The Best Athletes Who Retired Way Too Soon

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2012

The Best Athletes Who Retired Way Too Soon

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    Sports wouldn't be the same without superior, dominant athletes.

    Unfortunately, however, some of these athletes are forced to retire at a young age, and in their prime, because of personal or physical reasons.

    Here are the best athletes in sports history that retired way too soon.

    What additional athletes should be on the list? Who shouldn't be on the list? Please comment below!

    Here we go.

Annika Sorenstam

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    With 72 LPGA Tour victories, 10 major victories and the top spot on the LPGA career money list, Annika Sorenstam is arguably the greatest female golfer of all time.

    Additionally, Sorenstam had eight LPGA Player of the Year Awards and six Vare Trophies, given to the LPGA player with the lowest scoring average in a season.

    Sorenstam was also the first female golfer to play in a men's PGA Tour event since 1945 when she competed in the Bank of America Colonial Tournament in 2003.

    All of these accomplishments made it shocking when Sorenstam announced her retirement in May 2008 at the age of 38.

    Her last professional tournament was the Dubai Ladies Masters in December 2008, when she finished tied for seventh.

Barry Sanders

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    After an incredible career at Oklahoma State, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 1988, Barry Sanders became the third pick in the NFL draft, selected by the Detroit Lions.

    Picking up right where he left off in college, Sanders was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1989 and led the Lions to five playoff appearances in his career.

    In 1997, Sanders became only the third player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season. That year, Sanders shared NFL Most Valuable Player honors with Brett Favre.

    After the 1998 season, while still healthy and within striking distance of capturing the NFL career rushing record, Sanders abruptly retired from football.

Michael Jordan in 1993

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    It's a pretty easy argument that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.

    Jordan was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1985, a six-time NBA champion, five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, 14-time NBA All-Star and 10-time NBA scoring champion—among numerous other achievements—before his final retirement in 2003.

    When Jordan announced his retirement from the game in October of 1993, he shocked every sports fan in the country. Even more surprising was his decision to sign a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox in 1994.

    Fortunately, Jordan returned to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls in 1995, leading the Bulls to an additional three straight NBA championships from 1996 to 1998.

Sandy Koufax

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    Sandy Koufax still remains one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history, and his achievements are endless.

    In his 12 seasons with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Koufax pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965.

    Koufax was a three-time Cy Young Award winner, three-time Triple Crown winner and seven-time MLB All-Star game participant. He also led the Dodgers to four World Series victories, in 1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965.

    At just 30 years old, Koufax was forced to retire from baseball, as he developed arthritis in his left elbow.

    At the time of his retirement, Koufax had a 165-87 win-loss record, 2.76 ERA and 2,396 strikeouts.

Jim Brown

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    Even over 40 years after his retirement, Jim Brown remains one of the greatest players to ever play in the NFL.

    After a successful collegiate career at Syracuse, Brown was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.  With the Browns, Jim Brown was named NFL Most Valuable Player in three seasons and was the NFL rushing champion for eight seasons.

    In 1965, Brown announced his retirement after only nine seasons in the NFL. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

    Brown retired with 106 rushing touchdowns and 12,312 rushing yards and today is still the NFL's all-time eighth-leading rusher. Additionally, Brown is still the Cleveland Browns' leading rusher in franchise history.

Ken Dryden

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    Despite only seven seasons in the NHL, Ken Dryden is still considered one of the greatest goaltenders in league history.

    In front of the net for the Montreal Canadians, Dryden helped the Canadians win a remarkable five Stanley Cup titles in the 1970s.

    Dryden's statistics were incredible for such a short career—he had a 2.24 goals against average, won 258 games and had 46 shutouts in just 397 games in the NHL.

    After his retirement from the NHL in 1979, Dryden was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983. Years after his hockey career, Dryden became a politician serving as a member of Parliament in Canada from 2004 to 2011.

Robert Smith

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    After a successful career as an Ohio State Buckeye, Robert Smith joined the Minnesota Vikings as a first-round draft pick in 1993.

    Fighting through injuries in his first few seasons as a professional, Smith finally broke through for the Vikings in 1997, rushing for 1,266 yards on the season. He continued to peak leading up to the 2000 season, when he led the NFC in rushing with 1,521 yards.

    Smith retired after the 2000 season during the peak of his NFL career. He finished his career with 6,818 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns.

    Smith is currently a college football analyst for ESPN.

Justine Henin

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    With 43 WTA singles titles, seven Grand Slam titles and a singles gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Henin established herself as one of the greatest tennis players of the last decade.

    In May 2008, while No. 1 in the world tennis rankings, Henin announced that she was retiring from professional tennis, to the shock of the entire tennis world.

    Only 16 months later Henin made a brief return to the game in 2010, when she reached the finals of the Australian Open, losing to rival Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. Henin won two WTA events that year.

    In January 2011, at the age of 28, Henin was forced to retire (again) from professional tennis because of an elbow injury.

Brett Favre

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    Just kidding.

    Were you paying attention?

Rocky Marciano

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    Rocky Marciano had an incredible boxing career, going 49-0 in his boxing career without a single loss or draw and with 43 knockouts.

    Marciano was the heavyweight champion of the world from September 23, 1952, to April 27, 1956, defending his title six times, two times against Ezzard Charles.

    Seven months after a knockout victory over Archie Moore in Yankee Stadium, he announced his retirement at the age of 32.

Billy Sims

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    After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1978 and being the Heisman runner-up in 1979 at the University of Oklahoma, Billy Sims became the first overall pick in the 1980 NFL draft, selected by the Detroit Lions.

    Sims was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1980 and made three straight Pro Bowls from 1980 to 1982.

