Henneman Will Be Your Last Graveyard
The worst performance I've ever seen came on July 4, 1996. The Rangers, who had never made the playoffs, were up six games in the A.L. West heading into their home game on Independence Day against second place Seattle, and though I was living in Austin, I drove to Arlington to see the game with my family. Despite the significant lead, people were already predicting the Rangers would fade as the summer went on, in no small part due to their poor bullpen.
Darren Oliver faced off for Texas against Rusty Meacham, and Texas overcame an early 4-1 deficit when Dean Palmer hit a grand slam in the 7th to give the Rangers a 5-4 lead. Mark Brandenburg, Ed Vosberg, and Jeff Russell combined for an out apiece in the top of the 8th, and after Texas was held scoreless in the bottom of the 8th, the Rangers brought closer Mike Henneman into the game to protect a one-run lead.
That was a problem. Henneman, signed as a free agent prior to the season, was a tire fire the first three months of the year. When he entered the game on July 4th, he had a 7.00 ERA and an 0-6 record with 6 blown saves, the most recent having come two days earlier against the Angels, when he came into the game with one on and no one out in the 9th to try to preserve a one-run lead, and ended up allowing a walkoff loss on an E-1/IBB/IBB/WP sequence.There was an uncomfortable murmur that spread through the sellout crowd at The Ballpark in Arlington when Henneman was announced, as Rangers fans tried to convince themselves that Henneman could get the necessary three outs.
Edgar Martinez led off the inning with a line drive single. Jay Buhner followed up with a single. After Brian Hunter sac bunted, Dan Wilson was intentionally walked, and M's manager Lou Piniella went to his bench and sent lefty Darren Bragg up to hit for Luis Sojo. Rangers manager Johnny Oates had seen enough from Henneman by this point, though, and brought in veteran lefty Dennis Cook to set up a lefty-lefty matchup that Piniella neutralized by having John Marzano hit for Bragg.
Cook got ahead 0-2 on Marzano and then, having given Rangers fans a glimmer of hope, hit Marzano. That's right...with the bases loaded in the 9th, the tying run was forced in when the backup catcher was hit by an 0-2 pitch. Then, after a smattering of boos, and with the crowd restless and on edge, Cook got to 2-2 on Paul Sorrento, then gave up a 400+ foot blast to right-center field, a grand slam that gave the Mariners a 9-5 lead.
I was furious. I was beside myself. I wanted Oates strung up for bringing Henneman into the game, I wanted general manager Doug Melvin fired for signing him in the first place. Throwing a fit, I insisted we leave, not wanting to hang around to watch the bullpen give up two more hits and a wild pitch before the inning ended, watch the Rangers go meekly, 1-2-3, in the bottom of the inning, watch the fireworks display that was scheduled after the game. I was as sports-mad after that game as I can ever recall being after a loss.
The summer ended up being a roller coaster, with the M's taking the next two against Texas and getting the lead down to a game and a half before Texas went on a hot streak and got the lead up to nine games on September 11. But nothing can be easy for Rangers fans, and the Rangers lost 9 of 10 to see the lead drop to one game before they righted themselves and clinched the division, resulting in the first playoff berth in franchise history.
But despite that, that July 4th game, that Paul Sorrento home run, remains etched in my mind, as that was the worst bullpen meltdown I've ever witnessed my team endure in person. -- Adam Morris, Lone Star Ball
A Buffet of Ineptitude
WORST PERFORMANCE, Individual Game category: Watching journeyman first baseman Mike Laga make two errors on routine ground balls to first base during a Triple-A game in Des Moines sometime in the early 1980s. That one always stuck with me because I was sitting in the box seats behind first base.
WORST PERFORMANCE, Entire Season category: Minnesota Twins pitcher Terry Felton going 0-13 for the 1982 Twins. Felton actually had a very good arm; he threw quite hard, and under different circumstances could have had a successful career, but his control was bad, I don't think I've ever seen a pitcher have worse luck, and it wasn't like he got a lot of support with a lousy young team around him.
WORST PERFORMANCE, Music category: David Gilmour singing the wrong lyrics to "Comfortably Numb" and playing a mediocre guitar solo during the reunion performance of The Wall with Roger Waters in 2011. One might think that perhaps Dave's subconscious mind hasn't truly buried the hatchet with Roger.
