*It should be noted that use of the Razzball Glossary is highly suggested in order to make any sense of the Title Heading of this article. It is likely that the development of Razzball’s own unique symbolic system may well create the long-term effect of the formation of a Greygambelian cult, but that is outside the parameters of this article.
One year ago, Vin Mazzaro of the Kansas City Royals had one of the more memorable Craptastic performances in Razzball history, giving up 14 earned runs in 2.1 innings. It was noted that only two pitchers since World War II had reached similar depths of ineptitude: Mike Oquist, pitching for the Oakland Athletics, turned the trick in 1998, and Bill Travers, of the Cleveland Indians, (perhaps the original Cleveland Streamer), back in 1977.
This brings up the obvious question: what was the worst individual pitching performance by a starter in baseball history?
For the answer to this question, we have to go back to the genesis of the game of Roundball. On July 24th, 1882, David Elwood Rowe of the Cleveland Blues set a Major League record that still stands: he allowed 35 runs in 9 innings of work. Seven Chicago White Stockings had at least four hits and four players scored at least six runs in that affair. This remains the all time Major League record for most runs scored against a pitcher in a single game. At first sight, Rowe’s dismal performance appears to set a high bar for future hurlers to overcome. However, several points should be noted: Rowe was a center fielder by trade; during his career he appeared but four times as a pitcher. And of those 35 runs, only 12 were earned. Back in the days of yore, ballplayers went gloveless, and thus the error rate was inflated, although even considering this obvious handicap, the number of miscues must have been considerably above the norm.
When discussing ignominious pitching efforts, one must tell the interesting story of Aloysius Joseph Travers, who in all probability was the worst pitcher of all time. (One wonders whither Aloysius was related to Bill Travers. Maybe someday science will find the gene marker of pitching incompetence.) The tale begins exactly 100 years ago. On May 18th, 1912, Ty Cobb became enraged at a fan who was continuing to razz him, spicing up his critique of Cobb’s ability with racial epithets. Cobb, of course, was a virulent bigot. After one of his teammates stated that a man would be a craven if he failed to respond to that vitriol, Cobb rushed into the stands and pummeled the crank unmercifully. The victim of Cobb’s wrath happened to be without an arm, and had three fingers on his remaining hand, which added to the considerable outrage amongst both fans and the Lords of Baseball. American League President Ban Johnson suspended Cobb indefinitely for his actions. Cobb’s teammates were in no way fond of their teammate; nevertheless, they protested the suspension, and when Johnson failed to reconsider, the entire Tiger squad went on strike, stating that they would refuse to play until Cobb was reinstated. In response to this action, Johnson stated that the Tiger organization would be fined $5,000 for each game they forfeited as a result of the players action. In order to avoid the fine, team owner Frank Navin had manager Hughie Jennings find replacement players in short order. With little time to spare, Jennings found a group of college kids in North Philly. One of these players was Al Travers, who was chosen as starter, although he had never pitched an inning in his life at any level. Travers somehow managed to pitch a complete game, and “limited” the Philadelphia Athletics to 24 runs, 14 of them earned. Traver’s pitching line:
8 IP – 26 H – 24 R- 14 ER – 7 BB – 1 K
The 24 runs allowed remains an American League Record to this day.
The players’ strike ended the next day, which in turn ended the illustrious career of the ultimate Peg Boy, Aloysius Travers. Al was so shaken by the traumatic event that he sought spiritual solace, and joined the Catholic Priesthood.
How does Travers measure up to other ghastly pitching performances of yore? Some years ago, Bill James developed a method of discerning pitching performance, known as Game Scores. One need not be a member of Mensa in order to calculate Game Scores (GmSc):
“Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.”
According to my calculations, Aloysius scores -52.
In 2010, Sabermetricians analyzed and charted the worst Game Scores in the modern era. (That chart can be found at Baseball-reference.com.) Hod Lisenbee’s performance on 9/11/36 was rated as the worst in history, at -35. Travers thus tops (bottoms?) this by -17 points, a considerable number.
Let’s go back to where we first started the discussion. Putting Mazzaro’s effort into historical context, how does he measure against the most inept starting performances in history?
Here was Vince’s line:
2.1 IP – 11 H – 14 ER – 14 R – 3 BB – 2 K
According to the GaSc, Vin’s total was -19. This would place him 10th on the Baseball Reference list; impressive, but not conclusive. Mazzaro had one major advantage over Aloyious Travers, as well as every other hurler listed: his manager took him out of the game before he completed four innings. Let me make an approximate projection of Mazzaro’s performance if he had been allowed to remain in the game one inning less than the hapless A. Travers, assuming, of course, that his efforts would not improve or diminish as the game went along:
7 IP – 33 H – 42 ER – 42 R – 9 BB – 6 K
Using this extrapolation, Mazzaro finishes up with a GaSc of -174, which is more than 3 times worse than A. Travers.
Now consider a more recent effort; this one by Bud Norris on 5/31/12:
1.2 IP – 7 H – 9 ER – 9 R – 3 BB – 2 K
Let’s project Norris’ efforts to 8.1 IP
8.1 IP – 35 H – 45 ER – 45 R – 15 BB – 10 K
Which gives Norris a GaSc of -111; not quite as bad as Mazzaro’s effort, but still twice as bad as Aloysius Travers. Now I am certain that there must be quite a few games pitched each season which resemble Norris’ line. Which brings up the final point: modern day clubs carry many more pitchers, and especially relievers, than teams in years past. Sixty years ago, very few teams even carried relievers; the relief pitcher was typically the worst starter on the squad, and would pitch in games where the starter was injured or performed particularly poorly. But oftentimes no pitcher was available for relief duties, and the manager had to stick with his starter no matter how badly he performed. Thus, the question concerning which starter gave the worst performance of all time is a bit more complicated than it seems to be on the surface, for if Mazzaro or Norris pitched, say, in 1922, there would be a chance that he would not be taken out of the game, thus allowing them the opportunity to replace poor Aloysius in the sacred texts at Cooperstown, New York.