David Alexander Liddell is the only New York Mets position player to bat a perfect 1.000 for his career.1 Born on June 15, 1966, in Los Angeles,2 Liddell had the proverbial “cup of coffee” in the major leagues, getting a pinch-hit single in what turned out to be his only at-bat in the major leagues.
Liddell grew up in Riverside, California, part of the greater Los Angeles area. He was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the fourth round of the June 1984 major-league amateur draft, out of Rubidoux High School in Riverside. Liddell was the sixth player in the school’s history to be signed or drafted by a major-league baseball team; one, Mike Corkins, played in the majors for six seasons.3 After Liddell, 10 more Rubidoux alumni were drafted (as of October 2020) and two of those, Sean Mulligan and Dan Giese, made it to the majors.4
Liddell was drafted as a catcher, a position he played growing up. As a teen, he played with and against another catcher, Greg Myers, who would go on to play 18 seasons in the majors. While Liddell played at Rubidoux, Myers was playing at neighboring Riverside Polytechnic High School, whose alumni include former major-league great Bobby Bonds. Liddell and Myers continued to cross paths when Myers was selected 74th overall and Liddell 83rd in the 1984 draft.5
The draft then consisted of over 50 rounds with more than 800 players selected. The number-one pick, Shawn Abner(New York Mets), never lived up to his potential, while later picks included future stars such as Mark McGwire, Tom Glavine, and Al Leiter. Before selecting Liddell, the Cubs picked college pitcher Drew Hall in the first round.6 Their second-round pick, a high-school pitcher from Las Vegas, Nevada, was future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.7
After signing with the Cubs, Liddell was assigned to the Pikeville Cubs rookie-league team in the Appalachian League, where his roommate was none other than Maddux.8 The 1984 season was the third and final one for minor-league baseball in Pikeville, a Kentucky city with about 7,000 residents.9 Liddell played 22 games, mostly at catcher, but struggled offensively, getting only three hits in 46 at-bats (.065 batting average). Maddux performed much better, starting 12 games and going 6-2 with a 2.63 ERA.10 While Maddux earned a promotion to Class A in 1985, Liddell remained in the Appalachian League.
After finishing last in attendance for the second straight year, the Pikeville franchise folded and the Cubs moved their Appalachian League team to Wytheville, Virginia. It was there, in 1985, that the 19-year-old Liddell caught 36 games with a much-improved batting average of .231, with four home runs in 104 at-bats. That performance resulted in Liddell moving up to Class A in 1986.
Liddell’s new “home” in 1986 was Peoria, Illinois, and the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League. Maddux had played there in 1985. Maddux now was on the fast track, moving up to Double A and then Triple A during the 1986 season before making his major-league debut in September 1986. Liddell, meanwhile, was finding his groove with Peoria. In 37 games, Liddell batted .264 in 125 at-bats, while performing solidly behind the plate. That performance led the New York Mets to acquire Liddell from the Cubs in a June 30, 1986, trade for 30-year-old Ed Lynch, who had been a reliable pitcher for New York over six seasons.11
The trade was significant for the Cubs, as Lynch was acquired to replace Rick Sutcliffe (the 1984 NL Cy Young Award winner) in the rotation, after Sutcliffe went on the disabled list. In reporting the trade, the New York Times focused on the departure of the popular Lynch, who was “surprised and disappointed” at leaving New York.12 The Times article about Lynch barely mentioned Liddell, noting only at the end that the Mets “got Dave Lenderman, 24, a right-handed relief pitcher in the Eastern League, and Dave Liddell, 20, a catcher in the Midwest League.”13
Liddell was assigned to Columbia, the Mets team in the Class-A South Atlantic League, and also played at Lynchburg in the Class-A Carolina League. The Mets promoted him to Double A in 1987. After a short stint in Double A, Liddell was back in Single A, again splitting his time between Columbia and Lynchburg. In 1988 Liddell remained in Single A, splitting his time between St. Lucie in the Florida State League and the Reno Silver Sox in the California League. After he hit a career-best .329 in 26 games at Reno, the Mets promoted him to their Triple-A International League farm team in Tidewater (Norfolk, Virginia) for the 1989 season.
With Mets starting catcher and future Hall of Famer Gary Carter 35 years old and a lack of depth behind him, there was opportunity lurking for the 23-year-old Liddell. Veteran coach Vern Hoscheit, who worked with the Mets minor-league catchers, observed that Liddell was “receiving high marks,”14 and Liddell was one of four nonroster players invited to spring training in 1989.15 Things did not go well at Tidewater, however, as Liddell batted only .151 in 24 games,and was sent back to Double A, this time to Jackson in the Texas League. His struggles continued there; he batted only .178.
Despite his mediocre minor-league statistics, Liddell was back at Tidewater for the 1990 season. Carter was gone16 and the Mets’ primary catcher was Mackey Sasser.17 At Tidewater, Liddell was the primary catcher, with Barry Lyons and Orlando Mercado splitting time between Tidewater and the parent Mets.
