The 2014 Cleveland Indians were a very inconsistent baseball team. At times they looked like world-beaters, and at other times they looked like a team only Walter Matthau could have loved.
One of the reasons for this inconsistency was the team’s defense. The 2014 Indians made a lot of errors: 116, to be precise, more than any other team in the American League. Four Indians—Lonnie Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana—broke the double-digit mark in miscues, and had injuries not shortened the season of Nick Swisher, he would certainly have joined their ranks as well.
I got to wondering who had the worst defensive season in Cleveland Indians history. And it didn’t take me long to find the answer. In 1903, when the team was known as the Cleveland Naps (you know, in honor of this guy), their shortstop, John Gochnaur, committed a whopping 98 errors, and that in only 134 games. Gochnaur’s fielding percentage for the season was .869, which means that he made an error more than one of every nine times he managed to get his hands on the baseball. By comparison, Chisenhall’s fielding percentage in 2014 was .942.
You might be thinking that Gochnaur must have been a good hitter, in order to keep his job at the most demanding defensive position despite being so atrocious at it. But no, Gochnaur was terrible at the plate, too, hitting .185 with no homers. Coincidentally, Gochnaur also hit .185 for Cleveland in the 1902 campaign, his first full season in the big leagues. He made “only” 48 errors that year, with a fielding percentage of .933.
Ironically, Gochnaur was lauded for his defensive prowess in that 1902 season. An article (with no byline, alas) in the Plain Dealer of January 3, 1904, had this to say about Gochnaur, whose nickname was Dutch: “Dutch was a natural baseball player and were he to take good care of himself there would be no better fielding shortstop in the country. Clevelanders will never forget the great work he did for [Naps manager Bill] Armour during the season of 1902. It had been many years since Cleveland had had a shortstop who could make the plays that he did.”
The article goes on to quote Armour, speaking of the 1903 season: “I have been blamed for keeping Dutch all year. Now I would like to know where they would have got a man to take his place. The good shortstops are not hanging on bushes waiting to be picked off like berries.” Armour added that several other candidates were tried at the position, but were also found lacking.
In 1904, though, Armour did find a man to take Gochnaur’s place. Gochnaur was released by the organization before the 1904 season began, and Terry Turner became the club’s everyday shortstop, appearing in 111 of the team’s 154 games. Turner made 36 errors in 1904, and remained with the franchise as an infielder through the 1918 season.
The unknown writer of the 1904 article seems to hint that a fondness for alcohol played a large part in Gochnaur’s downfall. Maybe so, but a 2013 blog post by Matt Smith for Fangraphs.com suggests a more nefarious reason.
Gochnaur never played another game in the big leagues following his horrendous 1903 season. After leaving Cleveland, he played for San Francisco and Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League, then found work as a minor-league umpire. Gochnaur died at his home in Altoona, Pennsylvania on September 27, 1929, at the age of 54.