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9 MLB Stars Who Went Out On a Low Note
Almost all sports careers end on a low note. Otherwise, they wouldn’t end. For instance, Lou Piniella has the 4th highest winning percentage of active managers and a World Series ring, but he’s decided to retire after lack of success with the Cubs. Retirement is inherently sad, but can also be shameful, frustrating, or downright depressing for both players and fans alike.
Some falls from grace are so profound that they detract from the player’s achievements during their career. Due to the durability of baseball players, we often see former superstars languishing during the twilight of their careers, no longer able to perform the way they once could. Below is a list of players that either faded away when they probably should have burned out, or just had promising careers cut short.
1. Jose Canseco
While Jose Canseco has destroyed any goodwill he garnered during his career with his recent tell-all books, steroid revelations, and general jackass behavior, his days as a star effectively ended in 1992, some 10 seasons before he retired.
Canseco’s success with the Oakland A’s from 86-92 was well documented. He was arguably the biggest star in the Majors, a “Bash Brother”, and the only member of the much-hyped “40/40” club. However, his trade to Texas soon ended that era. Two instances during his time with the Rangers would turn him into a baseball punchline. The first was the uber-blooper that occurred when he tried to catch a fly ball at the warning track, only to lose the ball and have it bounce off his head for a home run. The second was his eighth-inning pitching stint novelty when he ended up destroying his shoulder and requiring Tommy John surgery.
He went on to play for no less than five teams after his Texas stint, putting up downright gaudy numbers (46 HR/29 SB in Toronto in 1998, and 34 HR in 114 games in Tampa Bay). But he had already been written off by fans, so these accomplishments went largely unnoticed.
2. Mark McGwire
Now’s as good a time as any to bring up the second Bash Brother, Big Mac. After finishing his rookie year in 1987 with 49 home runs, McGwire established himself as a perennial home-run machine. Eleven years later, this reputation was solidified after a compelling season-long dual with Sammy Sosa for the single-season home run record. Big Mac ended up taking down the record with 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals, but that would prove to be the beginning of the end for Mac’s reputation.
Following his achievement, McGwire admitted to using androstenedione, a muscle enhancement product that had been banned by several sporting agencies, but not yet by the Major League. Like Canseco, McGwire performed quite well in his later years, putting up 32 HR in only 89 games in 2000 and 29 HR in 97 games in 2001. But the damage had been done, as McGwire’s hulking physique and power-hitting prowess had cemented his status as poster boy for the age of steroids in baseball, (though some would reserve that title for Barry Bonds).
3. Dwight Gooden
The Bash Brothers weren’t the only teammates to succeed in the late-80’s. The NY Mets had a pair of guys that would make McGwire and Canseco look like choirboys. At the age of 19, Dwight Gooden won 17 games and became the youngest pitcher to appear in an all-star game. The next season, Gooden won 24 games, had 268 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.53, one of the most impressive statistical seasons for a pitcher in the history of the game.
In ’87, Gooden no-showed a game in which he was scheduled to pitch because he was sleeping off a cocaine binge from the night before. He checked into rehab, but that was far from the end of his trouble. During the late-80’s/early-90’s, Gooden was accused of rape and would test positive for cocaine several more times.
Despite another killer season in 1990, it would seem that shoulder problems, questionable exploits, and a drug addiction were not only cutting Gooden’s career short, but tainting his legacy. In 1995, a large mural of Gooden that had hung above Times Square was removed after Gooden had graced it for 10 years. The Gooden era was over. He was officially washed up. Gooden has been plagued with legal problems since then, leaving all of us wondering what could have been.
4. Darryl Strawberry
“Straw” had always been a bit of a loose cannon for the Mets in the 80’s, sleeping through practices and getting into confrontations with players. But as long as he kept producing his intimidating stats, people were willing to overlook his shortcomings. However, his production began to dwindle in 1991, after becoming baseball’s highest-paid player for the LA Dodgers. After hitting 28 home runs that season, the wheels came off.
Straw was plagued by injuries and legal problems during his stints in California (he would play for the Giants starting in 1994). While he was never known to get in trouble with his former teammate Doc Gooden, the similarities in their falls from grace are uncanny.
