John Gochnaur never lived long enough to see the
completion of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
Photo courtesy of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Traveling to Cleveland to Meet the
Ghost of John Gochnaur:
The Worst Baseball Player Ever
by Roger Fallihee
t was my boyhood fantasy to grow up to one day play first base for the
New York Yankees. Mantle, Maris, Ford... Fallihee.
Small problem though; I couldn't hit, run, or throw.
Even with that I still might have been better than Major League Baseball's
worst player in history: Cleveland Indians' shortstop John Gochnaur.
I love baseball.
I love everything about it. Poring over the box scores
suicide squeeze plays, the bases loaded double (the M's Jack Wilson
had one of those last night), the fact that managers wear the same uniform
as the players, the leisurely (some would incorrectly say languid) pace
of the game, and the unflinching optimism one possesses in April that's
crushed by the reality of being twenty games out of first place by the
end of July.
Wait 'til next year.
I also love the debates. The endless, sometimes mindless,
and always futile arguments that begin whenever two or more baseball
junkies take their seats at one of America's ballparks, pound down a
few eight dollar beers, and munch on dry, odd looking hot dogs.
Ruth or Mays? Mays or Ruth? Cobb or Williams? The
debate goes on.
Courtesy: Babe Ruth, NYSportsCrunch.com; Willie Mays,
"You still think that Willie Mays was better than
"Hell yeah. Ruth couldn't run."
"What do you mean Ruth couldn't run? He had 136
career triples. Only four less than your beloved Mays, and Ruth had
two-thousand less at-bats."
"Ruth never faced Sandy Koufax."
"Mays never faced Randy Johnson."
"Mickey Mantle would have smoked them all if his
knees had held up."
"What about Albert Pujols? Or Vladimir Guerrero?
How good would they have been on the '51 Giants or the '27 Yankees?"
"Say what you want about Babe Ruth, but Randy Johnson
would have made mincemeat out of him."
What the hell is mincemeat anyway?
Babe Ruth trying to hit a Randy Johnson fastball
Did Babe Ruth ever face a pitcher of Randy Johnson's
caliber? No, he didn't.
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
I laugh, take a few swigs of Diet Pepsi and crack open
some peanut shells when my friend asks, Do you ever wonder who
the worst ballplayer was?
No, but I'm sure he played for Seattle.
"Seriously, who was the worst player to ever put
on a big league uniform?"
"Dunno. Good question."
Among true baseball fans these kinds of debates rage
on, never resolved, always subject to the last obscure statistic that
someone can pull out of thin air to prove their point.
More than any other sport, baseball is a game of statistics.
Every at-bat, every pitch, every run, every out is documented. There
are stats for night game vs. day game batting averages, batting averages
with runners in scoring position, batting averages with less than two
outs, and according to Mrs. Fallihee, batting averages against a pitcher
who has at least one relative from Parsippany, N.J.
Since baseball history is so well documented, and numbers
dont lie, I decided to do a little "Google Research"
to find out who was (or is) the Worst Baseball Player in History.
Over the years thousands of young men have been called
up to the majors, only to find that they are woefully unable
to hit major league pitching.
Once that fact is discovered they are unceremoniously
sent back to their hometowns, factory jobs, girlfriends, and wives.
These guys don't have enough time in the majors to qualify for "worst
Gochnaur was such a lousy ballplayer; nobody
noticed that his name was misspelled on the team photo. Credit:
I decided that the winner would have to
have had a minimum of 500 big league at bats, which is the rough equivalent
of one full season of everyday play.
Baseball historian Mike Attiyeh has written an outstanding
article on this subject, and after reading his piece and looking at
the lifetime stats, it seems that he has accurately bestowed the title
of Worst Baseball Player in History on Cleveland Indians
shortstop, John Gochnaur.
Youve never heard of John Gochnaur? Neither had
I and according to Mr. Attiyeh, neither has most baseball historians.
But, as I said earlier, numbers dont lie, and Mr. Gochnaur's numbers
are mind numbingly dismal.
John Peter Gochnaur was born on September 12, 1875 in
Altoona, Pennsylvania. His big league career began auspiciously enough
for the Brooklyn Superbas, which would later become the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1901 he saw action in three games, going 4 for 11,
for a .364 batting average. He made no errors at shortstop. Sadly, his
1901 audition for the big leagues did not turn out to be a harbinger
of things to come.
After the season Brooklyn traded Gochnaur to the Cleveland
Indians. Any anxiety that the Brooklyn owner may have had about trading
away his promising young ballplayer would soon vanish. Gochnaur played
the next two seasons as the Indians starting shortstop.
The 1903 season would be his legacy year, the year that
would plunge him to the bottom of the heap, past other notable underachievers
such as Fred Buelow, Frank Emmer, and Detroit Tiger pitcher Aloysius
Travers, who still holds the modern day record for most hits (26) and
most runs (24) given up in a nine inning game.
Gochnaur's Brooklyn workplace, circa 1901.
In a year when President Teddy Roosevelt "spoke
softly but carried a big stick," Gochnaur batted .185, with no
home runs, and 48 RBI's (not terrible), in 134 games.
That was not the worst batting average ever. Cincinnati
Reds and Brooklyn Dodger catcher Bill Bergen, playing in the same era,
had a career batting average of .170, with over 3,000 at bats.
But unlike Gochnaur, Bergen could catch and throw a baseball. Somehow
that talent eluded Gochnaur.
In 1903 Gochnaur redefined the word porous, committing
98 errors in the field, which remains the American League record for
errors in a single season by a shortstop. He averaged one error every
1.3 games. By comparison, in 2008 Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins
led both leagues in errors with 22, less than one fourth of Gochnaur's
total. In a typical season Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter commits 15 miscues.
Attiyeh writes, "Few have been worse than Gochnaur
with the bat, and fewer still might have been worse than Gochnaur in
the field, but none combined the two-way futility quite the way Gochnaur
To nobody's surprise 1903 was John Gochnaur's last season
in major league baseball. His career stats: 264 games played, .187
batting average, 0 homeruns, 146 errors.
He played four more seasons in the old Pacific Coast
league, ending his minor league career with a batting average of .192.
According to Mike Attiyeh, Gochner was "a popular man and a
friend to many ball players. 'Goch' was also helpful, assisting hundreds
of Altoona players secure contracts with minor league teams."
Attiyeh further reported, According to the
Altoona Mirror, Gochnaur also held jobs as a bartender, city police
officer and a Penn railroad policeman. At the age of 53, Gochnaur died
of pneumonia on September 27, 1929 in Altoona Hospital. A life-long
bachelor who spent 35 years around the game of baseball, Gochnaur left
behind six siblings, a score of nephews and nieces, plenty of appreciative
ball players and citizens, and a woeful major league ledger.
John Gochnaur couldn't hit, field, or throw and neither
could I but his obituary referred to him as a former Major
League Baseball player.
I'd kill for an obituary like that.