Despite what George Costanza might tell, hitting a baseball is very complicated. In fact, it might be the hardest thing in sports to do. It’s not simply a matter calculating the velocity, v, in relation to the trajectory, t, in which g, gravity, remains a constant. It takes hand-eye coordination, strength, and the guts to stand inches away from a hard, round object as it travels at speeds upwards of 100 mph.
To clarify, this isn’t merely a list of the lowest career batting averages. There are several factors that determine a hitter’s worth (for example, Dave Kingman batted just .236 over his career, but he also hit 442 home runs), and, therefore, we tried to take into consideration all offensive statistics. It also seems unfair to label a player one of the “worst of all time” when he’s only had a few at bats in the big leagues, which is why a player had to have had at least 500 at-bats in order to be eligible for this list. Because there is a huge difference between hitting five home runs in the dead-ball era and hitting five in the wild card era, we also took into consideration and adjusted for the era in which these players hit.
With that said, here are the 15 worst hitters of all time, as we see it.
15 Ruben Rivera
Ruben Rivera, former Padres outfielder and cousin of legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, was a perfect example of an all-or-nothing hitter (for the most part, however, it was nothing). For example, in 1999, while starting in centerfield for San Diego, he swatted 23 home runs, but he also hit .195 while averaging nearly a strikeout per game.
His power kept him around for nine years, but his inability to get on base at a consistent rate (career .216 batting average with a .307 on-base percentage) eventually brought a premature end to his playing days in the majors, at which point he joined the Mexican Baseball League, where he would fair much better, once hitting .344 with 32 home runs in a single season. If only he could put up those kinds of numbers in the MLB.
14 J.R. Phillips
With 501 career at-bats, former first baseman J.R. Phillips just barely qualifies for this list, but his small sample of statistics in the big leagues are enough to establish him as one of the worst hitters of all time, especially when you consider that he played in the hitter-friendly era of the mid-1990s.
While playing with the Giants in ’95, Phillips swatted 9 home runs in 252 plate appearances, which are practically Ruthian numbers compared to most other players on this list, but he also hit below the Mendoza line that year—and just about every other year of his career, finishing with a .188 batting average and 180 strikeouts in 545 plate appearances.
13 Dal Maxvill
There aren’t too many people who can say that they spent 14 years in the majors, but most who can were great players—that is, most. Even though he had a lengthy career that saw him play for three different teams and come to the plate nearly 4,000 times, Dal Maxvill batted just .217 with 6 home runs.
Despite his offensive ineptitude, somehow Maxvill managed to finish in the top 20 for NL MVP voting in 1968, even though he only hit .253 (his career best) with a single home run and just 8 doubles (although he did pick up the Gold Glove for his work at shortstop that year).
12 Ozzie Guillen
Some people might be surprised to see Ozzie Guillen’s name amongst the worst hitters of all time. After all, he won the 1985 AL Rookie of the Year and was named to three All-Star teams in his 16-year career. But Guillen, who would go on to manage the White Sox from 2004 to 2011, leading them to a World Series championship in 2005, was known more for his glove than his bat, hitting just .264 with a miserable .287 on-base percentage in over 7,000 plate appearances.
In a full season, his average never dipped below .240, but it also never reached .290, mostly hovering around the .260 mark with virtually no power and no plate discipline.
11 Hal Lanier
The 1960s San Francisco Giants featured one of the greatest hitters of all time, and one of the worst. The greatest, of course, was Willie Mays, who batted over .300 with 660 home runs and 1,903 RBI, while the worst was Hal Lanier, who batted .228 with 8 home runs and 273 RBI.
An everyday starter from 1965 to 1970 because of his stellar defense and his ability to play any position on the infield, Lanier once went three seasons (1,612 plate appearances) without a single home run. He also hit just .216 with a ridiculously low on-base percentage and slugging percentage in that timespan, finishing last place in the National League in all three categories each season.
10 Willie Bloomquist
With a modest .269 career batting average, Willie Bloomquist might not seem like he belongs on this list, but when you dig a little deeper into the stats, you find that he was indeed quite awful. By the end of his surprisingly long career, which saw him step to the plate over 3,000 times, Bloomquist was labeled by many as the definition of a “replaceable” player.
He is also the perfect example of why batting average isn’t the only important stat when it comes to measuring offensive worth. Despite once batting over .300 and finishing his career with a respectable average, he had a below average on-base percentage and didn’t offer much in the way of power, once going an entire season (192 plate appearances) with just one extra base hit (a double).
9 Doug Flynn
Although an eleven-year veteran of the MLB, having spent most of his time with the Mets, Doug Flynn isn't often mentioned alongside great New York hitters from the '80s, like Lee Mazzilli, Steve Henderson, Keith Hernandez, and Darryl Strawberry. Instead, his named tends to get thrown around with some of the worst hitters of all time. And with a career batting average of .238 to go along with an on-base percentage of .266 and just 7 home runs in 4,000 plate appearances, the case could very well be made that Flynn is the worst of the worst.
What’s interesting about Flynn is that he was consistently awful at the plate, only dipping below the Mendoza line once, but failing to hit above .255 in a season in which he had at least 300 at-bats.
