Some rules before we begin:
- This list is arranged in no particular order, because my definition of “inconsequential” is somewhat arbitrary and varies from case to case. It might mean that the athlete’s career was a meaningless blip on the radar, or brilliantly brief and terrible, or impressively invisible. If you take issue with anything you read here, I pledge to rewrite it to your satisfaction and mail you $100.
- This list is nearly entirely made up of athletes competing at the top echelon of their sport, as fun as it would be to mock four-year-old T-ball first basemen who stood directly on top of the base, wore their glove on the wrong hand and cried.
- This list is entirely made up of men. Women’s sports made enormous strides in the 2010s, and even those who played, say, two career minutes of WNBA basketball still contributed to something meaningful. None of the guys below were doing anything important.
- If you’re one of the guys on this list, and you read this, please take some satisfaction in the knowledge that in 2012, I had to seek medical attention after injuring my knee playing Wiffle ball.
Pinch runner, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 2011
In this decade, Chris Pettit came tantalizingly close to playing the least amount of baseball a Major League Baseball player can possibly play.
Pettit appeared in exactly one 2010s game. On April 8, 2011, the Angels trailed the Blue Jays by a run with two out in the bottom of the ninth. After slow-footed catcher Hank Conger singled, Pettit, who had shown impressive speed in the minors, was sent in as his pinch runner. Up next was 24-year-old Peter Bourjos, by no means a power hitter. In this situation, Pettit likely took a fairly conservative lead off first.
Bourjos struck out on four pitches. Pettit walked off the field and was never seen in the major leagues again.
Baseball’s classic cup-of-coffee story is that of Moonlight Graham, the rookie who famously trotted out to right field, never saw anything hit his way, and ended his career without ever getting to bat or field a baseball. In his farewell game, Pettit did even less: he walked fewer steps to take his position, he was only out there for a minute or so, and he never once wore a glove or held a bat.
Hypothetically, we can imagine an appearance less meaningful than this one, but only barely. Changing Bourjos’ result to a line-out on the first pitch is no good, because if that happens, our man Pettit becomes a baserunner with a ball in play, if only for a second or two. His heart rate probably spikes. Can’t have that. No, this needs to be a strikeout. The only tragedy, then, is that Bourjos struck out on four pitches and not three.
If we want to get greedy, we can imagine the Angels as the visiting team. Playing at home, their dugout was on the left side of the field, meaning Pettit had to jog all the way across the diamond to take his place at first. As the visitor, first base would have been just a few steps away from the bench.
Pettit stood there for a minute with bare and empty hands. That was his Major League Baseball decade. It might very well be the most meaningless decade a major league baseball player has ever experienced.
Shooting guard, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, 2012-2014
In contrast to Darius Johnson-Odom’s storied career at Marquette and his years in China and Italy, his NBA life lasted 21 minutes. They were a very, very busy 21 minutes. His 11 shot attempts came from everywhere on the floor — a layup, a scattering of mid-range shots, and a couple of heaves from at least 26 feet out. All 11 of them missed. He was once sent to the stripe for a pair of free-throw attempts, and he missed both of those as well.
Across NBA history, 14 players have attempted at least three field goals and ended their career with zero points. Johnson-Odom left them all in the dust.
He did everything else, from rebounding to stealing to assisting to fouling. He was all over the floor. In the end, his career usage rate stood at 28.4 percent, higher than that of Patrick Ewing, Blake Griffin, and Damian Lillard.
This is perhaps the greatest testament to the inconsequential nature of Johnson-Odom’s career: even if we decided to rewrite the record books and rule that every one of his 11 shots went in, it would not change the result of a single game. He never even attempted a shot that mattered.
His full name, Darius Earvin Johnson-Odom, sneaks in the names of two fellow Lakers with considerably more notable careers. The two names appear to have canceled one another out entirely, a phenomenon we also see in a man named ...
Point guard, Los Angeles Clippers, 2010
In the 2010s, the NBA revolved around LeBron James and Stephen Curry. The two megastars spent four consecutive Finals smashing their teams against one another. Before the opening tip of every season, at least one of them was correctly presumed destined for the Finals as though they were sitting presidents running for a second term.
“James on Curry” sounds like the god of the NBA guarding the other god of the NBA. “JamesOn Curry” is the name of a guy whose entire career can fit in a GIF. Welcome to the start of JamesOn Curry’s NBA career.
Welcome to the end of JamesOn Curry’s NBA career. It lasted 3.9 seconds, making it the shortest in the history of the league.
