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Monday, July 21, 2003
Updated: July 22, 3:44 PM ET
The List: Baseball's one-hit wonders

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

One great thing about the baseball All-Star Game is that you always get at least a few guys, sprinkled among the superstar veterans, for whom this will be the first and last time in the big spotlight. Sometimes, they're one-hit wonders -- players for whom this turns out to be not only the best season of their baseball careers, but also the only one worth talking about. Hopefully, Dontrelle Willis will stay healthy and have a long and productive career ... but you never know.

Which got us to thinking about baseball's shooting stars, the players (and one team) who scored the equivalent of a hit single (one or a few great games), or a hit album (a great season), then were pretty much through.

Mark Fidrych
Fidrych became better known for his mound antics after 1976.
1. Mark Fidrych
The ultimate one-hit wonder crafted a single, scintillating masterpiece season in 1976 with the Tigers, filling both home and away stadiums with his pitching prowess and zany mound antics. Fidrych went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA in his only complete Major League season, before succumbing to arm problems and going only 10-10 in the final four years of his career. Besides his prowess, there was, well, the other stuff.

William Barry Furling profiled the pitcher in the Aug 22, 1976 issue of the New York Times Magazine: "Mark Fidrych did catch the public imagination suddenly this summer when, in the course of defeating the New York Yankees, 5 to 1, he was observed indulging in an idiosyncrasy that might get other men committed: He was talking to his baseball." What he told it was direct, pithy, and obscene (Mark has a distinct language problem). 'F------ way to flow! Now ya gotta go outside, ya motha------. Outside!' That is a fairly accurate representation of what he says to the ball. What the ball says back is a matter of conjecture to everyone but Mark. 'When it goes over the fence, it yells, '"Ya shouldn'a thrown that pitch,"' he says."

Furling captured what still enthralls us about The Bird more than 25 years after his star faded. "Fidrych is more than a fad. He is an experience -- existential, romantic. He is almost an act of faith in an age of doubt, a happy display of innocence in a time of cunning."

2. Joe Charboneau
"Super Joe" Charboneau was a unique physical specimen, a guy who could blast a booming homer and then celebrate after the game by opening a beer bottle with his eye socket, then drinking the beer with a straw -- through his nose. Why beer? Well, he needed something to wash down the cigarettes he was eating.

In other words, Charboneau was a true flake, celebrated by Indians fans in song. "Who's the newest guy in town? Go Joe Charboneau. Turns the ballpark upside down. Go Joe Charboneau ... Who's the one to keep our hopes alive? ... Straight from seventh to the pennant drive ... Raise your glass, let out a cheer ... For Cleveland's Rookie of the Year!"

The 24-year-old rookie made an astounding debut in the Cleveland home opener, hitting a single, double, three-run homer, and walking in his four plate appearances. He didn't stop there; by season's end, Charboneau, a fan favorite, hit 23 homers, drove in 87 runs, and hit .289 to win Rookie of the Year honors. He played only 70 more games in the Majors in the next two years, and then his career was over.

3. Bob Hamelin
How many athletes can say they broke a record set by Bo Jackson? Hamelin can. In his first Major league season, the strike-shortened one of 1994, he hit 24 dingers, besting Jackson's Royals rookie record of 23. And with a .282 batting average and 65 RBI, he ran away with AL Rookie of the Year honors. The following season, though, he hit only seven homers and batted .168, and was even sent down to the minors. Less than three years after his great rookie season -- at the end of spring training in 1997 -- the Royals released Hamelin.

The Tigers picked him up and he played well in 1997, hitting 18 homers and driving in 52 in only 318 AB, but Hamelin was out of baseball after a very poor season in 1998.

4. 1997 Florida Marlins
What can $89 million in free agents buy? A World Series champion. Wayne "Blockbuster" Huizenga spent and spent and spent in the 1996 offseason, and with the newly-acquired Alex Fernandez, Moises Alou and Bobby Bonilla, Florida compiled a 92-70 record, good enough for a wild card berth. Then they beat the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, topped the Braves for the NL flag, and took the Indians in seven games to win the World Series.

