In Major League Baseball, players seemingly break out of nowhere. Every team is hopeful of having one or two players have a career year that will help propel them to a postseason berth. In 2018 alone, Christian Yelich has had by far his best season to date and has truly broken out as an elite baseball player. Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto, and Gleyber Torres are all examples of young players who have had breakout seasons this year. Each of those players and their respective teams are hopeful they can continue to remain productive for years to come. Unfortunately, there are countless players through baseball's history who have never been able to continue their success for more than one season.
In music, artists who experience a major hit with only one song are often referred to as "one-hit wonders". The same sort of thing exists in baseball. Players who have one really great standout season, but are unable to replicate anything close to that success are also referred to as "one-hit wonders". Fans and teams alike are often left wondering what happened to those players and why they were unable to continue that success for more than one season.
For this article, we will be taking a look at ten notable players who were one-hit wonders in the 1990s as well as ten players who were one-hit wonders during the 2000s.
20 90s: Justin Thompson
Back in 1997, Justin Thompson emerged as one of the bright young starting pitchers for the Detroit Tigers. He was a hard-throwing lefty who quickly shot through the Tiger’s farm system.
At 24 years old, Thompson was named to the 1997 All-Star Game for the first (and only) time in his career.
Thompson ended up finishing the season with a solid 3.02 ERA across 32 starts and 223 innings. Unfortunately, his career went downhill from that season on. Although he pitched over 200 innings in each of the next two seasons, Thompson was out of baseball altogether by 2000.
19 2000s: Dontrelle Willis
Dontrelle Willis had a pretty good start to his major league career, even winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2003. However his 2005 season seemingly came out of nowhere and had Marlins' fans and front office convinced that Willis could become a big part of their future.
In 2005, Willis was one of the best pitchers and was named to the All-Star Game (though he did not pitch). He posted a very impressive 2.63 ERA across 223.1 innings and even notched 170 strikeouts. Those were all career highs for Willis. While it would have been unreasonable to expect he replicate that success year after year, it was a shocker to see Willis suddenly have significant difficulty finding the strike zone and battling the injury bug.
18 90s: Tuffy Rhodes
Tuffy Rhodes actually managed to carve out a fairly successful career playing baseball in Japan, but he was unfortunately unable to experience much success in the MLB. He spent a few seasons with the Chicago Cubs mostly as a utility player, but he was able to put together a memorable year during the strike-shortened 1994 season.
He played in a career-high 95 games that year, and hit 8 home runs with a .705 OPS. Unfortunately for Rhodes, he only had eight more hits over the next few seasons in limited playing time. He was out of the majors by the time he was 26, before heading overseas to play in Japan.
17 2000s: Marcus Giles
In the early-2000s, the Atlanta Braves were hopeful that they had the makings of another great dynasty. There was a great deal of optimism surrounding the arrival of Marcus Giles, Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones in the major leagues to complement veteran sluggers Chipper Jones and Gary Sheffield. In 2003, Giles certainly looked as if he would be a perennial All-Star.
He posted a .316/.390/.526 batting line, to go with 21 home runs and 14 stolen bases.
Unfortunately for Giles and the Braves, injuries forced him to miss most of the 2004 season. From there on out, Giles seemed to have lost his ability to hit and his power was zapped.
16 90s: Brady Anderson
Brady Anderson ended up being a three-time All-Star as an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1990s. He was generally regarded as a pretty good middle of the order type of bat who could provide the Orioles with some decent power and hit for a decent average. However, Anderson completely exploded for one remarkable 1996 season.
During that year, Anderson hit an impressive 50 home runs, 110 RBI, and posted a career-high .297 batting average! The following season, Anderson dropped back down to his league average statistics. At least Anderson will be able to say that he was a member of the 50-home run club!
15 2000s: Mark Prior
Mark Prior was drafted 2nd overall by the Chicago Cubs in the 2001 draft, and rose quickly through the farm system. He made his debut in May 2002 and had a pretty respectable rookie year. However, 2003 was the season when Prior really seemed to turn a corner and break out. That season, Prior finished with an 18-6 record, a 2.43 ERA and a whopping 245 strikeouts!