Curry had been through it all just to get here, and now lives a life as a youth basketball instructor that makes him happier than he guesses an NBA career would have. We’re free to laugh at these 3.9 seconds all we want. God knows I am. Curry has better things to do. Besides, as he pointed out, he probably got paid more per second than anyone else in NBA history.
Running back, Cleveland Browns, 2014-2015
After assaulting a hockey player while in college, spending six months in jail, and going undrafted, Glenn Winston had found his way into the NFL. A running back by trade, he appeared mostly as a special-teamer for the Browns before finally receiving his first career carry on Dec. 13, 2015.
Some GIFs make a sound. This one says, “bloop!”
The 49ers’ Ian Williams doesn’t just strip the ball, he punches it out like a golfer trying to negotiate a sand trap. It shot eight yards downfield. Fumbling away one’s first career carry is bad enough, but this ensured an extra indignity. Because the ball wasn’t recovered until it was eight yards downfield, this play went in the books as a negative-eight-yard run, a result that usually implies a ball carrier unwilling to cut his losses or a catastrophic jet sweep. Winston didn’t even get the satisfaction of trying something crazy. He bet $10 and lost $100.
Winston never carried the ball again, cementing his career line: one carry, negative-8 yards, one fumble. Among pure running backs, it is the lowest career yardage total in the 100-year history of the NFL.
Also among pure running backs, Winston is one of just four players to fumble away their only career rushing attempt. Another of those four, incredibly, was Winston’s teammate. Fullback Malcolm Johnson had been placed on injured reserve a few days prior, and would go on to drop his only carry the following season.
This was a meaningless late-season game featuring two teams that finished last in their respective divisions.
It was reported Winston suffered a concussion on this play.
Guard, Mississippi State, 2010-2013
The fans in Starkville wanted so, so badly for Baxter Price to take a shot. He would not.
“I think it goes without saying, when I get out there on the court, I’m not there to score.”
In basketball, the box score practically begs a player to somehow register, to prove you did indeed exist at some point and weren’t a mere bookkeeping error. Some can’t or won’t. “Club Trillion,” popularized by Ohio State’s Mark Titus, is a fraternity of players who have finished a game with 1 in the minutes column and 0 in every other, forming a box score that reads 1000000000000, or one trillion. Many can claim membership in this club, but Baxter Price is an especially valued shopper. In the 2010s, he finished with:
- 17 one-trillion games,
- four two-trillion games (in other words, two minutes played and no other stats),
- a three-trillion game,
- a five-trillion game,
- a six-trillion game, and
- an eight-trillion game.
That eight-trillion game fell on Feb. 13, 2013, during a 78-36 clobbering at the hands of Missouri. Price, a walk-on on his home court with a cult following, had every reason to attempt a shot; the Bulldogs were down 34-10 at halftime and none of his teammates could hit a bucket to save their lives. If a guy named Craig Sword is permitted to go 0-for-8, surely Price is allowed that indulgence. Instead, he spent eight garbage minutes — 480 seconds — on the floor without notching a shot attempt, assist, rebound, steal, block, foul, or turnover. Did he at least touch the ball at some point? Probably, but we have no evidence of it.
Price did score one bucket in 2009, but in this decade, he was almost entirely invisible. He spent 118 minutes on the floor and totaled 30 basketball things (six shot attempts, six rebounds, two assists, one block, nine turnovers, six fouls, and zero points).
That’s one basketball act every four minutes or so. It’s the faint signal of a distant star we will never visit. Price played basketball billions of years ago and billions of light-years away, but we are nearly certain that at one point, he was there.
Right winger, New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, 2010-2012
Thank heavens for arbitrary cutoff dates. Take stock of Joel Rechlicz’s career as a whole, and you find an enforcer who played a scattering of games. But if we focus specifically on his 2010s, we find something really special.
It was his job to start fights, and he did it with flair. His first fight, in April 2010, resembles a video game with poor collision detection.
Rechlicz earned five minutes in the penalty box for this one; later that night, he would receive another 15 minutes for a much more boring fight against Eric Godard.
It would be nearly two years until Rechlicz appeared in another NHL game. In 2012, he was quiet during a couple of brief appearances for the Capitals on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. On Feb. 13, he hit the ice for 90 seconds, drew a 10-minute misconduct penalty, and left the NHL for good.
In the 2010s, he totaled 30 minutes in the penalty box and just nine and a half minutes on the ice playing actual hockey. That is absolutely as bizarre as it sounds.
