For whatever reason, Americans seem to be fascinated by certain ideas, products, or fads that exist for a very short time before vanishing into obscurity, never to be seen again. The colloquial term for this phenomenon is the "one-hit wonder."
One hit wonders can be found in almost every discipline, from single-year production vehicles (the DeLorean DMC-12) to nations that existed for only one day (Abu Dhabi, before becoming part of the United Arab Emirates) to actors who only appear in a single film (Danny Lloyd, the boy in The Shining). But most people tend to think about music when they use the phrase to denote songs or artists that only produced one widely-popular song. Examples include Soft Cell (Tainted Love), Right Said Fred (I'm Too Sexy), Dexy's Midnight Runners (Come on Eileen), Vicki Lawrence (The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia), and Los Del Rio (Macarena).
But the "one-hit wonder" reference can also apply to sports. Usually, people use it when talking about athletes, teams, or other ideas that were famous for a very short time. You can probably call to mind quite a few of them right now: Ickey Woods. Buster Douglas. Jeremy Lin. The 2006 George Mason Patriots Final Four college basketball team. The 1966 World Cup-winning English soccer team. And who could forget the XFL?
And even though (or perhaps because) baseball has been around longer than almost every other American sport, it has its share of one-hit wonders as well. This shouldn't be taken literally, we're not talking about players who only recorded a single hit in their entire careers. What we mean is someone who rose to greatness for just one season - or month - or night - and then never attained that level of performance ever again.
Here are the top 20 such "one-hit" wonders from Major League Baseball.
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20 Clint Hurdle - OF, Kansas City Royals (1980)
These days, many fans in Kansas City are remembering the last time their baseball franchise was in the World Series. Hurdle played a key role in that series against Philadelphia, batting .417 with a couple of walks and a stolen base. The regular season was great for Hurdle as well, with career highs in batting average (.294), hits (116), and RBIs (60). But the the 1975 first-round draft pick posted only 76 at-bats in 1981, was traded to Cincinnati in '82, and never played in more than 78 games in a season after that.
19 Charlie Kerfeld - RP, Houston Astros (1986)
Another former first-rounder, Kerfeld was a key cog in the Stros' playoff team. The 6'6" Kerfeld compiled an 11-2 record, saving seven games, and posting an earned run average of 2.59. Those numbers were good enough to place him fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. But the eccentric Kerfeld was demoted to the minors the following year and stayed there until 1990, then was released when that season ended and wound up retiring.
18 Bob Ojeda - SP, New York Mets (1986)
Ojeda's first year in New York was the same season that the Mets eliminated the Astros in the NLCS before beating the Red Sox (his former team) in the World Series that was best remembered for Bill Buckner's error. He won two postseason games with a 2.33 ERA and 15 strikeouts, which followed up a regular-season where he went 18-5 with a 2.57 ERA and 148 Ks (all career bests). But Ojeda had surgery the following May and only made ten appearances in 1987 and though he was always decent, the southpaw never achieved greatness again.
17 Mark Prior - SP, Chicago Cubs (2003)
Prior can blame it all on Bartman. The former second overall pick of the 2001 draft had a nice rookie season in '02, but then excelled the following year by striking out 245 batters, notching an 18-6 record with just a 2.43 ERA, which put him third in the voting for the Cy Young Award. But in Game 6 of the NLCS, Prior was on the mound with a three-run lead against Florida when Steve Bartman took away the foul ball from Moises Alou. The Marlins then scored eight runs in the inning and the Cubs ended up losing the series. Prior spent parts of the next three seasons on the disabled list, and never pitched again in the majors after that.
16 Wayne Garland - SP, Baltimore Orioles (1976)
To his credit, Garland leveraged his 15 minutes of fame better than anyone on this list. After three years as a mediocre bullpen pitcher in Baltimore, Garland surprised everyone by exploding in 1976 to win 20 games while compiling a meager 2.67 earned run average. After the season, Garland became one of the first mega-contract free-agent signings in MLB history with a ten-year, $2.3 million deal with Cleveland. Garland led the AL in losses in '77 with 19, never had another winning season, and vanished from baseball after 1981.
