Least Valuable Players

Pitchers like zeroes. The basic aim of any hurler is to post one of them on the board each inning, and they all would love to pitch a shutout, no-hitter or, best of all, a perfect game with zero hits, zero walks and zero errors. But there's one zero that pitchers here: it's the one beside innings pitched, because that means you didn't do your job; retire opposing hitters. That zero in the box-score is like a scarlet letter: "Hey, folks - look who screwed up?" Bad enough for one game; however, what if you don't get an out for the entire year? Or, worse yet...even longer...

Indeed, one pitcher in baseball history failed to retire a batter his entire career, yet still got elected to the Hall of Fame. Who is it? While you think about that, let's take a trip through the wonderful world of pitchers who spent an entire season - or, better yet, career - without managing to get an out. I was inspired by the entry into this elite club of ex-D'backs hurler, Randy Choate, who managed the rare feat for the team in 2007, facing three batters, and allowing hits to each. This level of incompetence has only happened seventy-seven times in the past 137 years of major-league history. Compare that to the number of no-hitters (255), players hitting for the cycle (276) or swatting three home-runs in a game (246).

Choate's performance was particularly remarkable, as it took place over more than one game, because he appeared in back-to-back outings (or, perhaps "no outings"?) on June 26-27 against the Dodgers. The last pitcher to appear in multiple games without retiring anyone was Vic Davalillo in the 1969 Cards, and he was an outfielder pulling emergency duty on the hill. For a 'real' pitcher, you need to go back to Paul Stuffel, of the 1953 Phillies. So, a "Well done!" to Randy for his extended ineptitude. Here are some other particularly impressive seasons in this category:

  • Dennis Tankersley, 2003 Padres. Starters who get no outs in their only appearance of the year are particularly rare - that's only happened eleven times. The Padres had scratched Clay Condrey due to injury, but he ended up pitching out of the 'pen, as Dennis imploded spectacularly vs. the Giants. After getting a four-run start, he faced seven, walked four, allowed three hits, and all seven scored. This game saw perhaps the worst pair of starts ever; SF's Jensen coughed up eight runs in two innings, yet they won, 15-11. It's still the highest-scoring game ever at AT&T Park.

  • Fernando Arroyo, 1986 A's. Arroyo's 121st and final appearance came in the top of the ninth in a 4-4 game, after he was brought in to get the last out with men on first and second. He walked the next three hitters, including driving in the go-ahead run, and an insurance one for good measure. His final boxscore: 0 IP, 0 H, 3 BB, 0 ER.

  • Bob Kammeyer, 1979 Yankees. His one game against Cleveland didn't get off to a good start, giving up a leadoff home-run. And it didn't get better: the next seven reached too, on a double, single, single, another homer, double, HBP and single. Kammeyer was yanked, but both inherited runners scored, giving him the line of 0 IP, 7 H, 8 ER. He never appeared in the majors again.

  • Paul Stuffel, 1953 Phillies. As noted above, he was Choate's predecessor, appearing in two games without retiring a batter. I'd have to manually go through the Phillies game logs from that far back, to see what happened, but I'm impressed with the fact that Stuffel adopted a different approach to his futility, allowing no hits, and walking all four opposing batters instead.

  • Art Reinhart, 1919 Cardinals. Similarly, Reinhart took another route to infamy: one batter faced in the season, and Art hit him. This one does have a somewhat happy ending, however: after six years out of the majors, Reinhart returned, and had four moderately successful seasons in St. Louis, ending his career with a 30-18 record. And seven more hit batters.

Even more amazing are those who never retired a hitter in their career: it's incredibly rare for someone to be good enough to reach the majors, but never good enough to get a batter out. Twenty-eight pitchers have hit this mark, but it's become increasingly rare: only five have done it since the outbreak of World War II - and two of those who were emergency arms, such as Davalillo (discussed above). A nod, however, is perhaps due to Lino Urdaneta, who came closer to matching this feat than anyone for quite a while. He posted an infinite ERA in 2004, after all six batters he faced for Detroit came round to score, then lurked in the minors for more than two seasons, until May 6 this year. He finally broke his duck at Chase Field, when Conor Jackson grounded out to third-base on a 2-0 count.

