Friday, September 25, 2015

Ranking the Cubs' Greatest One-Hit Wonders

Surely while flipping through the channels one boring, rainy day, you have happened upon one of VH1's various countdown shows:  Greatest Songs of the (Insert Decade Here), Greatest Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Songs or maybe my personal favorite, Greatest One-Hit Wonders.  These shows are perfect time killers and great for "hey, I remember that song!" sort of flashbacks.

Well, today is apparently National One-Hit Wonder Day (as I learned through the local alternative radio station) - so, in the spirit of the occasion, I have compiled my own ranking of the greatest one-hit wonders.  However, the twist is that they are one-hit wonders in Cubs history, not music history.

Any opportunity to blend to my two biggest passions, Cubs baseball and music, is going to be taken - every time.

Maybe they had one incredible performance, or they had an unsustainable career year, or they just just got lucky and stumbled into the spotlight for a day.  You won't know until you read through the list.

Additionally, just for the fun of it, I've matched each player with an actual one-hit wonder song that, in some way, represents them and their story.  This was not as easy as I thought it would be either.

Without further ado, starting at the bottom and working our way to #1, here we go:

#10 - Neifi Perez:

Save Tonight - Eagle Eye Cherry

Neifi Perez hit one of the most important home runs in Cubs' history and he wasn't even a member of the team when he connected.

In 1998, in the midst of Sammy Sosa's historic home run chase, the Cubs were battling for the NL Wild Card.  It came down to the very last day of the season and the Cubs, having lost their game that day, needed the Giants to lose to the Rockies in order to force a tiebreaker.  With the score knotted up at 6 each in the bottom of the ninth inning, Perez blasted an improbable walk-off homer to Chicago's great elation.

It was a night that we Cubs fans wish we could save and keep forever - Neifi certainly saved it from total despair.

The Cubs won the tie-breaker, but were quickly swept out of the playoffs.  However, nothing can take away that moment, not even Neifi's cringe-worthy Cubs career later on down the road.

#9 - Willie Smith:

Whip It - Devo

Willie Smith had a long, productive career as an outfielder/bench piece in the National League.  However, he is most remembered for his walk-off home run over the Phillies on Opening Day in 1969.  As the launching point for one of the most exciting seasons of Cubs baseball and one of the franchise's most cherished teams, that's not really a surprise.

Sidenote, let's just not talk about how that season ended, deal?

Like Smith, Devo has had a long and greatly respected career, which is far to often distilled down to just one moment:  their 1980 Top 40 single "Whip It."  It's a crying shame that subversive gems such as "Jocko Homo," "Mongoloid" and "Working in the Coal Mine" have largely been forgotten.  But, their brand of de-evolution isn't for everybody.

#8 - Dave Owen:

Lunatic Fringe - Red Rider

Dave Owen's legacy in baseball can be summed up by a singular trivia question:  who drove in the winning run in the legendary "Sandberg Game?"

On a nationally televised game in the midst of the Cubs first playoff push in many moons, Ryne Sandberg twice launched game-tying home runs off of the Cardinal's relief ace Bruce Sutter in the bottom of the 9th and 10th innings.  But, despite all of his heroics, it was not Ryno who punched in the game-winner.

No, it was a little-known utility infielder with a very weak bat (.194 career BA) by the name of Dave Owen that had that honor.  However, his heroic moment was completely overshadowed by his teammate's otherworldly performance.

Similarly, Red Rider's career was completely overshadowed by one of their own bandmates:  Tom Cochrane.  After "Lunatic Fringe" became a hit on AOR radio in 1981, their lead singer struck out on his own and scored a much more culturally pervasive hit with "Life is a Highway."

It wasn't long until Red Rider started being billed as Tom Cochrane & Red Rider and their fate as second banana was sealed.

#7 - Joe Borowski:

Closing Time - Semisonic

Joe Borowski came out of nowhere to be the 2003 "Why Not Us?" Cubs' closer, saving 33 games along the way.

Before that, the 1989 draft pick had taken 9 years to initially reach the big leagues and bounced around on minor league deals with several different clubs.  After a single, disastrous start (1.2 innings, 6 ER) with the 2001 Cubs, Chicago converted him into a reliever and he suddenly blossomed.

Unfortunately, his inability to continue on that flash of success is one of the main reasons the 2004 team failed.  He was ineffective early in the season and was completely lost for the season due to arm injuries by June.  The magic was gone and after a rocky start to the '05 season, Joe was sent packing.  His stock had fallen so far that I was able to pick up this sweet IP auto for a buck at my LCS.

JoBo gained a second wind with Cleveland later in the decade; but as a Cub, he goes down as a one-hit wonder.  I think the one-hit wonder choice that I've paired him up with in this countdown is fairly straight-forward.

#6 - Bryan LaHair:

Knock on Wood - Amii Stewart

LaHair was a "quadruple A" player who was supposed to keep first base warm until Anthony Rizzo was deemed ready for a call-up.  He wasn't supposed to be an All-Star.

Somehow, Bryan burst out of the gate with a torrid first half in 2012, batting .284 with 13 homers by the end of June and earning an All-Star roster spot.  Surely, he was knocking on wood all season, just hoping his luck wouldn't run out.

Unfortunately, it did.  He came back down to earth in the second half, hitting only 3 more homers in the second half and eventually, as expected, losing his starting spot to Mr. Rizzo.  A switch to the outfield didn't help his numbers and he was allowed to leave in the off season.

Now, for the rest of time, Bryan will forever be listed amongst the "worst" all-star selections in baseball history.  The writing was on the wall, no amount of "knocking on wood" was going to save him from regression.

#5 - Sam Jones:

Wild Thing - X

Two cover songs in a row, eh?