Huizinga's free-spending ways bought a title, but the team lost $30 million, and the owner decided a fire sale would be fun. Exit Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Moises Alou, Robb Nen, Dennis Cook, and others and in 1998 the Marlins dropped to 54-108, 52 games out of first place.

5. Brian Doyle
Over the course of four major league seasons, Doyle, a second baseman, played in only 120 games and had only 222 at bats. But the glove man wielded a mighty stick during the 1978 World Series, when he played six of those games, and got seven hits in 16 at bats for a .437 average.

His play was overshadowed by Bucky Dent, the Series MVP, but Doyle came up with three hits in Game 5 and another three in Game 6, during which he drove in a run with his first Major League double.

"I feel like Cinderella," said Doyle after the Series. "I wanted to prove I could play this game. I'm a little guy -- only 160 pounds -- and I've had to scrape and try to outhustle everybody. I've always believed there is a spot in baseball for the little man."

Doyle's last season came with Oakland in 1981. He never topped his World Series performance, or, for that matter, his regular-season performance for the Yankees in 1978, when he played in a career high 39 games and batted .192 with a .192 slugging percentage and a .192 on base percentage in 52 at bats.

6. Wally Bunker
In 1964, Baltimore Orioles rookie Wally Bunker, 19, had one of the greatest pitching debuts ever, pitching a one-hitter against the Washington Senators in his first start, winning his first six starts, pitching another one-hitter, and finishing the season with a 19-5 record and 2.69 ERA. Bunker pitched seven more seasons, including a shutout in Game 3 of the 1966 World Series, but never regained his rookie form. He finished with a 60-52 career record.

Tom Cheney
The fireballer of his time fizzled out quickly.
7. Tom Cheney
Cheney, with the Washington Senators, set the major league record of 21 strikeouts in a game, piling up the Ks on Sept. 12, 1962. The 27-year-old had fought with control problems throughout his otherwise undistinguished career, but that night, everything was in sync. After striking out 13 in the first nine innings, he added eight more while pitching a 16-inning complete game.

"I don't know how to explain it," Cheney told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2001. "That night, everything was automatic." The Orioles, who lost to Cheney in the 2-1 game, had effusive praise for his curveball.

Cheney was critical of Randy Johnson, who came out of a tie game after pitching nine innings and striking out 20. "I was taught you finished what you started," Cheney said.

That philosophy may have been Cheney's undoing. He threw 228 pitches in his record-setting game, and developed arm problems the next season and never pitched effectively again, finishing his career with a 19-29 record.

8. Cesar Gutierrez
In a 12-inning game against the Indians in Cleveland on June 21, 1970, the shortstop set a major league record by going 7-for-7. He touched five Indians pitchers for a total of six singles and one double, and raised his season batting average from .226 to .255 in that one game. Because of his short career -- he was out of baseball after the 1971 season -- the game also boosted his career batting average by 10 points.

9. Chuck Lindstrom
Lindstrom, a catcher, played only one game in the Majors, the final White Sox contest of the season. But what a game it was. Lindstrom, the son of New York Giants Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom, tripled and walked in his two plate appearances, for a 1.000 batting average, a 1.000 OBP, and a major league record 3.000 slugging percentage. He also scored a run and batted in another. Lindstrom was sent back down to the minors the next season, and soon realized his career wasn't going anywhere. He retired and went on to coach for Lincoln College for 23 years. "I just didn't have the mental toughness for pro ball," he says in "Once Around the Bases," by Richard Tellis.

10. John Paciorek
Every day John Paciorek of the Houston Colt 45s played in the Majors, he was named Associated Press Player of the Day. That day was Sept. 29, 1963, when Houston, playing with an all-rookie lineup, faced the Mets in the last game of the season. Paciorek, an outfielder, went 3-for-3 (all singles) and collected two walks, getting on base in all five of his plate appearances. He also drove in three and scored four runs in the Colt 45s 13-4 win.

Paciorek, 18, had back problems, and was in pain the whole game. "But I just didn't let it bother me that game, " he said. "It was really exciting. I felt great."

Dubbed "a cinch to make it as a big leaguer" by the Houston Press, Paciorek never recovered from his back injuries and struggled in the minors for years before retiring.

Also receiving votes:

  • Harlin Pool
  • Gary Hargis
  • Eddie Gaedel