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One-game Wonders: The greatest (and worst) cups of coffee ever

Getting to the majors is quite a feat. But what about those whose time in the sun consists of a single game?

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

While writing up Carlos Rivero's all-time high OPS yesterday, I stumbled across a couple of other startling performances at the extreme end of small-sample size, that I figured were worth honoring. The following players all had major-league careers which lasted only for one game - but for one reason or another, those were memorable games.


Champion: John Paciorek, Houston Colt 45's - September 29, 1963

In the last game of the season, the Houston manager threw out a line-up with eight rookies, including Joe Morgan, Jim Wynn and Rusty Staub. But it was Paciorek who stood out: he had five plate appearances and reached base every single time, with three hits and a pair of walks. With three runs and four runs scored. he had a WP of +20.1%, more than four times that of any other one-game wonder. Paciorek was unable to capitalize next spring, being cut before Opening Day. A chronic back condition flared up, leading to surgery,. and though Paciorek slogged away in the minors for the rest of the decade, he never made it back to the major leagues.

Honorable mention: Ed Irwin, Detroit Tigers - May 18, 1912

Irvin leads the total base count among one-day wonders, getting six in his single game for the Tigers - he was part of a strike-busting lineup after the regular players refused to play in support of the suspended Ty Cobb (Cobb had charged into the stands and assaulted a handicapped fan who had been taunting him). Irwin only had three plate appearances, but the two hits he got that day were both triples. Put another way, in his single game, Irwin had as many triples as former Diamondback catcher, Rod Barajas, Chris Snyder and Johnny Estrada, had over their combined 2,451 appearances and 32 major-league seasons.

Dishonorable mentions: Jim McGarr and Ed Cermak

The same game as Irwin also provided a glimpse of the other end of the spectrum, as teammate McGarr, another of the one-day wonders that form Detroit's line-up that day, went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He's one of only two players ever to do that, with Cermak, part of the Cleveland Blues in 1901, the other. Cermak went on to become an umpire, presumably so he could dish out some of those strikeouts himself. The last one-day wonder to go 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, was Joe Campbell of the 1967 Cubs.

Bonus dishonor: Ron Wright, Seattle Mariners - April 14, 2002

Wright, arguably, was a worse one-game wonder, even though he only had a single strikeout. For in his solitary appearance, he piled up a Win Probability of -39.0%. This was mostly because in the 5th inning, with men on first and third, he hit into a triple play: John Olerud was out at second, Ruben Sierra was caught in a rundown trying to come home, and Wright completed the trifecta, trying to reach second. How unlucky do you have to be to hit into a triple play in your only major-league game? Oh, and he finished the day off with a double play in the seventh. So: three major-league PAs = six outs made. Well done, Ron. More about Wright here, if you're interested.


Champion: Chris Saenz, Milwaukee Brewers - April 24, 2004

Local interest here, as Saenz was born and grew up in Tucson, going to Pima Community College before being drafted by the Brewers. Just shy of three years later, he was called up from Double-A for a spot start (in part because we'd taken them 15 innings, two days previously) and beat the Cardinals with six shutout innings of two-hit ball, striking out seven. However, elbow surgery caused him to miss the entire 2005 and 2006 seasons and a stint in the Angels' system ended badly, Saenz posting an 8.41 ERA. He is the only one-game wonder since 1899 to start, work at least six shutout innings and get the win.

Honorable mention: Elmer Bliss, New York Highlanders - September 28, 1903

Bliss threw seven innings, allowing only an unearned run, holding Detroit to four hits and no walks and getting the win. Not bad, especially considering this was a relief appearance! However, his one-day wonderness demands an asterisk beside it, because he returned to the Highlanders the following season - as an outfielder! However, his career there was even shorter and less successful, as he managed a single plate-appearance, going 0-for-1. However, that does make Bliss the sole man in the entire history of baseball to be a one-day wonder, both as a pitcher and as a position player.

Dishonorable mention: Allan Travers, Detroit Tigers - May 18, 1912

Sound familiar? Yep: it's the same one mentioned twice above. Travers was the guy charged by Tigers' owner Frank Navin with putting the strike-busting team together, though the expectation was they'd not need to suit up. To cut a long story short, they did, and Travers - who had never pitched a game in his life - took the mound in front of 20,000 hometown fans, supporting their World Series champion Philadelphia A's, who had a full-strength roster. Here's his line for the day:
Travers: 8 IP, 26 H, 24 R, 14 ER, 7 BB. 1 SO
The A's ran out 24-2 winners; Travers went on to be the only Catholic priest ever to pitch a major-league game.

Bonus dishonors

The 19th century saw some even more startling one-game wonders. A player known only as "Lewis" threw three innings for the Buffalo Bisons in the 1890 Players' League, allowing twenty earned runs, on 13 hits, seven walks and three home-runs - at a time when the leader for the PL that year only had 14 HR. Since Travers' outing, the most earned runs allowed by a one-day wonder is eight. Most recently, in 2011, Marlins' reliever Elih Villanueva coughed up five hits and five walks in three innings.

We should also honor Washington Senator Joe Cleary, whose sole appearance came on August 4, 1945 against the Boston Red Sox. Coming in with one out in the fourth, already 6-2 down, he faced nine Red Sox batters and retired one, the others reaching base on five hits and three walks. To add insult to injury, he was replaced by another one-game wonder, Bert Sheppard - who pitched well (one run over the remaining 5.1 innings), but only had one leg, having lost the other after being shot down as a fighter pilot in World War 2. He ended his major-league career of with an ERA of 1.69. Clearly's career ERA? 189.00.