5. Bo Jackson
First off, Bo Jackson was a much better football player than baseball player. He couldn’t hit for contact, and he struck out more than anyone else. His power and athleticism often overshadowed those two facts. But when Bo was good on the diamond, he was a highlight reel, hitting 500-ft home runs during All-Star games and throwing players out from center field on the fly. The man would break bats over his head when he struck out. He was nothing if not entertaining.
However, a hip injury on the gridiron cut Jackson’s career woefully short. Overnight, Bo went from superstar to man-behind-the-scenes. His injury relegated him to DH, which precluded fans from ever seeing him run up the wall to rob a home run or gun a player out at second base flat-footed. Although his stats weren’t on par with the others discussed here, he was among the most exciting players to watch in recent history. His languishing in the shadows during his final years with the White Sox and Angels was as tough for fans to watch as it was for him to experience.
6. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
While perhaps not as relevant as players in the recent past, it’s impossible to ignore perhaps the most glaring example of “ending a career on a down note.” In hindsight, the evidence of whether or not he was complicit in the “Black Sox Scandal” is murky, but at the time, he was immediately convicted in the court of public opinion. His alleged crime was committing the cardinal sin of sports – taking a dive.
It’s hard to imagine a more auspicious exit from the game then getting a lifetime suspension mid-season while batting .382 at the young age of 30. Magnifying the downfall was the fact that his team was the World Series runner-up the year before his demise. His career average shook out to be .356 when he was plucked from his prime. The extent to which his involvement in the Black Sox was real is academic at this point. The second half of his career was taken from Shoeless Joe, and it’s doubtful the tarnish on his legacy will ever be removed.
7. Pete Rose
During his playing career, Pete Rose was known as exceptional baseball player and a cutthroat competitor. Though he was often accused of going out of his way to take out catchers in home plate collisions, he finished his playing days as an iconic player with a Hall of Fame career, finishing as the MLB’s all-time leader in career hits with 4,256.
While he emerged from his playing days unscathed, his managerial career was cut short after an investigation by the new commissioner, Bart Giamatti, in 1989. A report commissioned by Giamatti demonstrated a preponderance of evidence that Rose not only had a clinical gambling problem (reports of his wagering vary between $2,000 and $10,000 per day), but often wagered on baseball games, a fact that struck very close to home for the powers that be in MLB.
Rather than have the league dig further and issue a ruling, Rose voluntarily accepted his expulsion from Major League Baseball and has been on the outside looking in ever since. Though he has been included on many “best of” lists before and since he became ineligible, he is banned from entrance to the Hall of Fame unless his status changes.
8. Roger Maris
Breaking the major league home run record may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Since Babe Ruth set the home run record, Maris, Sosa, Bonds, and McGwire have all found raising the bar to be a mixed blessing. While the latter three may all have brought it upon themselves through their alleged steroid use, Maris’ story is a little different.
Besides the fact that he was a Yankee, Maris wasn’t a legendary baseball player like Ruth. He failed to hit more than 40 home runs in a season before or after setting the record of 61. The proposed addition of an asterisk to the record (because more games were played in ’61 than in ’27) seemed to cheapen Maris’ accomplishment. After setting the record, Maris faced injuries to his hand which curtailed his batting productivity. This led to the harsh NY media branding Maris “dead weight” and rallying for his release.
Maris left New York feeling disillusioned and betrayed. He spent the remainder of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he helped lead to two pennants and a World Series victory. However, he never got over his auspicious exit from New York and went down in history as “61*”.
9. Ty Cobb
While being known as a jerk throughout one’s career doesn’t qualify as “ending on a low note,” Ty Cobb’s troubles mounted late in his career, despite being regarded as one of the greatest hitters of all time. On the field, he accumulated over 4100 hits and almost 2000 RBI’s. Off the field, he had more baggage than the Titanic.
Cobb initially retired in 1926 after a glowing career, but it was eventually realized that he was coerced into retiring because a teammate, Dutch Leonard, apparently had information that Cobb was involved in fixing games. Cobb was the type of guy who benched himself the final four games of the season one year in order to win the batting title, so his integrity was questionable.
The accusations never materialized, so Cobb returned to the Philadelphia A’s after his short-lived retirement, and played until 1928 though his age at this point had caught up with him and his productivity was middling at best. It also warrants mentioning that Cobb had few friends and was reviled by many players in the Majors. However, since that had been the case during his whole career, one could say that, aside from his stats, much of Cobb’s personal life was one down note after another. The end of Cobb’s career was a testament to the phrase “respected, but not loved.”