In Praise of the One Hit Wonders

Baseball’s greatest legends, like music’s greatest legends, are so famous that even non-fans know their names. Who hasn’t heard of Babe Ruth or the Beatles? But for every Harmon Killebrew or Elvis Presley, there are dozens of performers who looked like the next big thing, only to be completely forgotten a few years later. 

Danny Valencia had a great rookie campaign in 2010, but he faded in 2011. Will he correct his issues and return to prominence next year? Or will he be baseball’s latest version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners? Only time will tell.

But there are plenty of players in Twins history who did become One-Hit Wonders. They wowed fans for a season and then fell back to the middle or the back of the pack. The following is a countdown of my picks for the greatest One Hit Wonders in Twins history. In a perfect world, this would be a Top 40 countdown, but that would take up way too much space, so I’ll just give you the top five. For context, I’ve paired each Twins player with a hit song that came out the same year.

#5: Bobby Castillo and Toni Basil, 1982.

 Bobby Castillo spent several years with the Dodgers in the last ’70s and early ’80s. He didn’t accomplish much with L.A., aside from earning a 1981 World Series ring.

But in 1982, Castillo was so fine on the mound that he blew our minds.  Despite the terrible team around him, Castillo won 13 games. In 218.2 innings, he struck out 123 hitters and posted a 3.66 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. Castillo was by far the most reliable pitcher for a Twins staff that included Terry Felton in his infamous 0-13 season. Unfortunately, Castillo never regained the 1982 magic. His ERA rose by over a run in 1983, and he fell to 8-12. He never pitched more than 68 innings in a season after that, and by 1986 he was out of baseball.

Back in ’82, when Castillo still looked like a rising star, someone named Toni Basil dressed up like a cheerleader and brought us the catchy hit “Mickey.” Maybe if she’d called her song “Bobby” and cheered on the Twins hurler instead, Castillo’s and Basil’s careers might have gone a little better. Maybe.

#4: Brant Alyea and Blues Image, 1970.

 1970 was a pretty good year for the Twins. They won their second consecutive division title thanks to a star studded roster that featured Killebrew, Bert Blyleven, Tonly Oliva, and Rod Carew. That illustrious team also benefitted from the contributions of young outfielder Brant Alyea.

Alyea had a lot of raw power. He mashed minor league pitching, especially in 1968 when he hit 31 homers in 81 AAA games. But that power never translated into the Majors. He bounced around between Washington, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Oakland for six seasons. For his career, he hit a meager .247 with 38 homers in 866 at bats. 1970 was the closest Alyea came to being a star. He only received 290 plate appearances, thanks to the star-studded Twins roster. But he made the most of the opportunity with 16 homers and a .291/.366/.531 line.

1970 was also a good year for the band Blues Image. The group had been around for most of the ’60s, but they never scored a hit until their 1970 single “Ride Captain Ride,” which reached #4 on the charts.

#3: Lew Ford and Los Lonely Boys, 2004

While 1970 and even 1982 were too long ago for some of this site’s readers to remember, all of you almost certainly can recall 2004 – both for the talented Twins team that year and the questionable taste in music that people evidently had that year. An artist called Los Lonely Boys scored a #1 hit with the acoustic anthem “Heaven.”

For Lew Ford, heaven was the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The 28 year old outfielder was a five tool threat who hit .299 with 15 homers and 20 stolen bases. He also played all three outfield positions with aplomb. If he hadn’t just barely exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2003, he would have been a shoo-in to win the AL Rookie of the Year award that year over Oakland’s Bobby Crosby

But 2004 was Ford’s last hurrah. He started for the Twins in 2005, but his average dropped to .264, and his power vanished. In 2006 he hit a measly .224. After a 116 at bats in 2007, Ford left the game at the age of 30.

#2: Rich Reese and Steam, 1969

 Rich Reese actually played parts of 10 seasons in the Major Leagues, so it might seem a little unfair to label him a one hit wonder. He was an almost everyday player for the Twins from 1968 through 1971. But for most of his career, he was an unimpressive hitter with a .253/.312/.384 line. To be fair, it was a pitching heavy era, so his career line made him only a slightly below average (94 career OPS +), but first base is a position where we usually like to see a great hitter.

We saw one in 1969. Reese hit American League pitching to the tune of .322/.362/.513. The rest of America grooved to the tune of Steam’s hit song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” which reached #1, sold 6.5 million records, and still gets played in MLB stadiums when an opposing pitcher gets knocked out of the game.

After 1969, Reese kissed his hitting ability goodbye (I sincerely apologize for all of the bad puns that these song titles are inspiring, but I can’t help it). He hit .261 in 1970with just 10 homers, and by 1971 he dropped to a .219 average.

#1: Joe Mays and “Crazy Town,” 2001

Joe Mays was the quintessential one hit wonder. He was absolutely terrible in 1999, 2000, and 2002 through 2006. But in 2001 he was one of the best pitchers, not just on the Twins, but in all of MLB. In 2001, Mays went 17-13 and struck out 123 batters in 233.2 innings. He was also third in the American League with a 3.16 ERA, a nice mark in any season, but an even more impressive achievement considering that 2001 was the height of the steroid era, when hitters were driving in runs at a record pace. Mays was the best pitcher on a Twins team that surprised many by contending for the AL Central crown. His stellar effort earned him a trip to the All Star Game.

Now look at Mays’s stats for the rest of his career. If you exclude 2001, mays had a career record of 31-57 and a 5.62 ERA. In 2000, the year before his breakout stason, Mays was second in the AL with 15 losses. After 2001, Mays ran into a series of injuries that derailed his performance. He went just 4-8, 5.38 in 2002 in limited action, and his ERA balooned to 6.30 in 2003. He underwent Tommy John surgery that year, missing all of 2004. By 2007 his career was done.

A great one-hit wonder like Mays deserves an equally impressive song. 2001 was a banner year for one-hit wonders. You may recall AfroMan’s drugtastic hit “Because I Got High,” or the Corrs’ hit “Breathless.” But the king of 2001 one-hit wonders was “Butterfly” by Crazy Town. Like Joe Mays, Crazy Town faded after 2001. But their song lives on; in fact, since I started writing this, “Butterfly” has been permanently stuck in my head. 

Honorable Mention: Bobby Korecky and “M.I.A.,” 2008

Bobby Korecky only played parts of two seasons in the Majors, and neither one was good enough to qualify for this list. But he deserves a mention because he was literally a one hit wonder – he had exactly one hit. Korecky is the only Twins player to have exactly one career hit in one career plate appearance. The impressive thing about that hit is that Korecky was a pitcher, and the Twins were not playing an interleague game.

On May 19th, the Twins and Rangers went into extra innings. The Twins pulled out all the stops in the 9th to try to tie the game, including yanking shortstop Adam Everett for a pinch hitter and sending DH Brendan Harris to short. It worked – the Twins tied the game at 6-6 in the 9th – but they lost their DH and used up their entire bench in the process. In the 11th inning, Korecky came on to pitch in relief of Juan Rincon, and his spot in the order came up in the bottom of the inning. Korecky stunned the Rangers by grounding a single to right field off Frank Francisco. To top it off, Korecky pitched a scoreless 12th and earned the win.

No word on whether he celebrated by listening to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” We’ll just have to assume he did.

 

 

Tags: Bobby Castillo Bobby Korecky Brant Alyea Joe Mays Lew Ford Minnesota Twins Rich Reese

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