This decade, NHL players spent a combined 12 years and change on the ice playing regular-season hockey, and they spent a combined 151 days in the penalty box, yielding a ratio of 3.2 percent. Behold the penalty minutes ratio of Rechlicz:
This man spent the vast majority of his 2010s NHL career sitting in a little room by himself. They shouldn’t have bothered to issue him a hockey stick. He was not a hockey player. He was a brave wanderer. He did not play the sport he played, and I celebrate him for that.
Bantamweight fighter, UFC, 2011-2012
Sandoval went 6-2 as a fighter, with both losses handed to him in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Forty-five seconds into his UFC career, Joseph Sandoval got kicked in his penis and balls. It was an accidental low blow from Walel Watson, and things like this just happen from time to time, but the broadcast heaped on an extra indignity. You might wonder why in the world this is captured in slow motion:
Well, during the stoppage, they pulled up a slo-mo replay just so announcers Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg could laugh at him.
ROGAN: A replay, because America loves these. There you go, folks.
GOLDBERG: [laughing] We show it ‘cause we can.
ROGAN. Yes. Sit at home on your couch and be happy that’s not you.
Seconds later, Sandoval took a dozen hammers to the face and was knocked out just over a minute into the fight. He returned to the octagon in 2012 for a prelim bout against Nick Denis, who threw some devastating elbows at his head and knocked him out in just 22 seconds. That was it for his UFC career.
Typically, entry-level UFC prelim fighters get $10,000 to show up and fight and an additional $10,000 if they win, which is an absurdly low level of compensation. Accounting for the gym fees, training, licensing, nutrition, and everything else a fighter like Sandoval has to pony up for, he quite possibly actually lost money on this venture, essentially paying for the privilege of taking a thrashing in the octagon, getting kicked in the wiener, and being made fun of by the Fear Factor man.
Outfielder, Los Angeles Angels, 2011-2019
Don’t get mad at me. This is exactly what he wants.
I recently set up a poll of my Twitter followers to ask them whether they know who Mike Trout is. These people, of course, are far more likely to be sports fans than the average person. Even then, of the approximately 7,000 responses, a full third — 33.8 percent — responded that they’re either only vaguely aware of him, or they have no idea of who he is.
The same people who are unfamiliar with Trout are certainly also unfamiliar with Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. This baseball metric is an effort to estimate how many more wins a team won with a given player than they would have with a replacement-level player in his place. Remember that this is a counting statistic, like home runs or RBI:
Trout is only 28 years old. Even if he retired today, his WAR of 72.5 would eclipse 68 percent of all players in the Hall of Fame. Earlier this year he surpassed Derek Jeter, who played until age 40. If his next season is anything like his last eight seasons, he’ll sail past Frank Thomas, Reggie Jackson, Joe DiMaggio, and Pete Rose before his 30th birthday. The season after that, he’s very likely to pass Nolan Ryan, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Chipper Jones.
Forecasting WAR is a pretty stupid game to play, so let’s at least stay conservative. If Trout immediately regresses to playing 5.0 WAR seasons, rather than his usual 9.0, and retires 10 years from now, he’ll move just barely above Lou Gehrig. Babe Ruth is probably the only guy out of reach. Apart from him, there’s no telling where he’ll end up, but we’re headed for a future in which Mike Trout is considered one of the very greatest baseball players who ever lived.
He is not as well-known as Tim Tebow, who hit .163 in triple-A last season, has never appeared in the major leagues, and is probably the most well-known active baseball player in America.
This is a triumph for Trout, who is getting exactly what he wants. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently took the unusual step of criticizing Trout for not putting in the effort to market himself, but Trout responded with one of my favorite character traits: genial, kind, and yet absolutely, immovably stubborn. All good, man! Cool! I like to play baseball and spend time with my family. Good luck with your business ventures.
He’s accomplished the impossible. He’s the greatest player of his generation, he’s played in Los Angeles for nearly a decade, and he’s less famous than every member of the Kars 4 Kids band.
Trout’s career is also a case study in how little individual greatness can matter in baseball. In terms of ability, he stands above his peers like Lamar Jackson and LeBron James do. Jackson has transformed his team into the best in the NFL. The NBA orbits around James. Nine years into the Trout era, the Angels have never won a playoff game, and have finished with a losing record in each of the last four seasons.
Many great athletes have been thought of as godlike, but being great is only half the idea. To be a god, you must also be invisible.
Special teams, Green Bay Packers, 2010
Maurice Simpkins was a computer programmer who made some extra cash playing linebacker for the Green Bay Blizzard, an Indoor Football League team. A block up the street, the Packers were plagued by injuries. Desperate to shore up their special teams unit, they signed Simpkins. “He was added to camp as just a body, basically,” explained Joe Buck, just after Simpkins registered one of the unlikeliest kick returns ever.
