It’s amazing on what sort of tangents you can be taken via the internet.
In reading about the 27-game hitting streak of Andre Ethier, I came across a few stories contrasting Ethier’s surge with the ongoing woes of Raul Ibanez. Ibanez is stuck in a woeful slump, now hitless in his last 34 at-bats to drop to .154 for the season.
Ibanez’s hitless streak is getting close to being historic in its scope, as the linked article indicates. It is the ninth-worst stretch in the last 20 years, and moving up this list rapidly:
1. Dann Howitt — 43 AB (1992)
2. Andy Fox — 40 AB (2004)
3. Rey Ordonez — 37 AB (1997)
4. Mark Smith — 37 AB (1997-98)
5. Gerald Williams — 36 AB (2001-03)
6. Jose Gonzalez — 35 AB (1990-91)
7. Phil Stephenson — 35 AB (1992)
8. Wil Nieves — 35 AB (2002-07)
The name on the top piqued my memory, and sent me scurrying down another side road. I vaguely remembered Dann Howitt as having a Mariner connection, and sure enough, he spent part of that 1992 season in Seattle, a footnote in the miserable 98-loss season that marked Bill Plummer’s one and only season as M’s manager. Plummer’s firing paved the way for the arrival in 1993 of Lou Piniella, who would eventually harness the remarkable talent he inherited — Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, et al — to win the division in 1995.
Howitt was not part of that remarkable collection of talent. When the A’s cut him on July 8 of that 1992 season, he was hitless since June 7 — a span of 31 at-bats. The Mariners promptly signed Howitt to a minor-league contract, and sent him to their Triple-A team in Calgary, where he hit .303 in 50 games. That was enough to convince the Mariners to purchase Howitt’s contract in Sept. 16. They watched him go 12 more at-bats without a hit, running his hitless streak to 43 at-bats.
Finally, on Sept. 26, Howitt broke through with his first major-league hit in more than three months. It was a fourth-inning triple off Texas starter Roger Pavlik that scored Jay Buhner from first base and keyed an 8-4 Seattle win. Alas, I can find no quotes from Howitt in any of the coverage, so I’ll just have to assume, a) he was happy and relieved; and/or b) he told inquiring reporters, “stupid question” and declined to discuss the end of his slump.
After the season, the Mariners dropped Howitt from the 40-man roster but re-signed him to a minor-league contract, which helped lead to his biggest career claim to fame: Getting the last hit ever off Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. That occurred on Sept. 22, 1993 at the Kingdome, when 46-year-old Ryan started against the Mariners at the Kingdome. In the first inning, Howitt — the No. 5 hitter in their lineup that night — came to the plate with the bases loaded (Rich Amaral, Ken Griffey Jr. and Buhner were the runners), and hit a grand slam over the left-field wall. Ryan then walked Dave Magadan on four pitches*, felt his elbow pop, and walked off the mound, never to pitch again.
In doing a little more surfing, I found this story in which Howitt admitted to using steroids while he was in the Oakland organization. He said he got them initially from Jose Canseco, but that Canseco told him to stop when his behavior became erratic. And if Canseco urges you to stop juicing, you know your behavior is erratic.
“I stopped because of how steroids affected me,” Howitt says in the article. “It was Canseco who stepped in and told me, ‘No more.’ I had all sorts of personality changes. I wasn’t sleeping well. My body just couldn’t handle them.”
So that’s where my Andre Ethier tangent took me — to Raul Ibanez, Dann Howitt, Nolan Ryan, Jose Canseco and steroids.
In case you’re wondering, by the way, the record for the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher is 46 at-bats by Brooklyn’s Bill Bergen in 1909 (so Howitt was that close). If you really want an interesting tangent, take a look at Bergen’s career offensive numbers and try to figure out how he stayed in the majors for 11 seasons. I think a sound case can be made that he was the worst hitter in major-league history.
But that’s another story.
*UPDATE 4:26 P.M.: Upon further review, I have learned that Nolan Ryan didn’t exactly walk Dave Magadan on four pitches. Ryan hurt his elbow on a 2-0 pitch to Magadan that was a strike. He threw one more pitch, a ball, and couldn’t continue. Steve Dreyer came into the game, inheriting the 3-1 count, and threw ball four to Magadan. The walk was charged officially to Ryan, but the last hitter Ryan faced to a conclusion was Howitt.
UPDATE 4:47 P.M.: Bill Bergen’s brother was Marty Bergen, also a major-league catcher. When he was 29, Marty Bergen murdered his wife and two children, then killed himself.
Someone stop me, please.