15 Bill James - SP, Boston Braves (1914)
This year marks the centennial of the historic Braves' comeback from last place in the National League on Independence Day to winning the league pennant, then recording the first-ever sweep in the World Series over Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. During his sophomore season, James won an astonishing 26 games while posting a minuscule 1.90 ERA, then won two games in the Series without allowing a run in 11 innings of work. But he developed arm trouble and only made 13 appearances in 1915, before later serving in World War I as an Army instructor for bomb throwing.
14 Warren Morris - 2B, Pittsburgh Pirates (1999)
A few years after his College World Series-winning home run for LSU in '96, Morris debuted in the majors in 1999. While turning double plays with fellow newbie Abraham Nunez, Morris also turned heads with 15 home runs and 73 RBIs to go with a .288 batting average. After finishing third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting, Morris hit a sophomore slump in 2000 by hitting .259, then only batted .204 in 2001 in limited action. After 2003, he was never again seen in the majors. (Nunez held on until 2008).
13 Wally Bunker - SP, Baltimore Orioles (1964)
Bunker was part of the O's 1960's youth movement featuring the likes of Jim Palmer. As a 19-year old, Bunker won his second start with a magnificent one-hitter against the Washington Senators, and also won his next five starts as well. He finished the year 19-5 and was runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Though Bunker pitched a shutout to help Baltimore win the 1966 World Series, his overall career numbers were good but not great and he left the big leagues in 1971.
12 Pete Schourek - SP, Cincinnati Reds (1995)
Schourek was a 26-year old #4 starter for the Reds with a career 23-26 record as the '95 season began. But the lefty brought it all together that year, going 18-7 while striking out 160 batters and posting a 3.22 ERA. He finished the season as the Reds' ace and the second-highest vote-getter for the NL Cy Young. Schourek would pitch for six more seasons in the majors, but never again achieved triple-digit strikeouts nor posted a winning record in any of them.
11 Joe Charboneau - OF/DH, Cleveland Indians (1980)
Charboneau reportedly ate cigarettes, drank beer through his nose with a straw, and opened beer bottles with his eye socket. All of these colorful tendencies made him a fan favorite in Cleveland in his first full season as an Indian. However, it was Charboneau's play that earned him AL Rookie of the Year honors - 23 homers, 87 RBIs, and a .289 average. But subsequent back problems put him back in the minors, and he only played in 70 more major league games before retiring.
10 Mark Fidrych - SP, Detroit Tigers (1976)
A non-roster invitee to Detroit's spring training camp, Fidrych engineered a meteoric rise that landed him on the mound as the starting pitcher in the '76 All-Star Game. "The Bird," who was known to talk to the baseball itself, compiled a 19-9 record and a 2.34 earned run average that year, and he won AL Rookie of the Year honors in a landslide. And of his 29 starts in 1976, 24 of them were complete games. So perhaps it's not surprising that Fidrych later injured his knee and tore his rotator cuff, and only made 27 more starts in his (four-year) career.
9 Bob Hamelin - DH, Kansas City Royals (1994)
Here's yet another Rookie of the Year who flamed out shortly thereafter. Perhaps Hamelin was hampered by the fact that his breakout year came in the strike-shortened season. Still, the lefthanded batter went yard 24 times and batted in 65 runs to go with a .282 batting average in '94. But the following season, Hamelin's average plunged to .168, and he was never able to regain his form. Hamelin retired after a lackluster 1998 season with Milwaukee.
8 Kevin Maas - 1B, New York Yankees (second half of 1990)
Now we get to the part of the list where the "one-hit" wonders couldn't even stretch out their fame for an entire season. When Don Mattingly hurt his back, Maas came up from the minors and immediately slugged ten homers in just 72 at-bats (a major-league record). He finished out the 1990 campaign with 21 round-trippers, 41 RBIs and a .252 average. In his first full season for the Yanks in '91, his power numbers stayed up, but his average slumped to .220. He never regained a spot in the regular starting lineup after that, and disappeared from the big leagues after 1995.