His impressive stats earned him an All-Star Game appearance and earned his some serious Cy Young consideration (he finished 3rd). Unfortunately, Prior's career ended up going downhill after that. A series of injuries - a broken ankle, broken elbow, torn rotator cuff, and a torn labrum - ended up forcing Prior to retire at just 25 years old.
14 90s: Bob Hamelin
Bob Hamelin had the unenviable job of having to replace George Brett, after he retired following the 1993 season. Much to the surprise of the Kansas City Royals and their fans, Hamelin actually came pretty close to replicating Brett’s numbers. During the 1994 season, Hamelin hit a solid .282 and hit 24 home runs in 101 games.
Those strong numbers led to him winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award over Manny Ramirez.
However, Hamelin proved to be nothing more than a one-hit wonder. He spent the next few seasons bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the major leagues. Hamelin was out of baseball by 1998.
13 2000s: Carlos Quentin
Carlos Quentin had a number of pretty solid years as an outfielder for the Chicago White Sox during the 2000s. However, he was frequently injury prone which affected his ability to stay on the field and have productive seasons. Injuries and a lack of consistent production defined Quentin's nine-year MLB career - except for his magical 2008 season.
That season, he managed to post a career best .288 batting average, 36 home runs, and 100 RBI's. For that one season, Quentin was one of the best outfielders in the league and he was a big part of the success the White Sox experienced that season. Unfortunately, Quentin was never able to stay healthy enough to have success for more than one season.
12 90s: Shawn Estes
Shawn Estes was a starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants when he had his breakout season. During the 1997 season, Estes finished with an impressive 19-5 record and a perfectly solid 3.18 ERA with 181 strikeouts in 201 innings. Estes had finally lived up to the hype associated with having been drafted 11th overall in the 1991 draft. While Estes did have some decent seasons, he never really came close to replicating the success he experienced during the 1997 season. Estes served as organizational pitching depth or a long reliever out of the bullpen.
11 2000s: Lew Ford
Lew Ford was drafted in the 12th round by the Boston Red Sox, and making it to the MLB is a feat very few players drafted that late ever achieve. However, he climbed through the farm system fairly quickly. His skills evidently impressed the Twins front office that they traded a quality veteran reliever (Hector Carrasco) to the Red Sox for him in 2000.
After a solid minor league career, Ford was finally promoted and put up a strong rookie season.
In 2004, Ford hit .299 with 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases. The Twins were hopeful that Ford could develop into a 20/20 type of player but, alas, it never happened. Ford has now spent most of his playing days in the independent leagues, but has never reached the success he had in 2004.
10 90s: Hideki Irabu
The New York Yankees have not been afraid about spending money to make high quality upgrades to their team. It has historically worked out well for the Yankees, but one of their misses came when they signed Hideki Irabu out of Japan. He joined the Yankees in 1998 and had a fairly respectable first season in the MLB, pitching to a 4.06 ERA across 173 innings. He did not make the playoff roster, but did receive a World Series ring.
While Irabu’s first season was respectable enough, his career unfortunately went downhill from that year on. His ERA continued to increase and he only ended up spending parts of five years in the MLB.
9 2000s: Darin Erstad
Darin Erstad had a magical season for the then-Anaheim Angels in 2000. The first baseman, drafted first overall in the 1995 draft, sailed through the minor leagues and made his major league debut in 2000.
During his magical rookie season in 2000, Erstad hit .355 while hitting 25 hiome runs and setting an MLB-record with 100 RBIs as a leadoff hitter.
For his efforts, he was named to that year's All-Star team, and won the Silver Slugger Award at first base. However, Erstad's numbers declined fairly rapidly starting in 2001. Erstad was unable to put up the solid power numbers like he did in rookie year, and his batting average dropped all the way down to around .250.
8 90s: Kevin Maas
Kevin Maas is yet another rookie who came up to the major leagues and set the MLB afire. It seemed as though he was always a threat to do some serious damage practically every time he stepped up to the plate during his rookie season of 1990. The second baseman became the fastest player to hit 10 home runs in his career, requiring just 72 at bats. His power disappeared pretty quickly, although he still finished the season with 21 home runs. The following season, it had become apparent that Maas was struggling to adapt to the way pitchers adjusted to him. He spent the next few seasons in the minor leagues for the Yankees and Twins, before calling it a career in 1995.
