Every baseball fan believes the moment a relief pitcher blows a game for their time that they might be the worst pitcher in history. Chances are he’s not the worst because in 1883 one man had such a bad season most people have forgotten about it.
Perhaps not the worst pitcher of all-time, the worst single season award still goes to John Coleman of the Philadelphia Quakers. The Saratoga Springs, New York native made his debut in 1883 when the sport was very different from the way it is today. Coleman spent this season as a pitcher, outfielder, and even had an appearance at second base for one game. Unprecedented in today’s game, Coleman had a lot of responsibilities which could be why he made 18 errors as a pitchers that season.
Coleman was used frequently his rookie season as a pitcher. In fact, he started 61 games while appearing in 65 total just on the mound. Of his 61 starts Coleman completed 59 of them. A sign of the times and not so much about his durability and skill, it’s no wonder he found himself struggling in the 538.1 innings he tossed that season.
Among his grim achievements were records set in hits allowed, earned runs, and losses. These numbers were 772 hits, 291 earned runs, and 48 losses. Over 100 years later, these totals remain records.
Not everything was disastrous for Coleman, at least not by today’s number standards. His ERA was still 4.87 which is not anywhere near the worst as a pitcher has done.
As a whole the Quakers were a bad team as this was their inaugural season. They finished in last place with a 17-81 record, 46 games behind the first place Boston Beaneaters. With his 12 wins Coleman still managed to win the majority of the team’s games, although he also was the primary pitcher. Teammates Art Hagan and Blondie Purcell appeared in 17 and 11 games respectively, no one else reaching double digits. Only Purcell had a lower ERA on the entire pitching staff, but he only pitched 80 innings.
Coleman spent 6 seasons in the major leagues, more than half of his games and innings pitched coming in that first season. He eventually would finish with a 23-72 record through 107 games. The correct move was made and Coleman played the majority of the latter part of his career as a position player. Thankfully for him his experience in giving up hits seemed to help him a bit at the plate as he proved to be somewhat reliable with a career .257 batting average during the Dead-ball Era.