WORST PERFORMANCE, Prospect Prognostication Category: I try to forget about the fact that I thought Ruben Rivera could develop into Bobby Bonds and that George Arias could be like Gary Gaetti. I was young and naive. -- John Sickels, Minor League Ball
Regardless, Alan Trammell Should Be in the Hall of Fame
Certainly there have been some bloopers, like the day Ryan Raburn bounced a home run into the stands, or maybe the one he got stuck in the wall, or how about that time he ... OK, there's only so much Raburn one can take.
But really, what sort of Tigers fan would I be if I didn't put a 119-loss season atop my list? One with loss-induced amnesia, that's what. The season started poor, remained poor and ended... well, not poor. The team lost 17 of its first 18 games. There were seven losing streaks of at least seven games and one as long as 11. The longest winning streak was just four. The fact the Tigers went 3-1 against the Twins in the season's final series kept them from matching the 120-loss 1962 Mets. And the Tigers couldn't even fall back on the excuse that they were an expansion team. They were just that bad.
You want bad? Mike Maroth lost 21 games, and Jeremy Bonderman would have lost 20 had the Tigers allowed him the opportunity. Brandon Inge batted .203. Ramon Santiago hit .225 with a slugging average of just .284. And both were regulars in the lineup! I could go on, but just looking at Baseball-Reference for the season is depressing me, so I'd rather not.
Words cannot express how bad the 2003 Tigers were. They are your poster child for worst performance. -- Kurt Mensching, Bless You Boys
We Still Cry Over This at Team Reunions
Back in the dark days of the mid-1990s, two of your Designated Columnists -- Mike Bates and this one -- would routinely be two among very few Minnesotans to attend professional baseball games. One of those we attended was on April 2, 1996 against the Tigers, the second game of what would become a typically dreary season. And one of the things we and 20,000 or so others saw that day may have been the worst performance I've ever seen.
You can see it here. In brief: Cecil Fielder stole a base. Cecil Fielder, who looked like this; who Baseball-Reference lists hilariously at 230 pounds; who was 32 and had played 1,096 games, reaching first base more than 1,100 times, and had never stolen a base.
Here's the perfect storm that had to come together:
The Tigers had to be leading by three in the ninth, the Twins' six through eight hitters due up.
Pitcher Dan Naulty needed not to look at first base, or even pretend to, not even a head twitch.
Naulty had to be 6'6" with a high, slow leg kick, and had to throw a slow, low breaking ball.
Catcher Greg Myers had to make a lackadaisical throw, like he was playing catch. I don't think he even bent his back.
Even after all that, shortstop Pat Meares had to mishandle that throw while making the tag.
It wasn't his only stolen base -- there was one more, against Milwaukee in July of the same year -- but it was his first, and his funniest, and it took a lot of ineptitude from a lot of different sources to make it happen. -- Bill Parker, SBNation.com Designated Columnist
At Least He Was Consistent
Corey Patterson (Reds), May 25, 2008 against San Diego (0-8, 3K)
Plenty of Reds players could probably qualify for this dubious honor in the past decade or two, but none stick out more than one particular game from Corey Patterson. Patterson had already been a point of contention for Reds fans, being a "leadoff hitter" batting .201 to that point, but he made his mark on an 18-inning game by making outs in his first 8 at bats. On his 9th AB, he made an out on a sacrifice bunt. I'll always remember that game being a Reds fan watching from three time zones away, watching Dusty Baker pitch his ace Aaron Harang for four innings of relief before calling in another one of his starters, Edinson Volquez, to get the loss. Maybe the Reds would have won if Corey Patterson hadn't made nine outs. -- Brandon Kraeling, Red Reporter
Stick a Fork in Him, He Needs More Seasoning
Having witnessed Adam Dunn's last three seasons, along with a number of other sinkholes in the White Sox lineup, I could probably comb through my recaps to see which stinkers inspired the most immediate kind of disgust. But I already know of a "worst" performance that needs far fewer words to explain the ineptitude witnessed that day.