Sam Jones was a talented, but wild pitcher for the Cubs in the mid-50's.  He came to Chicago by way of Cleveland and just could not harness his pitches.  In 1955, he lead the league in losses (20), walks (185), hit batters (14) and hits per 9 innings (6.5).  Despite all of this, he was an All-Star selection that year.  Huh?

This nomination came largely on the basis that the Cubs of the 50's were terrible and that he managed to toss a no-hitter on May 12 against Pittsburgh.  Such gems are rare in Cubs history and Jones' was the first for Chicago since 1915.  It wasn't necessarily pretty as he issued 7 walks along the way; but, it sealed his place in franchise history.

The original "Wild Thing" would later have more consistent success with the Cardinals and the Giants; but with the Cubs, he never pitched better than he did that day against the Pirates.

Much like the punk pioneers X never had more mainstream success than they did with their cover of "Wild Thing," found on the soundtrack to the cult-classic Major League.  Of course, they're punks, so they weren't exactly trying for the Top-40 either.

#4 - Ryan O'Malley:

Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) - Edison Lighthouse

This guy wasn't supposed to be a Major Leaguer; so, it's fitting that the only card I have him depicts his minor league days.

The undrafted free-agent was pure organizational filler until the Cubs' game against the Astros on August 15, 2006 went 18 innings.  In the wee hours of the morning, Chicago was forced to use their scheduled starter for the next day, Rich Hill, to secure an 8-6 victory.

With an afternoon contest set for the next day, the team had to scramble for a body to stick on the mound.  O'Malley, whose slot in Iowa's rotation lined up perfectly, was in the right place and right time and soon found his way to Houston on a hastily scheduled flight.

All the Springfield native (who grew up a die-hard Cubs fan) did was go out and twirl 8 innings of shut out baseball and get the win in a 1-0 victory,  He was the unlikely feel good story of an otherwise dismal season.  Unfortunately, he was injured in his next appearance and never stood on an MLB mound again.

Accordingly, the featured tune was written and recorded as a purely studio creation by three songwriters and a session singer.  When the ditty surprised everyone and ended up in the Top-40 (peaking at 5), they had to scramble for some bodies to stick on the stage to perform it on Top of the Pops.

#3 - Rick Wilkins:

Tubthumping - Chumbawamba

To this day, no one in Chicago can believe that Rick Wilkins batted .303 and swatted 30 homers in 1993.  The third-year catcher had never hit more than 8 long flies previously and only once more would hit more than 10.  His career batting average is .244.  Where the hell did that season come from?

He regressed right back down to 7 home runs and a .227 average the next season and all was right in the world again.  Thenceforth, he spent the rest of his career as a nomad, trying to recapture his fleeting moment of glory.

Wilkins spent the next 7 years with 7 teams, frequently seeing nothing more than late season cameos, refusing to give up his chase.  In short, he got knocked down, he got up again, nothing was going to keep him down.

#2 - Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith:

Keeping the Dream Alive - Freiheit

These two had to be included as a tie because they are forever connected in Cubs lore.

The promising rookies finished first and second in the 1989 ROY voting, helping to lead the way for the Boys of Zimmer in their NL East division title.  From there, they, along with Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and Co., were supposed to lead the young Cubs on to a long run of success.

Unfortunately, neither one could stay healthy to save their careers, fracturing the young core and leading to the demise of the Boys of Zimmer.

Meanwhile, WGN used this single from the German band Freiheit in a musical montage to honor the Boys of Zimmer going into the playoffs.  It was to be their only hit in the English-speaking world.  So, it seems like the perfect way to play out Walton and Smith, who also quickly dropped out of the spotlight (in the English-speaking or not) after 1989.

#1 - Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes:

Song 2 - Blur

Any Cubs fan reading this countdown had to figure that Tuffy was going to be number one - it's just too obvious.

On Opening Day in 1994, the journeyman outfielder had the game of his life, smashing not one, not two, but three home runs off of none other than Doc Gooden.  The Cubs ultimately lost the game, but Karl's historic show of power made him the first player in MLB history to hit 3 long balls on Opening Day.

Unsurprisingly, he was not able to follow up that performance.  From there, he hit only 5 more homers all season and was out of the Majors by the end of 1995.  Still, what a game, huh?

He wasn't done with baseball though.  Tuffy made his way to Japan and rediscovered his power stroke in a major way,  In 2001, all he did was tie Sadaharu Oh's single-season home run record of 55.  All told, he knocked 288 balls out of the park during his time spent in Japan.

Why did I choose this song for Mr. Rhodes?  Well, blur had been around for several years before they finally broke through in the US with their atypically loud and powerful single "Song 2" and quickly faded back into the crowd.  Meanwhile, in a foreign land (their native England), they went on to have a long and storied career, with a long chain of hit albums and singles.

I think you get the picture.

And there you have it - the top ten Cubs one-hit wonders of all-time.  I hope you all enjoyed my attempt at being VH1.

Is their any other ones I missed?  Please speak up in the comments section if you have your own nomination that I slighted.

How about any selections for your own favorite franchise?  Who are some of the most notable one-hit wonders for the rest of baseball?  Joe Charboneau, Travis Ishikawa and Dan Johnson all stick out in my mind.

Meanwhile, I think I'm going to over to my turntable and properly honor National One-Hit Wonder Day by blasting some of my favorite such tunes.  If my neighbors don't want to hear some obnoxiously bad karaoke renditions of "Your Love" or "Black Betty," I hope they have earplugs readily available.


  1. I was a live witness to #9 at Wrigley Field in 1969. I have the program to prove it:

  2. Great list and thanks for introducing me to Sam Jones. I took a look at his baseballreference webpage... wild thing, indeed!

  3. Bryan LaHair had one of the strangest seasons I've ever seen. I wonder if anyone else has ever been an All-Star and DFA'ed in the same year.