On June 1, 1990, Mercado was recalled from Tidewater. After playing in that day’s game, he left the team due to the death of his father. Needing a backup catcher, the Mets called Liddell up on June 3. Liddell’s offensive struggles were continuing at Tidewater and so when his manager, Steve Swisher,18 approached him, Liddell’s reaction was “I’m getting sent down to Double A, right?” only to be told that he was going to the Mets.19 After toiling in the minors for six-plus seasons, Liddell was finally in “The Show.”
And that afternoon, in Philadelphia, opportunity came his way. With the Mets trailing the Phillies 8-1 in the eighth inning and the lefty-hitting Sasser due to lead off, new manager Bud Harrelson20 decided to give the righty-hitting Liddell his chance, sending him up as a pinch-hitter against left-hander Pat Combs. In an 8-1 game in which the Mets had only one hit, Mets television announcers Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner recognized the excitement that the longtime minor leaguer felt as he came to bat for the first time in the major leagues. And that excitement increased when Liddell hit a groundball through the middle for a single and his first major-league hit. McCarver exclaimed, “How about that” while also remarking that Liddell “had been hitting .178 in Jackson.”21
Watching that at-bat today on YouTube, one can see the pure joy on Liddell’s face standing at first base, as the batted ball was retrieved and thrown to Dave Magadan in the Mets dugout so that Liddell would have a memento of his moment in the spotlight. Kiner declared that it was “something that he [Liddell] will never forget.”22 Of course, no one knew at the time that this would be not only Liddell’s first major-league hit but also his last.23
After coming around to score, following his single, Liddell stayed in the game to catch in the bottom of the eighth. He was credited with a putout on a strikeout. Thus, in addition to a career batting average of 1.000, Liddell had a career fielding percentage of 1.000. Writing about the game in the New York Times, Claire Smith added a line at the end of her article, titled “Fine Debut,” stating, “Dave Liddell, the rookie catcher purchased from Tidewater Saturday, pinch-hit in the eighth and singled, his first major-league-hit.”24 Liddell never again appeared in a major-league game.25
After the 1990 season, Liddell became a free agent and signed with the Cincinnati Reds. He never played a game in their organization and ended up in the Milwaukee organization for the 1991 season before ending his professional career with the Baltimore organization in 1992, at the age of 26. In nine minor-league seasons, Liddell hit .215 with 24 home runs in 1,749 plate appearances.
Needing a job, Liddell took up a career installing and maintaining highway lighting, city traffic signals, and fiber-optic systems, as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).26 Yet, the baseball bug did not leave him. In August 1994, the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike, resulting in the remainder of the season, and the postseason, including the World Series, being canceled.27 As spring training got underway in 1995, the Players Association remained on strike and the owners prepared to use replacement players for spring training and the regular season. Among those replacement players was none other than Liddell.
Still living in his native California, Liddell joined the California Angels, playing in spring-training games, including the home opener at their Tempe, Arizona, training camp.28 Interviewed by The Sporting News at the time, Liddell described himself as “below average in hitting, power and running, average in receiving, and above average in throwing.”29 He compared himself to his longtime friend Greg Myers, who was in his eighth year in the majors and on strike. Liddell remarked that “[e]very year we played together [as teenagers] I was his backup” and that Myers advanced further in his career on superior hitting ability. “He’s better,” Liddell said, “[p]eople don’t get to the big leagues on appearances.”30
The use of replacement players was very controversial, with at least one major-league manager refusing to manage them and some owners also opposed.31 The strike ended late in spring training, followed by a shortened regular season. The replacement players were never used, and Liddell did not get another chance at baseball glory
In retirement, Liddell continued his work as a member of the IBEW. He married and still lives in Southern California. Maddux and Myers, drafted at the same time as Liddell, had long, successful careers in major-league baseball, while Liddell appeared in only that one game. When interviewed by Anthony Castrovince for his article on “ultimate one hit wonders,” Liddell expressed no regrets about his very brief major-league career and post-baseball life, summing things up this way:
“Realistically I was barely over .200 as a minor-league hitter. I got called up because of the death of another player’s father. It’s not like I earned it. The game owed me nothing. I never dwelled on it, because a man has got to make a living.”32
As of October 2020, only 17 position players in the modern era had a hit in their only plate appearance in the major leagues.33 Chances are few baseball fans would remember Dave Liddell but for this fact. However, because of what he accomplished on the evening of June 3, 1990, he is and always will be part of baseball lore.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Almanac.com.
1 As of October 2020. Two Mets pitchers, Eric Cammack and Jason Roach, batted 1.000 in their major-league careers, with Roach going 2-for-2. Four other players were 1-for-1 with the Mets but did not have a career average of 1.000, having played for other teams (Gary Bennett, Buddy Carlyle, Rodney McCray, Ray Searage). Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, baseball-encyclopedia.com/.