Kansas City 21-year-old Miguel Asencio made his big-league debut against the White Sox on April 6, 2002. His final line: 0 IP, 0 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 16 pitches, 16 balls. -- Jim Margulis, South Side Sox
The Andrew Miller Crucible
To fully appreciate Andrew Miller's bad days, you have to understand where he came from. He was drafted sixth overall in 2006 by the Detroit Tigers, touted as one of the most promising lefties the game has seen since (you guessed it) Randy Johnson. He never morphed into the elite starter that everyone hoped he would. Some think he was mismanaged by the Tigers, who rushed him to the majors quickly; others fault his mechanics, injury, and general ineptitude.
What's most surprising about Miller is that instead of fading into baseball oblivion after posting a 8.54 ERA in 2010 with the Marlins, he's still in the league, and the Boston Red Sox seem to have the utmost faith in the pitcher they acquired via free agency in December 2010. But over the past three seasons, his outings have been a reminder that he's the quintessential grab-bag pitcher. One day, it's a masterful performance. The next, it's really, really, really, really pathetic.
Andrew Miller has ruined my day twice: March 25, 2011 and September 2, 2011.
In March, I was at the City of Palm Park enjoying a Sunday afternoon game in the early-spring sunshine. Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched five scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the sixth, Matsuzaka gave up two earned runs before being replaced by Miller, who failed to record an out, giving up four hits, six earned runs, two walks. He was replaced by Scott Atchison, who gave up two more runs. This caused great confusion for the scoreboard operator, who learned that unlike Spinal Tap's amp, this scoreboard only goes to nine -- there was no way for him (or her) to capture the 10 runs allowed in one of the most awful innings I've witnessed in person. Good thing it was spring training and it didn't really matter.
Later that season, I flew to Boston to see three games at Fenway Park. Entering that game, the Red Sox were in first place of the AL East, two games ahead of the Yankees. We sat in the bleachers eating our Fenway Franks as starter Andrew Miller took the mound against the Texas Rangers. Miller had a nuclear meltdown before Terry Francona yanked him. In 1.1 innings pitched, Miller gave up five hits, six earned runs, and one home run. He walked four batters, recording just one strikeout. The Rangers won 10-0, and Miller's meltdown started the Red Sox September Collapse, leaving them out of the playoffs, their manager unemployed, their pitchers full of beer and chicken, and the fans heartbroken. Andrew Miller is primeval atom that started the whole thing. -- Cee Angi, SB Nation Designated Columnist
Maybe They Should Have Just Kept on Striking
The strike year made that entire season something of a botch, but the Cubs were busy botching things in historic fashion until the players went out June 12. They were 1-13, 3-17, 5-27 and 10-36 before inexplicably winning five of their last six pre-strike games to enter the midseason breach at 15-37, a .288 winning percentage, which translates to 115 defeats in a 162-game season. That would have demolished the team record of 103, set in 1962, tied in 1966.
During that horrific start, Cubs TV announcer Jack Brickhouse excitedly introduced this game in Pittsburgh by telling fans the Cubs had signed a "big star" who would "turn this thing around!" That turned out to be Bobby Bonds, in the twilight of his career. In the bottom of the first that night with one out, Bonds tried to make a diving catch, fell awkwardly on the turf at Three Rivers Stadium and broke his wrist; he barely lasted a half-inning. He'd miss two months. (Then again, with the strike, everyone missed most of those two months.)
Oh, but it gets better. Post-strike, the Cubs started playing decent baseball. After the Cubs defeated the Mets 10-9 on September 24 -- thanks to a Bonds home run, the last of his 332 career dingers -- the "second-half" N.L. East standings looked like this:
Yes, that's right. The Cubs were three games out of first place in those standings, forced on MLB by Bowie Kuhn, with 10 games remaining; they had a chance to be "second-half champion" and if they did, would have been in the postseason with an overall record more than 20 games under .500.
They, being the Cubs, failed; they lost seven of those 10 and MLB was spared the embarrassment of having a truly awful team in the postseason.
But I'll always remember that team, the last Cubs team under the Wrigley family ownership. Only a players' strike prevented them from being the worst team in franchise history. -- Al Yellon, Bleed Cubbie Blue