It’s unclear exactly how many plays Simpkins was on the field for. He was certainly never meant to touch the ball. Near halftime on Oct. 10, 2010, Washington kicker Graham Gano squared up and kicked the ball right at A.J. Hawk’s helmet.
Whether he did so intentionally, I can’t say, but it’s what allowed Simpkins to go into the books as a kick returner.
He did the smart thing, which was to fall on the ball and lie there until tagged. Simpkins never touched the ball again. He now runs a tech consulting firm, and I hope to God that when those 2010 Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, they gave him a ring.
Wide receiver, Tennessee Titans, 2014-2015
In football, a “target” refers to an instance of a player being thrown the ball, whether or not he catches it. It’s been tracked as an NFL statistic since 1992. In the decades since, only 11 players have ever received five or more targets without ever actually catching the ball once in their entire career.
For most of these men, this wasn’t such a big deal. Micah Ross, Isaiah Burse, Mitchell Galloway, and Terrence Warren were listed as receivers, but really spent most of their time as kick and/or punt returners. Dominique Davis, Kion Wilson, Khreem Smith, Jeff Smith and Tim Johnson played other positions entirely, and were largely targeted in gimmick plays. The only true receivers ever to suffer this fate are the Patriots’ Anthony Ladd, who played briefly in 1998, and the hero of our story, Rico Richardson.
Richardson was a former high school track and field champion who ran an impressive 4.38 40-yard dash at an NFL Combine. After going undrafted in 2013, he became a practice-squad regular who bounced from team to team. In 2014, he landed on the Titans’ roster, and on Nov. 1, 2015, he was thrown his first-ever NFL football.
Fourth-and-4. The Titans are down by two scores with just under five minutes left in the game. Their quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, puts it on the money, but when the Texans’ Johnathan Joseph swoops in to knock it out of the way, there isn’t much Richardson can do about it.
Minutes later, with the game all but conceded, Mettenberger leads Richardson straight into double-coverage. He has zero chance of hauling this in, and is clobbered.
Two weeks later, the Titans are once again wrapping up a loss in the final minutes, this time with Marcus Mariota behind center. Wideout Justin Hunter is injured, pressing Richardson into action. Mariota tries to find him deep, but sails an uncatchable ball way over his head.
It’s now Nov. 19. Titans at Jaguars. It’s the last NFL game Richardson will ever play. Near halftime, Mariota drops back into his own end zone on third-and-14. Richardson has shaken his man and set the table for a wide-open first down.
Mariota puts it even further over his head, and the Titans punt.
We’re late in the fourth quarter now. The Titans trail by six. With 1:10 remaining, Mariota is forced to scramble out of the pocket. Since Richardson is within 20 miles of the throw, he goes in the books as the targeted receiver, but he can do nothing but watch as a nameless staffer catches the ball several steps out of bounds.
Five seconds remaining, Titans still down by six. Richardson is about to get an opportunity no one like him ever, ever gets. Titans head coach Mike Mularkey calls a play that specifically calls for the ball to be thrown to the wideout on the right side.
A timeout is called before the play, giving Mularkey every opportunity to switch him out for any one of his other receivers. He doesn’t! On the play that will decide the game, Mularkey is sticking with a guy who has never caught an NFL pass.
Richardson’s odds aren’t great. The Jaguars have pulled seven guys all the way back, essentially making this a short Hail Mary. What’s important is that he has a chance. There would be no better way to establish his place on an NFL roster than to haul in the game-winning touchdown.
This time figures to be different. Every other ball he’s ever been thrown has been impossible to catch, whether out of bounds, 1- feet over his head, or directly into double-coverage. We can say this much about the Hail Mary: it’s almost certainly going to be inbounds, with a high, slow arc that will give Richardson enough time to make a play on it. No matter what happens, no matter how much traffic there is in the end zone, he will finally have a chance. That is all we, his biggest fans, are asking for. A chance.
Mariota takes the snap. Richardson races upfield, hits the goal line, breaks left, and turns to see that the Jaguars’ four-man rush has somehow eaten the Titans’ line alive. Mariota is looking, looking, looking, and chased down from behind.
He didn’t even make a throw.
At the end, the coaches’ camera catches Richardson in the corner. He’s standing bolt upright, arms at his sides and feet right next to each other like a toy soldier, watching his career arrive at its end.
The Jaguars, a bad team that will finish 5-11, have beaten the Titans, another bad team that will finish 3-13, in a game immediately forgotten.