Perhaps the most disastrous one-game career of all-time was Bill Childers, in 1895. He played for the woeful Louisville Colonels, who finished a mere 52.5 back in the National League that year. He faced eight batters, walked six, gave up hits to the other two and uncorked three wild pitches, then vanished back in the obscurity whence he came, since nothing else is known about him. There a few others who are similarly recorded only in the annals of baseball-reference.com, so we should probably concentrate on the three 'legitimate' pitchers who've zeroed out for their entire major-league existence in the past sixty-five years.

First, Gordie Sundin who appeared as an eighteen-year old for Baltimore in 1956. Not much more to say about him either, actually, though it appears he is a charter member of the Washburn High School Athletic Hall of Fame, from where he graduated in 1955. It looks like he also got married that year, to Mary Ann Dorsey: they had three kids, and celebrated their golden anniversary in 2006. His big-league cup of coffee - and a bitter, badly-brewed cup at that - clearly didn't stop him from having a full life.

Fred Bruckbauer joined the club in 1961, when his only appearance for the Minnesota proved unproductive. On April 25, he came in for the bottom of the fourth against the A's, who were already up 7-2: a doubles, a single, a walk and another double later, Bruckbauer exited, never to be seen again. "I had a gut feeling my arm wasn't coming around," he said. "And it never did." Mind you, there's a case to argue that he wasn't the worst pitcher of the day for Minnesota, as Paul Giel allowed eight runs while retiring one batter. The A's became only team that season to score twenty times, slaughtering the Twins by a final of 20-2, which remains Minnesota's worst defeat ever.

Bruckbauer was actually a touted prospect, and received a signing bonus of $50,000, a huge amount for 1959. However, a rotator cuff injury - which would have been fixable these days - helped to derail his career. After his appearance, he went back to the minors, and retired the next season. He finished his master's degree, then went to work for John Deere. He took up trapshooting and was, apparently, very good at most field sports - curiously, like Sundin, his marriage was long and apparently successful (he'd known wife Kathy since the sixth-grade). That produced four kids, thirteen grandchildren and lasted 48 years until Bruckbauer died last month, peacefully in his sleep, at his Florida home, aged 69.

The crème de la crème here, to borrow a line from Dame Maggie Smith, has to be Larry Yount - another D-backs connection there, since he's the younger brother of former AZ coach Robin. He's the last man to achieve this dubious honor, and not only did he not retire a batter - he didn't even face a batter. He managed this by coming into the game for the Astros on September 15, 1971, but felt pain in his elbow while throwing his warm-up tosses, and had to be removed. He never made it back to the majors: however, as he was announced, he is listed in the box-score, and is officialy recognized as a major-leaguer.

Young just missed the roster in spring training the next year, but was dealt to the Brewers in 1974, where he found himself alongside his younger brother. However, he never made it out of the minors again, retiring in 1976 with a 33-58 minor-league record. But he doesn't blame his one appearance for his subsequent struggles, saying it "was a non-event, a glitch that had no factor in what followed. Every once and a while, I would have elbow trouble, but nothing critical and nothing related to that night. I just never quite got the job done." Yount now owns LKY Development here in Phoenix - their offices are less than a mile from where I write this. "I've probably made more money than I ever could have in baseball, but I would still love to have had a chance to play longer. It just didn't work out."

Obviously, brother Robin's career - twenty seasons and the Hall of Fame - makes this the most lopsided sibling pair of all time. But not by much: Barry Larkin had 2,430 hits in the majors, while brother Stephen had one. That came while playing with Barry for the Reds on September 27, 1998; Stephen got a hit that day, but Barry went 0-for-3. In what may be another unique occurrence the other half of the Reds infield in the game was another pair of brothers, Aaron and Bret Boone.

Finally, the Hall of Famer who never retired a hitter? Stan Musial. At the end of 1952, having already got the batting title in the bag, he took the mound against the Cubs to face Frank Baumholtz, who finished second that year. Baumholtz - getting into the spirit of things nicely, turned round in the batter's box and faced Musial right-handed. Baumholtz reached on an error, leaving Stan the Man with the following career line, achieved only by he and Larry Yount:
Musial: 0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO, ??? ERA
Maybe next time, I'll take a look at the Moonlight Grahams of this world, who reached the majors, but never got into the batter's box.

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