2 According to the 2006 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, Liddell was born Desmond Lane Liddell.
3 Corkins was signed by San Francisco in 1967 and played in the majors from 1969 to 1974. Five others – Ray Elder (1967), Gary Schafer (1968), Rex Jackson (1970), Dale Sanner (1970), and Pride Evans (1981) – were drafted but never played in the the majors. See The Baseball Cube thebaseballcube.com/hs/profile.asp?HS=2107.
4 Mulligan was drafted by San Diego in 1991 and played one season (1996) in the majors. Giese was drafted by Boston in 1999 and played in the majors from 2007 to 2009.
5 Myers was selected by Toronto in the third round.
6 Hall had a brief major-league career, pitching for the Cubs from 1986 to 1988, Texas in 1989, and Montreal in 1990.
7 The Cubs’ third-round pick was shortstop Julius McDougal from Jackson State University. He played nine seasons in the minor leagues.
8 Anthony Castrovince, “MLB’s ultimate one-hit wonders,” MLB.com, August 29, 2019 mlb.com/news/featured/mlb-ultimate-one-hit-wonders.
9 In 1982 the franchise was affiliated with Milwaukee as the Pikeville Brewers, before becoming a Cubs affiliate in 1983.
10 Maddux was inducted into the Appalachian League Hall of Fame in 2019, as part of the inaugural class. mlb.com/appalachian-league/hall-of-fame.
11 In what became a World Series championship season for the Mets, Lynch injured his knee early on and there was no longer room for him in the rotation when he was ready to return. Lynch finished the 1986 season with the Cubs, then pitched one more season for Chicago (1987), his last season in the majors.
12 Joseph Durso, “Ojeda Leads Mets Past Cardinals 7-0; Lynch Sent to Cubs,” New York Times, July 1, 1986. With the Mets “on the brink of success,” Lynch said, “I’m speechless. It’s like living with a family the whole year and getting thrown out on Christmas Eve.” Mets manager Davey Johnson added, “He’s been the mainstay here for five years [and] did everything I asked. But we’ve got young arms at Tidewater who could pitch here right now.”
13 After the trade, Lenderman was assigned to the Mets’ team at Jackson in the Double-A Texas League. He never advanced above Double A and was out of baseball after the 1987 season.
14 “Baseball – Around the Minors,” The Sporting News, August 8, 1988: 35.
15 “Baseball,” The Sporting News, February 3, 1989: 39.
16 After five seasons, Carter was released by the Mets in November 1989. He then signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants. After playing for the Giants in 1990, Carter played for the Dodgers and Expos before retiring after the 1992 season.
20 Harrelson took over as Mets manager on May 29, 1990, after the Mets parted ways with Davey Johnson.
21 Actually, Lindell hit .178 in Jackson the year before.
23 Anthony Castrovince’s article includes a photograph of Liddell, then age 52, holding the very ball that he had hit through the middle of the infield nearly 30 years earlier. mlb.com/news/featured/mlb-ultimate-one-hit-wonders. Topps also memorialized the moment, issuing a Dave Liddell card as part of its 1991 Topps Debut ’90 set. The back of the card is from “The Register” and states, in part, “[On June 3] made his major league debut by delivering Single on the first pitch as a pinch-hitter leading off 8th inning at Philadelphia that evening. Time was called and Dave was given the baseball as a souvenir.”
24 Claire Smith, “A Wheel of Misfortune in Mets’ Loss,” New York Times, June 4, 1990: C1.
25 Pitcher Wally Whitehurst was sent to the minors to make room on the roster for Liddell. Under the rules then existing, Whitehurst was required to remain in the minors for a minimum of 10 days. After that, Whitehurst was recalled and Liddell was sent back to Tidewater
27 It was the first time the World Series was not played since 1904.
28 Mike Digiovanna, “Silent Spring for Angel Replacement Games: Baseball: California and San Diego play 12 innings before settling for a tie 3-3,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1995, latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1995-03-04-sp-38699-story.html.
29 “Baseball,” The Sporting News, March 27, 1995: 36.
30 “Baseball,” The Sporting News, March 27, 1995: 36. Drafted out of high school at the same time as Liddell, Myers had a very different career path. In his 1984 rookie league season, he hit over .300 and was promoted to A ball in 1985. He was in the majors for seven games with Toronto in 1987 before ending up in the majors for good in 1989. He played for Toronto and six other teams before finishing his career back in Toronto in 2003-05.
31 Detroit manager Sparky Anderson said he would not work with replacement players, stating “[t]here ain’t no place in our game for replacement players.” The Baltimore Orioles announced that they would not play games with “strikebreakers” and Toronto excused its manager, Cito Gaston, from managing games. “Cracks Form in Owners’ Strategy,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, February 18, 1995, spokesman.com/stories/1995/feb/18/cracks-form-in-owners-strategy/.
33 As of October 2020. Source: Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, baseball-encyclopedia.com/.