7 2000s: Luis Gonzalez
Luis Gonzalez had established him as a fairly reliable top-of-the-lineup type of hitter in 1999, and Arizona could count on him for at least 150 base hits. However, his 2001 season was one for the history books. That season, Gonzalez hit 57 home runs and 142 RBIs! Those numbers came as quite a shock since Gonzalez's previous career high was just 31 homers.
The Diamondbacks made the most of Gonzalez's breakout 2001 season, as he helped them win the World Series over the New York Yankees. Gonzalez never came close to replicating the power he demonstrated in 2001, leading many to believe that Gonzalez was one of the many to have had his statistics boosted by steroids.
6 90s: Shane Spencer
Shane Spencer had a six-year career in the major leagues, over which he was generally regarded as a bottom of the order type of hitter or someone who can provide some power off the bench. However, Spencer certainly did his best to change that perception of him in 1998.
He hit 10 home runs during the month of September, three of which were grand slams.
Spencer was arguably one of the Yankees' best hitters during the 1998 playoffs, which saw them win the World Series. Unfortunately, Spencer was never able to get beyond being a utility infielder. He retired in 2006 and has served as a hitting coach and manager in the minor leagues for various organizations.
5 2000s: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Daisuke Matsuzaka was signed to a large (at the time) contract to leave Japan and become a front of the rotation starter for the Boston Red Sox in 2007. While Matsuzaka had a perfectly fine rookie year in 2007, he broke out in a big way in 2008. That year, "Dice-K" went 18-3 and posted a 2.90 ERA and almost certainly would have won the Cy Young Award if it weren't for Cliff Lee's even better season in 2008.
Since then, Matsuzaka has been merely an average pitcher and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. His career in the MLB never really came close to the success he experienced earlier in Japan.
4 90s: Dave Fleming
After being drafted in the 3rd round in the 1990s draft by the Seattle Mariners, Dave Fleming spent only a couple of days in the minor leagues before being promoted to the major leagues in the summer of 1991. The Mariners did not want to wait around to see Fleming, and took a huge risk in promoting him that quickly. Fleming actually experienced a good amount of success in his first full season in 1992, posting a 3.39 ERA and finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting.
Unfortunately, Fleming showed he could have used further development in the minor leagues as he was unable to have sustained success in the major leagues. He struggled over the next few seasons and ended up retiring from baseball in 1995.
3 2000s: Ryan Ludwick
Ryan Ludwick experienced some success in the Detroit Tigers organization early in his career, but they did not feel he merited a spot as one of their starting outfielders. That led to Ludwick signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007. In his first full season with the Cardinals in 2008, Ludwick was named to his first (and only) All-Star Game.
During the season, Ludwick hit an impressive 37 home runs, 40 doubles, 113 RBIs, and posted a solid .299 batting average.
The Cardinals must have felt they won the lottery picking up a quality middle of the order bat for practically nothing. While Ludwick got off to a strong start in 2009, his productivity dropped out of nowhere. Ludwick battled sporadic injuries and struggled to get on base consistently. Ludwick never came close to matching the numbers he put up in 2008.
2 90s: Phil Plantier
In 1993, Phil Plantier had looked as though he was well on his way to becoming another great slugger for the San Diego Padres. The power hitting outfielder hit 34 home runs and 100 RBI, which was good for second behind Barry Bonds. That ended up being as close as Plantier would come to challenging Bonds for the most home runs.
A series of injuries and rapidly increasing strikeouts limited his effectiveness in 1994 and 1995, and Plantier was never the same player as he was in 1993. Plantier ended up calling it a career in 1998, although he did serve as a hitting coach in the minor leagues for the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres since retiring.
1 2000s: Rick Ankiel
Many baseball fans will likely recall Rick Ankiel's days as a solid outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals during the mid-2000s. However, it is lesser known that Ankiel first made it to the major leagues as a starting pitcher towards the end of the 1999 season. His 2000 season was particularly promising as he posted a respectable 3.50 ERA and notched 194 strikeouts in 175 innings during the midst of the home run era. Unfortunately, a lack of pitch command become his undoing. After multiple seasons of struggling with his pitch control, Ankiel had decided to become a hitter to prolong his MLB career. It turned out to be a smart decision on his part, as he had a couple strong years as a left fielder.