"Marvelous Marv" Throneberry was the starting first baseman
for the 1962 New York Mets
, the worst team in baseball
(40 wins and 120 losses) since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders
Throneberry was born on September 2, 1933, in Collierville, Tennessee. His older brother Maynard also played baseball, and broke into the major leagues in 1952 with the Boston Red Sox. Throneberry was signed by the New York Yankees, and was briefly called up at the end of the 1955 season, and played in one game. Throneberry hit a single and a double and drove in three runs, but in 1956 was sent back to the Yankees' minor league team in Denver. Throneberry hit 42 home runs for Denver in 1956, and 40 more in 1957. The Yankees called him up at the start of the 1958 season with high expectations, but Throneberry struggled, and spent most of the season on the bench, batting .227 with 7 home runs in 60 games.
Throneberry had one at-bat as a pinch hitter in the 1958 World Series. He struck out.
Throneberry played the 1959 season as a reserve for the Yankees, with similar results. In 1960 he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. The Athletics traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 1961 season.
Early in the 1962 season, the Mets were looking for a first baseman. They had picked up veteran Gil Hodges in the expansion draft, but Hodges clearly had nothing left. One month into the season, the Mets sent catcher Hobie Landrith to the Orioles for Throneberry.
Throneberry was the starting first baseman for the remainder of the season, and thrilled Met fans with his utter incompetence. Throneberry was a stationery object in the field, who had problems catching balls hit directly at him. He led all National League first basemen with 17 errors in only 97 games. At bat, Throneberry did mash 16 homers, but batted a poor .238, and had more strikeouts than hits. When not playing first base, Throneberry pinch hit, and was even worse, batting .192.
Throneberry developed a gigantic fan following in New York despite all this. His fan club at one time numbered 5,000 members, and he made commercials for Miller Lite which poked fun at his own incompetence. The most frequently-told Throneberry legend is of the day when he smacked a triple against the Cubs and was called out for not touching first base. When manager Casey Stengel came out to argue the call, his first-base coach pointed out that Throneberry hadn't touched second, either. The next batter, Charlie Neal, hit a home run, and Stengel followed him around the bases, pointing to each one as he touched it.
In 1963, the Mets brought in Tim Harkness to play first base, and Throneberry appeared in only 14 games before being released.
Over seven seasons, Throneberry batted .237 and hit 53 home runs. He struck out 295 times, and hit safely only 281 times. He isn't in the Hall of Fame, but probably should be.
The Baseball Encyclopedia, Joseph L. Reichler, editor. Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1985.