One and done: 10 players with one-season careers

A few years ago, I wrote about players with one-game careers. To expand on this, I looked for players who lasted a season, played regularly, and maybe did a thing or two well before vanishing from the majors.

Here are 10 of the most memorable players with one season in the majors:

1. Buzz Arlett, 1931: Bill James and others have referred to Arlett as the Babe Ruth of the minors, a tribute to his .336 batting average and 367 homers through 17 seasons there. Arlett spent the majority of his career in the Pacific Coast League, where a number of All Star-caliber hitters from that era who couldn’t field much wound up. That may explain why the Philadelphia Phillies waived Arlett after he hit .313 for them with a 138 OPS+ and 18 home runs. (That OPS+ is by far the best a modern player has managed in a career consisting of one season of regular work.) Arlett averaged 47 homers over his next three seasons in the minors.

2. Jocko Flynn*, 1886: Technically, Flynn played two seasons by virtue of appearing in one game as a position player in May 1887. He pitched just one season though, 1886, a sensational rookie campaign for the Chicago White Stockings. I list Flynn here as he is one of the few players in baseball history to win 20 games his lone season pitching in the majors, going 23-6 with a 2.24 ERA, 157 ERA+ and 4.8 Wins Above Replacement. (Another one-year man, Henry Schmidt went 22-13 for Brooklyn in 1903 albeit with far less impressive peripherals: 84 ERA+ and 1.6 WAR.) Flynn’s SABR bio suggests alcohol problems and arm trouble contributed to his truncated career.

3. Harry Moore, 1884: Bill James notes in his Historical Abstract that Moore led the Union Association in games played with 111 while finishing third in batting average at .336 and third in hits at 155. James also notes that Moore, like a quarter of other UA regulars, never played a game in another major league. It’s part of the reason UA greats like Jack Glasscock still aren’t recognized by Cooperstown. The quality of competition just isn’t considered to have been as strong as the other two major leagues in existence at its time, the National League and American Assocation.

4. Irv Waldron, 1901: Waldron hit .322 for the Washington Senators in the American League’s debut season and holds the record for most hits by a one-season player with 186. He played in the minors as late as 1911, compiling 2,100 hits over 15 seasons total.

5. Erv Lange, 1914: A 26-year-old former semi-pro pitcher, Lange went 12-11 with a 2.23 ERA for the Chicago Whales during the inaugural campaign of the Federal League. Like a few of his contemporaries, Lange was unable to jump to the majors when the upstart circuit folded.

6. Johnny Sturm, 1941: Part of the parade of ineffectual first basemen the New York Yankees used after Lou Gehrig, Sturm offered an abysmal slash line of .239/.293/.300 his only season. Baseball Reference notes Sturm as the last of six players to play just one season and have at least 500 at-bats. Sturm followed his 1941 campaign with four years of military service and then spent four more years in the minors. His most notable achievement? He’s credited with discovering Mickey Mantle, giving him a tryout while he was player-manager of Class C Joplin and encouraging the Yankees to sign him.

7. Jim Baxes, 1959: Many short-time major leaguers I came across in my research for this piece didn’t have much power to speak of. Baxes’ .225 ISO was 17th-best among players with at least 300 plate appearances his lone season in the majors. Baxes had 15 homers with Cleveland and two more after joining the Dodgers for their pennant drive. A second and third baseman, Baxes totaled another 228 homers over 12 seasons in the minors.

8. Curt Raydon, 1958: A promising young pitcher who blew out his arm after going 8-4 with a 3.62 ERA, Raydon didn’t fare as well at the plate. With just one hit in 38 lifetime at-bats, he finished with a .026 batting average and, interestingly, generally went down swinging. Raydon finished with just four sacrifice bunts and 25 strikeouts, which project to 395 over a 600 at-bat season.

9. Ken Hunt, 1961: Not to be confused with the Ken Hunt who hit .226 over six seasons and was an outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels their ’61 expansion season; the Ken Hunt we speak of here went 9-10 with a 3.96 ERA (102 ERA+) for the Cincinnati Reds, a member of their starting rotation as they won the pennant. Though he was selected Sporting News Rookie of the Year, Hunt returned to the minors for good after the season ended, spending seven more years in the bushes. His 2008 obituary notes that Hunt later taught for 30 years.

10. Pete Gray, 1945: An untold number of players who might never have made the majors were pressed into service during World War II. Gray was perhaps the most memorable and historically significant of the bunch. A one-armed outfielder for the St. Louis Browns, Gray managed a .379 OPS over the final half of the season after word got out he couldn’t hit breaking pitches. That he hit .218 for the duration of the season and was Most Valuable Player of the Southern Association in 1944 seems miraculous enough.

Years later, Gray told sportswriter Ira Berkow:

I packed ’em in all over. There were 65,000 in Cleveland the first time I played, and I hit a triple my first time up. When we played the Yankees the first time in New York, our team was introduced before the game. Luke Sewell was our manager. He said, ‘Pete, you stay here, be the last one to come out on the field.’ I got a standing ovation– just to make an appearance! But I done a pretty good job, too.

4 Replies to “One and done: 10 players with one-season careers”

    1. It’s peculiar, especially given that he played another decade in the minors thereafter. A lot of players in that era were able to make more in the minors than majors. Maybe Waldron was one of them.

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