    Soon after, in 1984, Sims suffered an immense knee injury against the Minnesota Vikings, ending his career.

    Despite his short career, Sims still had 5,106 rushing yards with 42 touchdowns. His No. 20 would later be worn by fellow "The Best Athletes Who Retired Way Too Soon" running back Barry Sanders for the Lions.

Bjorn Borg

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    Despite his short professional career, Bjorn Borg is regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

    From 1974 to 1981, Borg made 16 Grand Slam finals, winning 11 of them with six French Open titles and five Wimbledon titles.  Borg also won 101 career singles titles and won five straight ATP Player of the Year titles from 1976 to 1980.

    In 1982, after playing in only one tournament—the Monte Carlo Masters—he announced his retirement in January 1983 at the age of only 26.

    Borg made a comeback in professional tennis in the early 1990s but failed to make an impact.

Tony Boselli

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    A three-time first-team All-American in 1992, 1993 and 1994 at Southern California, Tony Boselli became one of the greatest offensive tackles ever for the Trojans.

    Soon after, in 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars made Boselli their first-ever draft pick. Boselli had a very successful career in Jacksonville, named to five straight Pro Bowls from 1996 to 2000.

    Boselli was also the first pick of the 2002 Houston Texans expansion draft. However, injuries began to take their toll, and Boselli never played a down for the Texans.

    In 2006, Boselli became the first player to become inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars, the team's Hall of Fame. He also founded the Boselli Foundation, providing academic and athletic support for children in Jacksonville.

Urban Meyer at Florida

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    Okay, maybe he's not quite an athlete. However, when former Florida head coach Urban Meyer announced his retirement from coaching twice, once very briefly after the 2009 season and again after the 2010 season, it surprised the whole college football world.

    Meyer's accomplishments were incredible: a 17-6 record in two seasons at Bowling Green, two Mountain West titles and one Fiesta Bowl victory in two seasons at Utah and two BCS national championships in only six seasons at Florida.

    During Meyer's head-coaching tenure he had a 104-25 record in 10 seasons.

    Granted, Meyer was great as a college football analyst for ESPN, but for someone as young and successful as him to not be on the sidelines was perplexing.

    Fortunately, Meyer will return to the sidelines for the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2012, as he will attempt to drive through the mess of NCAA sanctions—including a 2012 bowl ban—in Columbus.

Brandon Roy

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    As the Pac-10's Player of the Year in 2006 and the most recent retiree on this list, Brandon Roy helped lead the Washington Huskies to two Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament.

    After Roy was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was immediately traded to the Portland Trail Blazers. Roy quickly became one of the league's dominant players, winning NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2007.

    Roy additionally made three All-Star games from 2008 to 2010.

    Just before NBA training camp opened back up before the 2011-12 season, Roy announced his retirement from basketball, citing degeneration in his knees.

Bo Jackson

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    Bo Jackson may just be the best combined football and baseball athlete in history.

    Winning the Heisman Trophy in 1985 at Auburn, Jackson was also a standout on the baseball diamond for the Tigers. Later in his professional career in both sports, Jackson became the first athlete make the MLB All-Star game (1989) and the NFL Pro Bowl (1990).

    Jackson played with the Kansas City Royals from 1986 to 1990 and with the Los Angeles Raiders for four seasons, where he rushed for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns and had 40 receptions for 352 yards and two touchdowns.

    During a playoff game in 1990 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Jackson suffered a football career-ending hip injury.

    Jackson would continue to play for the Chicago White Sox in 1991 and 1993 and for the California Angels in 1994. Jackson finished his baseball career with 141 home runs and 415 runs batted in with a .250 batting average.

Elena Dementieva

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    With 16 WTA singles titles and two Grand Slam final appearances, Elena Dementieva emerged as a standout tennis player in the 2000s.

    Additionally, Dementieva won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

    Dementieva's final loss was 6-4, 6-2 to Francesca Schiavone in the 2010 WTA Tour Championships. She announced her retirement right after the match on the court at the age of 29 and finished her career ranked ninth in the world.

Ralph Kiner

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    Ralph Kiner began his MLB career with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a left fielder in 1946. He hit 23 home runs in 1946 and led the major leagues with 51 home runs the next year.

    Kiner finished his career with quick stints for the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. After only one season in Cleveland, Kiner retired in 1955 at the age of 32, citing a severe back injury.

    In his career, Kiner hit 369 home runs and made six straight MLB All-Star game appearances from 1948 to 1953.

    After retirement in 1961, Kiner pursued a broadcasting career working with the Chicago White Sox and the New York Mets. He would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.

Lorena Ochoa

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    After brief golfing careers at the University of Arizona and on the LPGA Futures Tour, Lorena Ochoa quickly established herself as one of the most notable golfers on the LPGA Tour.

    Ochoa won LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2003 and in her career won 27 LPGA Tour titles and two LPGA major championships. Ochoa was also the LPGA Player of the Year in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

    In April 2010, Ochoa made the announcement that she would be retiring from professional golf, and her last tournament was the Tres Marias Championship a week later. However, Ochoa hasn't ruled out a possible return to the LPGA in the near future.

Tiki Barber

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    Coming out of the University of Virginia, Tiki Barber was picked up in the second round of the 1997 NFL draft by the New York Giants.

    Barber's first few seasons in the NFL were disappointing and injury-riddled, but he eventually established himself as a go-to player for the Giants. Along with three Pro Bowls and over 10,000 career rushing yards, Barber helped lead the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV against the Baltimore Ravens.

    Barber retired at the end of the 2006 season with the Giants—the season before the Giants upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII—with the hope of pursuing a broadcasting career.

    In March 2011, Barber officially came out of retirement; however, no NFL team has made the move to sign him.