Barr, 2B 0.143 Lapp, C 0.143 Plank, P 0.180
The A’s hit .223 in 1908, easily the worst in franchise history. They won over 60 percent of their games in 1907 and 1909, but their offensive meltdown put them second in the division in 1908. They also rested some of their best bats on the day, most notably second baseman Eddie Collins, but also their outfielder Topsy Hartsel and slugging infielder Harry Davis.
You know it’s a bad lineup when a pitcher—a routine-hitting pitcher—deserves to bat sixth in the lineup.
3. Juan Marichal vs. the Houston Astros, June 15, 1963.
The 1963 Astros hit .220 as a team; which is the second-worst figure by any NL team in the last 100 seasons. (The worst team was the 1963 Mets. That’s what happens when terrible expansion teams play in low-scoring leagues.)
Here was their lineup on the 15th of June:
Name Avg Fazio, 2B 0.184 Davis, CF 0.200 Aspromonte, 3B 0.214 Warwick, RF 0.254 Staub, 1B 0.224 Spangle, LF 0.281 Lillis, SS 0.198 Bateman, C 0.210 Drott, D 0.130
Former wunderkind Dick Drott tossed a helluva game himself, holding a Giants lineup featuring Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Felipe Alou to three hits and one run. Alas for him, it was four more hits than he could afford to give up with these bozos backing him up.
Another random fact: in the ninth inning, aging veteran Pete Runnels appeared for Houston as a pinch hitter (and struck out). It isn’t particularly amazing that one player would play for two of these terrible lineups. It is rather striking that the person to do it won multiple batting titles.
Oh, Runnels hit .253 on the year. Normally that’s unimpressive but he looked like a baseball freaking demigod compared to most of his teammates.
2. Bill Stoneman vs. the New York Mets, October 2, 1972.
Remember how the 1981 Jays had the worst batting average of any team in the last 37 years? Well, the 1972 Mets were the team from 37 years ago with an even worse batting average: .225. Here’s their lineup on Bill Stoneman’s big day:
Name Avg Barnes, 2B 0.236 Fregosi, 3B 0.232 Milner, LF 0.238 Kranepool, 1B 0.269 Sudakis, C 0.143 Schneck, CF 0.187 Hahn, RF 0.162 Martinez, T, SS 0.224 McAndrew, P 0.047
Please note that not only does Ed Kranepool possess the above lineup’s best batting average, but he has a lead of over 30 points on anyone else. That should never happen. I don’t care if Kranepool is the Mets’ franchise all-time leader in career games played, at-bats, plate appearances, doubles, hits, singles, and total bases, there’s still no excuse for having a lineup where no one’s within 30 points of him.
1. Addie Joss vs. the Chicago White Sox, April 20, 1910.
This is the perfect team to end the list with. In 1910, the White Sox hit .211 as a team, which is the worst team-wide batting average in the last 120 years. How could they not be no-hit?
At any rate, here was the lineup they trotted out on their day of infamy:
Name Avg Hahn, RF 0.113 Zeider, 2B 0.217 Gandil, 1B 0.193 Burrows, LF 0.200 Parent, CF 0.178 Purtell, 3B 0.234 Blackburne, SS 0.174 Payne, C 0.218 White, P 0.198
Folks, this is the only lineup in history that could see its average rise as a result of being no-hit. Only one guy over .220. Really? And a leadoff man .120? Criminey. Just four years off its first world title, this team won fewer than 70 games, transforming from hitless wonders to merely hitless. They are the saddest of all possible lineups: one in desperate need of Ed Kranepool.
As bad as it looks, it could’ve been worse. Doc White wasn’t a bad hitter, for a pitcher. (Or for a 1910 White Sox for that matter.) If Fred Olmstead (.154 average) or Irv Young (.114) had their turn that day, it would’ve been even more embarrassing.
It’s worth noting this was one of the last games for Hall of Famer Addie Joss. He suffered from a terminal illness that not only ended his career but killed him within a year of this game. This lineup couldn’t even get a hit off a dying man. Had this lineup faced Joss a year later, it might’ve been an even match.
References & Resources
Coberly, Rich. The No-Hit Hall of Fame: No-Hitters of the Twentieth Century. Newport Beach, Calif: Triple Play Productions, 1985.
The Play Index at baseball-reference.com gave me a list of no-hitters since 1986 as well as access to their box scores.
ProQuest came in handy for the nineteenth century no-hitter listed.