Double-A affiliate honors 'worst baseball player of all time'

September 29th, 2023

Throughout MLB history, over 20,000 players have taken the diamond. A common debate among fans is who is the best of this group, Babe Ruth? Barry Bonds? Willie Mays? The list goes on.

However, a rarely explored topic is who is the worst player of all time? Never fear, we have the answer: John Gochnaur. He played in 264 Major League games over the course of the 1901-03 seasons, hitting .187 without any home runs and committing 146 errors. Of particular note was Gochnaur's season with the Cleveland Napoleons in 1903, when he was charged with 98 errors.

In January 2021,’s Matt Monagan outlined Gochnaur’s career and his life after baseball. Since Gochnaur was a native of Altoona, Pa. and returned there after retiring, the story caught the eye of the Curve. Mike Kessling, director of marketing, promotions and special events for the Double-A Pittsburgh affiliate, had the idea to bring the infielder’s story to Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“I was flabbergasted because I’m from this area, and I’ve never heard of John Gochnaur,” Kessling said. “I read the article about how he’s the worst Major League Baseball player of all time and all the stats and all that jazz and I said, ‘OK, listen, this is a perfect MiLB promotion. It’s also a perfect Altoona Curve promotion.’”

In Kessling’s research, he came across Gochnaur’s birthday – Sept. 12 – and decided to make the promotion as close to that date as possible. That wound up being Sept. 10, the final home game of the season.

Art by Tom Forget

For the occasion, the Curve tailored every on-field event around Gochnaur's career. The shortstop retired from MLB and became an umpire before returning home to Altoona and working as both a police officer and a bartender. One of the contests Altoona conducted was a “dress like John Gochnaur” competition, in which participants had to put on a police officer badge, a bartender towel and a baseball jersey quicker than their opponents.

Another between-inning game was a “dizzy throw contest," with competitors attempting to throw tennis balls into a bucket after spinning around in circles. The game "paid tribute" to Gochnaur’s poor defense throughout his career, including his 98 errors in 1903. To put that number in perspective, the Giants have the most errors in MLB this season, with 117 in 159 games.

Kessling didn't want the day to just be about Gochnaur’s struggles, he also wanted to highlight his achievement of making it to the The Show.

"I thought, ‘What’s a good way to honor him? Well, why not do a Curve baseball card for him,'” he said.

Working with the other members of Altoona's front office, Kessling compiled Gochnaur’s statistics, found two photos of him and made a card.

“It’s kind of neat to realize that this card giveaway is going to go into the whole sphere of card collecting,” Kessling said. “It’s not going to be an Honus Wagner card by any means, but people are going to want this card.”

To complete the homage, the Curve teamed up with Hands of Time Restoration, a nonprofit organization that cleans gravestones in the area. They cut the grass around Gochnaur’s grave and scrubbed the stone, removing the moss and dirt that had accumulated.

After returning to his hometown following the end of his baseball career, Gochnaur worked as a police officer. The Curve coordinated with the Altoona Police Department to lay a wreath on his grave, commemorating his time on the force.

A couple of days before the tribute, Mark Gochnaur, one of John's distant relatives, came to the stadium and thanked the Curve for the special night. He also attended the game against the Harrisburg Senators on Sept. 10, won by the Curve, 5-4.

“It’s a good Minor League promotion to celebrate the worst player of all time who’s from your town, but as I learned more about John and we fleshed out this promotion, it kind of took on a little bit of a sentimental meaning,” Kessling said.