Kyle Higashioka made his 2018 debut on Wednesday night, going 0-2. He drew a walk, but his lack of hits proved more interesting. As you may recall, Higashioka appeared in nine game last year following a Gary Sanchez injury. Unfortunately for him, he also did not collect a hit in any of those games. So far into his career, he has recorded 20 at bats, and still has no hits. That 0-20 streak has him nearing a record he probably wants no part of.
The record for most career at-bats without a hit as a position player is 23. Larry Littleton, who played 26 games in 1981, and Mike Potter, who played 14 games from 1976-77, are currently tied for the unfortunate record.
Littleton was a solid hitter in the minors, and showed decent power before getting called up by Cleveland for the start of the 1981 season. He made his debut as a pinch-hitter in the second game of that season and grounded out in his only at bat. After four more games and only two more chances to hit, Littleton got his first start on April 20th. He went 0-3 before a pinch-hitter replaced him in the ninth, missing out on a chance to help Cleveland rally for a win.
He did walk three times in his career, but it took ten games for him to get there. Littleton made just three plate appearances in his final seven games, and none in his final two. He returned to the minor leagues, and again put up solid numbers, but he would not get another chance to break his hitless streak. Littleton played another two seasons in the minors before a trade sent him to the Twins. His career finished in 1983.
A few years earlier, Potter made his major league debut on September 6th, 1976. It was his sixth season in the Cardinals’ system before he got his chance, presumably as a September call-up. He got the start and went 0-3 in his debut.
In total, Potter received three starts in ‘76, and appeared in six other games. He walked once but otherwise went 0-16. He returned in September of ‘77, where he was used exclusively off the bench. After going 0-5 in his first couple games that year, he came in as a pinch-hitter in the final game of the season, a mostly meaningless game between the Cardinals and Mets. He ended up getting three at-bats, went hitless and never played in the majors again. Potter played two more seasons in the minors but never got another chance.
Now, it should be noted that this is looking at position players only. If we include pitchers, the record shoots up to 41 at-bats, thanks to Mets legend Randy Tate’s poor batting performance. Even if you factor in NL play and the pre-DH era, pitchers hitting still represents a different animal.
Also, there have been people who have had worse runs to start their career, but would eventually get a hit. For example, Stephen Vogt started 0-32, but eventually got off the mark. He’s since gone on to be a two-time All-Star, so he ended up fine. They don’t apply here either, because we’re looking at people who ended their careers with no hits.
If we focus more on the hitless position players’ record, Higashioka can very easily set the mark. Sanchez will seemingly be on the DL for a while. While Austin Romine figures to be entrenched as the starter in his absence, backup catchers are always needed. In all likelihood, he’ll get at least three more at-bats.
As sad as this record would be for Higashioka, there’s a sadistic part of me that wants to see him get it.