8 Bob Uecker
Now famous for being the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers (and of course for his work in the 1989 baseball classic Major League—“Juuuust a bit outside”), Bob Uecker was once a player himself—just not a very good one. Playing for three teams in six seasons, he hit exactly .200 with a sub-.300 OBP and just 14 home runs. In one particularly awful season (unsurprisingly his last in the majors), he managed to collect just 29 hits in nearly 200 at-bats for a batting average of .150.
Uecker has found considerable success after his playing days, however, receiving the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003 from the Baseball Hall of Fame for his outstanding work in broadcasting.
7 Bobby Wine
There’s a famous joke structure wherein a comedian will employ the rhetorical device of preterition in order to insult someone by claiming that they’re not insulting said person (i.e., saying something by not saying it). For example: “I'm not saying she was ugly, but at her ‘coming out party,’ they made her go back in,” or, “I'm not saying she's ugly, but when she went to see a horror film, the audience thought she was making a personal appearance.”
Let’s try it to describe Bobby Wine’s hitting abilities:
I’m not saying he was a bad hitter, but he hit just .215 with a .264 OBP over 12 seasons.
I’m not saying he was a bad hitter, but he averaged 4 home runs per 162 games.
I’m not saying he was a bad hitter, but he makes Willie Bloomquist look like Willie Mays by comparison.
You get the point.
6 Kevin Cash
No one ever accused Kevin Cash of being a great hitter. His role in the majors was mostly as a backup catcher, which he did for five teams over eight years, never seeing as many as 200 plate appearances in a single season. But even for someone whose primary role was defense, his awful offense stood out. In 714 plate appearances, he compiled a triple-slash line of .183/.248/.278, with one of the lowest OPS (on-base+slugging percentages) of all time for a position player with at least 650 plate appearances.
Cash only surpassed the .200 BA mark twice in eight seasons, with a high of .231 and a low of .142 (not including his .111 average in just 33 plate appearances in 2007).
5 Rafael Belliard
At just 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, it’s no wonder that Rafael Belliard, father of future Cleveland All-Star Ronnie Belliard, was a light-hitting infielder, but he took light-hitting to the extreme. Not only did he hit just 2 home runs in 17 years, with his second home run coming roughly ten years after his first, but he also batted just .221 with a .270 on-base percentage.
That said, Belliard earned his keep through his slick fielding, playing 896 games at shortstop with a .974 fielding percentage. He also played 172 games at second base, committing just 3 errors in 546 chances. He even won a World Series championship with the Atlanta Braves in 1995, appearing in all six games of the series, going 0-16 with an RBI.
4 Ray Oyler
Ray Oyler is a testament to the fact that good defense goes a long way. And Oyler needed to be great at defense, because his bat was virtually nonexistent. Over six seasons (1,445 plate appearances), he hit just .175, including a .135 batting average in 1968. Not to worry, though, because he rebounded from his awful ’68 campaign with a .165 BA the following year, with nearly twice as many strikeouts as hits. If .200 is the Mendoza line, then perhaps .150 should be the Oyler line.
Oyler won a World Series with the Detroit Tigers in 1968, appearing in four out of the seven games, almost exclusively as a defensive substitution. He didn’t register a single at-bat, but he did pick up a sacrifice bunt.
3 Bill Bergen
According to FanGraphs, statistically speaking, Bill Bergen is the worst hitter of all time. And it’s hard to argue with the numbers. In 3,228 appearances, he hit .170/.194/.201 with just a pair of home runs, never reaching double-digits in doubles or coming close to triple-digits in hits, with an eight-year gap between his first and last home run.
The only reason he doesn’t rank number one on this list is because he played in the early 20th century, well before the end of the dead-ball era (remember, Babe Ruth led all of baseball with 11 home runs in 1918, seven years before Bergen retired). Were you to transplant his numbers into today’s game, he would easily be considered the worst hitter of all time, but the following players don’t have the excuse of having played in an era when the balls were loosely wound.
2 Mario Mendoza
Mario Mendoza was such a bad hitter that his name became a synecdoche for bad hitting. That is, batting below the Mendoza line means batting under .200 (i.e. not good). In nine big league seasons, he failed to reach the .200 mark five times, with a career best of just .245, which he accomplished with the lowly 1980 Seattle Mariners, who finished with a record of 59-103.
In 1,456 plate appearances, Mendoza compiled a batting average of .215 with just 4 home runs. But perhaps the most shocking statistic was his on-base percentage, at just .245. If a good on-base percentage is somewhere in the range of .320-.340, you have to wonder how Mendoza, who finished well below “good,” even made it to the majors, let alone spent nine years there.
1 Luis Gomez
It’s one thing not to be able to hit home runs (Rod Carew once went an entire season without one but still finished 14th in AL MVP voting); but when you can’t hit for power or average, then you’re just a terrible hitter. Such was the case with Luis Gomez, the lightweight Mexican infielder who went eight seasons (1,251 at-bats) without collecting a single round-tripper. And to top it off, he batted just .210 with a .261 on-base percentage for his career.
It doesn’t matter how good you are on defense (and he was admittedly pretty good, with a career .972 fielding percentage and the ability to play just about any position on the field, including an inning of work on the mound), you can’t justify being in the big leagues when you’re putting up those kinds of numbers at the plate. For example, his .239 career slugging percentage is nearly three times lower than Babe Ruth’s (although to be fair, at 150 pounds, Gomez also weighed nearly three times less than the Bambino).