7 Kent Bottenfield - SP, St. Louis Cardinals (first half of 1999)
Bottenfield's situation was unusual in that he was 30 years old in '99 and playing for his fifth team in eight years. But for some reason, the journeyman managed to compile a 14-3 record and an earned run average of 3.78 in the first half of the season, which earned him a spot on the All-Star roster. But he only went 4-4 with a 4.25 ERA for the rest of the year and got shipped off (again) to the Angels. He would spend time in Philadelphia and Houston before retiring after 2001.
6 Brian Doyle - 2B, New York Yankees (1978 World Series)
Doyle's career spans just 110 major league games over four seasons, but he came through when his club needed him the most. Starting second baseman Willie Randolph got injured just before the '78 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, so Doyle took his spot. He promptly batted .438 for the series with four runs scored, including three hits each in Games 5 and 6 to help the Yanks win their second straight MLB title. But Doyle failed to improve on his poor regular-season average of .192 during the next three seasons and left baseball after 1981.
5 Chris Shelton - 1B, Detroit Tigers (April 2006)
Shelton was coming off a so-so season when Opening Day of the 2006 season rolled around. Then, the former 33rd-round draft pick astonished the nation by slamming nine home runs in the first 13 games of the season. No other American League player had ever accomplished that feat. But after earning AL Player of the Week honors, Shelton's play tapered off so much that he was sent down to the minors on July 31. He only played in 50 more major league games with Texas and Seattle since then.
4 Karl Spooner - SP, Brooklyn Dodgers (late September 1954)
Spooner's professional baseball career started unremarkably, but his breakout season came in '54 at the AA level, which allowed him to be a late-season call-up for Brooklyn. He was only able to start two major league games - but, boy, did he make his mark. Both of the games were complete-game shutouts, with Spooner only allowing seven hits and striking out 27 batters (including six in a row in his debut, one of only two pitchers to ever do that). The club had high hopes for Spooner for the '55 season, but he hurt his arm early that year, finished with a mediocre 8-6 season, and was forced into early retirement because of his injuries.
3 Cesar Gutierrez - SS, Detroit Tigers (June 21, 1970)
That's right - the final three entrants on this list were literally one-game wonders. Gutierrez played in 135 games in 1970, which was more than his three other major-league seasons combined. But on June 21 in a 12-inning game against the Cleveland Indians, Gutierrez went 7-for-7 at the plate - an American League record that still stands today. He got six singles and a double off five Indians pitchers, and his batting average went up 29 points in that game alone. Sadly, Gutierrez never played in the big leagues after the following season.
2 John Paciorek - OF, Houston Colt 45s (September 29, 1963)
In the last game of the '63 season, Houston decided to start an all-rookie team against the Mets. Paciorek made the most of his major league debut, getting three singles, drawing two walks, scoring four runs, and batting three runs in during the Colt 45s 13-4 victory. Paciorek was named the Associate Press Player of the Day for that day and was dubbed as "a cinch to make it as a big leaguer" by a Houston newspaper. But Paciorek struggled in the minors for several years afterward and never made it back to the major leagues.
1 Tom Cheney - SP, Washington Senators (September 12, 1962)
In an eight-year career, Cheney recorded a grand total of 19 wins, 29 losses, and two saves. But when he took the mound against the Orioles in Washington on that September evening, all the stars must have aligned. Cheney struck out 13 batters while giving up only one run in nine innings - then stayed on the mound throughout the extra innings and struck out eight more, throwing 228 pitches altogether. The Senators won the game in 16 innings 2-1, and Cheney's 21 strikeouts still stands as a major league record. He developed arm trouble the following year, and was out of baseball prior to the middle of the 1966 season.
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