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One-Hit Wonders: Atlee Hammaker to Jerry Johnson

This is Part 6 of a 13-part series examining the 65 men who have collected exactly one hit as a member of the San Diego Padres. Our current installment features a man once traded for Vida Blue, Trevor Hoffman’s predecessor as Padres closer, the survivor of Mike Darr’s fatal car crash, a former teammate of Bud Black, and a man who very indirectly helped pave the way for free agency.

Atlee Hammaker

Pos: LHP
Years: 1990-1991

10  3 0 1  0  0  0   0  0 2 .333 .333 .333  85

Here’s a guy you never think of as a Padre. Originally taken by the Royals with the 21st pick overall in the 1979 June draft (Andy Van Slyke and Tim Wallach turned out to be the big first-round prizes), Hammaker arrived in Kansas City toward the end of ’81, made a few appearances, and then was sent the following spring to San Francisco as part of the payment for veteran left-hander Vida Blue. Hammaker enjoyed some success with the Giants, including an All-Star campaign in ’83 (well, the season was good; his All-Star appearance, not so much), but health issues kept him from ever working more than 175 innings in a season.

The Padres signed Hammaker in August 1990 and he made nine appearances for them down the stretch that year. On September 22, he started the second game of a doubleheader against the Reds, working 6 strong innings and leaving with his team down, 3-2. Eric Show relieved him in the seventh and imploded, and Cincinnati went on to win, 9-5. Before that, though, Hammaker stepped to the plate with a runner at first and two out in the fourth against southpaw Tom Browning and whacked a single to right-center.

Hammaker made another start for the Padres in ’91, but spent most of that season on the disabled list or rehab assignments. After sitting out all of ’92 and ’93, he made cameos with the White Sox in ’94 and ’95 that served the useful purpose of removing all doubt that his career was over.

Gene Harris

Pos: RHP
Years: 1992-1994

87  5 0 1  0  0  0   0  0 1 .200 .200 .200  11

Harris held the Padres closer job before Trevor Hoffman came to town. Taken in the fifth round of the 1986 June draft by the Montreal Expos (their fellow Canadians, the Toronto Blue Jays, snagged right-hander Pat Hentgen later that round), Harris made the big club out of spring training in 1989. After making 11 relief appearances, he was shipped to Seattle as part of the haul for left-hander Mark Langston. (The Mariners also got some guy named Randy Johnson, who turned out to be pretty good.) Three years later, the Padres acquired Harris from Seattle for… Will Taylor.

On June 9, 1992, while making his only start for the Padres, Harris collected his lone big-league hit. Leading off the third inning against former Padres right-hander Jimmy Jones, Harris grounded an infield single. He was promptly erased when Tony Fernandez rapped into a 4-6-3 double play. Harris didn’t fare so well on the pitching side, departing in the fourth with Houston leading, 4-0. The Padres, thanks mainly to the efforts of catcher Dan Walters, came back to win, 5-4.

Harris notched 23 saves for San Diego the following year. Then came Hoffman, whose emergence in ’94 signaled the end of Harris’ Padres career. They traded him to Detroit in May for Scott Livingstone and Jorge Velandia. Harris didn’t do much after leaving San Diego and retired in 1998 with a 12-18 record, 4.71 ERA (87 ERA+), and 26 saves.

Ben Howard

Pos: RHP
Years: 2002-2003

9 15 1 1  0  0  0   0  0 7 .067 .067 .067 -63

Once upon a time, I thought Howard was going to be pretty good. I identified him as the Padres’ no. 8 prospect headed into 2003. I wasn’t alone in liking Howard. Baseball America ranked him as the Padres no. 6 prospect that year (Jason Bay was no. 12, Shane Victorino was no. 21). Howard, taken in the second round of the 1997 draft (the same round produced former Padres Randy Wolf and Scott Linebrink, as well as a high school shortstop the Dodgers couldn’t sign — kid by the name of Chase Utley), threw hard but struggled with command throughout his career. He is the lone survivor of the February 2002 car crash that killed former Padres outfielder Mike Darr.

Howard pitched reasonably well for the Padres toward the end of 2003. He made six starts that season and appeared to be in the mix for the ’04 rotation. On September 2, 2003, at home against the Diamondbacks, Howard allowed 1 run in 6 innings en route to the first of his two big-league victories. He helped his own cause, too. With the Padres leading, 2-1, Howard started the third inning with a single to left field against southpaw Chris Capuano, later scoring on a Brian Giles groundout.

Howard was traded the following year for Blaine Neal, who later was traded for Adam Hyzdu, who was traded for Scott Cassidy. After kicking around the minors for a few years, Howard retired in 2008. He spent most of that final season at Triple-A Nashville in the Brewers organization. There, his teammates included former or future Padres Russell Branyan, Callix Crabbe, and Tony Gwynn Jr.

Danny Jackson

Pos: LHP
Years: 1997

12 13 0 1  0  0  0   0  1 4 .077 .143 .077 -38

What I often consider the Steve Avery career path is perhaps more properly attached to Jackson’s name. After finishing second in National League Cy Young Award voting in 1988, at age 26, his career (except for a brief reprieve in ’94) slowly spiraled downward into oblivion:

                 IP  W-L   ERA ERA+
Thru age 26   973.1 60-57 3.43 120
After age 26 1099.1 52-74 4.52  87

The fact that Jackson threw 11 complete games at age 25 and 15 more the following year may not have helped matters. Whatever the case, he was sort of the anti-Moyer. By the time Jackson reached San Diego (he was acquired in June 1997 in a six-player trade with the Cardinals that effectively signaled the end of everyone involved’s career except for Mark Sweeney), he had nothing left. Jackson in ’97 was like Langston in ’98, with the key difference being that Jackson never struck out Tino Martinez with the bases loaded at a crucial moment in the World Series.

Jackson, who pitched in the same rotation as current Padres skipper Bud Black during their glory days in Kansas City, got the start for San Diego on July 4 at home against the Dodgers. Jackson surrendered 5 runs in 5 2/3 innings and suffered the last of his 131 big-league losses. He also collected his final hit, a single back through the middle with two out in the fourth and the game tied, 2-2. It came off another Padres one-hit wonder, Pedro Astacio. Coincidence? Yep.

Jerry Johnson

Pos: RHP
Years: 1975-1976

45 15 1 1  1  0  0   0  0 6 .067 .067 .133 -44

Originally signed by the Mets in 1963, Johnson is probably best remembered for being part of the 1969 Curt Flood trade that eventually spawned free agency. Johnson spent ’75 and ’76 shuttling (well, flying) back and forth between Hawaii and San Diego. His career numbers with the Padres (99 IP, 5.23 ERA, 66 ERA+) aren’t pretty, but then, the team wasn’t exactly picky in those days.

On July 26, 1975, making a spot start against the Braves in Atlanta, Johnson worked into the seventh inning to notch his first win of the season. He also led off the fifth with a double to left-center ahead of a Johnny Grubb homer that extended the Padres lead to 3-0. By the time Johnson left, the Braves had cut the gap to 3-2, but after the visitors added an insurance run in the eighth, Danny Frisella (yet another Padres one-hit wonder) slammed the door over the final two innings to seal the deal.

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