50 Most Captivating Rookie Seasons in MLB History
Each year in Major League Baseball, fans have their eyes on those that are seeking to make their mark in the sport for the very first time—rookies.
Over baseball’s history, rookies have captivated fans’ interest in different ways. Some were highly anticipated prospects just waiting for their moment in the sun. Others were completely unheralded and quickly gained favor through their outstanding play on the field.
However they came to be, many rookies made their mark in the annals of baseball history and in the eyes of adoring fans.
In 2012, fans are watching the debut seasons of two particular players who have captivated interest in different ways.
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has already shown why he was the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft. In his first six games, fans caught flashes of brilliance, as Harper uncorked amazing throws from the outfield, showed tremendous plate discipline and showed that he was clearly not overmatched in the majors at the tender age of 19.
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish is starting to show fans and experts of the game that he really isn't quite like the many other pitchers from the island nation who have come West to test their skills.
Where will Darvish and Harper end up in the annals of history among rookies when all is said and done? It's a little hard to predict that at this point. However, we will take a look at 50 first-year players, in no particular order, who left an indelible impression in the eyes of fans across the world.
Sam Jethroe: Boston Braves, 1950
On April 16, 1945, 27-year-old Negro League center fielder Sam Jethroe was invited to Boston to participate in a workout for the Red Sox, along with Jackie Robinson and Marvin Williams . The workout turned out to be a complete sham, as the Red Sox had no intention of integrating their roster at the time and had only caved in to pressure from a local city councilman to conduct the workout.
While Robinson did finally break the MLB color barrier two years later, Jethroe didn't get his chance until 1950 with the Boston Braves. However, his debut was memorable.
Jethroe won the National League Rookie of the Year honors, hitting .273 with 18 HR, 58 RBI, 100 runs scored and an NL-leading 35 steals. At 32 years of age, Jethroe remains the oldest player ever to win the award.
Gary Carter: Montreal Expos, 1975
When the Montreal Expos drafted Gary Carter in the third round of the 1972 MLB draft, they certainly had an idea of the type of talent that Carter possessed, but they were no doubt completely unaware of the excitement and thrills that Carter would provide fans throughout his career.
After a brief call-up in 1974 during which he hit .407 (11-for-27), Carter stuck with the Expos in 1975. Playing both catcher and right field, Carter gave a glimpse of the greatness that would define his career that season, hitting .270 with 17 HR and 68 RBI, earning a selection to the NL All-Star team for his efforts.
Carter finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting to San Francisco Giants pitcher John Montefusco. However, he did capture the Sporting News Rookie of the Year award.
Jose Canseco: Oakland Athletics, 1986
In 1982, the Oakland Athletics drafted 17-year-old high school outfielder Jose Canseco out of Coral Park High School in Miami, FL, with their 15th round pick. Just three years later, Canseco earned a call-up to the A's after being named by Baseball America as the Minor League Player of the Year.
The following year, 1986, Canseco showed he was more than ready for prime time, hitting 33 HR with 117 RBI, earning a selection to the AL All-Star team and edging out California Angels first baseman Wally Joyner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Canseco was the first of three A's rookies to win the award in consecutive seasons, and two years later he added an MVP trophy to his mantel as well.
Mark McGwire: Oakland Athletics, 1987
Just one year after Jose Canseco won the American League Rookie of the Year Award for the Oakland A's in 1986, first baseman Mark McGwire would make his mark as well.
After a brief call-up in late August 1996, McGwire captured the American League by storm in 1987, hitting 49 HR with 118 RBI, leading the majors in both homers and slugging percentage.
McGwire shattered the previous home run record held by Frank Robinson and Wally Berger (38). Together with Canseco, the two formed a duo that forever became known as the Bash Brothers, helping lead the A's to three consecutive World Series appearances in 1988-1990.
For his efforts that season, McGwire was the unanimous choice for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Vince Coleman: St. Louis Cardinals, 1985
The St. Louis Cardinals featured an offense in the 1960s and 1970s that was bolstered by the incredible speed and base-stealing skills of eventual Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock, who would lead the National League in thefts eight times during his remarkable career.
In 1985, the Cardinals brought up another speedy outfielder whom they had drafted three years earlier, 23-year-old Vince Coleman. Coleman's debut season turned out to be record-breaking.
Coleman swiped 110 bags in his first year, easily shattering the rookie record held by Juan Samuel (72 steals in 1984). Coleman would go on to become the first player in MLB history to record three consecutive seasons of at least 100 stolen bases.
For his efforts, Coleman was the fourth player in NL history to earn a unanimous selection as Rookie of the Year.
Ryan Braun: Milwaukee Brewers, 2007
In 2006, the Milwaukee Brewers featured a rookie first baseman—Prince Fielder—who demonstrated the ability to hit with power and could be the man to lead their offense in the middle of the batting order.
The following season, another young hitter came along to combine with Fielder in the middle of the Brewers' lineup, and he too showed tremendous skills—third baseman Ryan Braun.
Braun was impressive from the start, hitting .324 with 34 HR and 97 RBI, leading the National League in slugging percentage. His 1.004 OPS that season has yet to be topped.
Braun edged out Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in capturing the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Nomar Garciaparra: Boston Red Sox, 1997
For a man who had a backward first name, Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra demonstrated that there was nothing backward about his skills on the baseball field.
Garciaparra, drafted by the Red Sox in the first round of the 1994 MLB draft, made his debut in August 1996. The following season, the Sox were so sure of Garciaparra's potential that they moved incumbent shortstop John Valentin to second base. Sure enough, the Sox were right.
Garciaparra would hit .306 with 30 HR and 98 RBI, earning a selection to the AL All-Star team, winning the Silver Slugger Award and setting a new AL mark for rookies with a 30-game hitting streak.
Garciaparra quickly became a fan favorite in Boston as well, as his idiosyncratic routine before each pitch became legendary.
Garciaparra was the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year Award honors—not bad for a guy with a backward first name.
Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers, 2006
The 2006 season was memorable for Detroit Tigers fans, who not only saw their team reach the World Series for the first time in 22 years, but also watched the debut of the future franchise pitcher—Justin Verlander.
After making two appearances for the Tigers in 2005, Verlander was named to the starting rotation to start the 2006 season, and he took advantage of the opportunity.
Verlander was 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 30 starts for the Tigers, helping lead them to the American League pennant before losing in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Verlander easily outdistanced Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in capturing the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Francisco Rodriguez: Anaheim Angels, 2002
Anaheim Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez didn't make his MLB debut until Sept. 18, 2002, but he will forever be remembered for his epic postseason performance.
Rodriguez made only five appearances during the regular season. However, with the Angels short-staffed in the bullpen due to injuries, K-Rod was placed on the postseason roster, and manager Mike Scioscia will never regret that decision.
Rodriguez was 5-1 for the Halos in the postseason with a 1.93 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 18.2 innings. His performance was a key factor in the Angels winning their first-ever World Series championship.
Dontrelle Willis: Florida Marlins, 2003
Much like the previous season in 2002 with the Anaheim Angels and Francisco Rodriguez, the Florida Marlins in 2003 featured a prominent rookie who was a key contributor for a team that won a World Series.
Left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis, unlike Rodriguez, did pitch a full season in 2003, posting a 14-6 record and 3.30 ERA in 27 starts. Willis worked out of the bullpen in the World Series against the New York Yankees, providing three scoreless appearances in helping the Marlins defeat the Yankees in six games.
Willis captured 17 first-place votes in defeating Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Scott Podsednik in voting for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Babe Ruth: Boston Red Sox, 1915
In the early 20th century, the Boston Red Sox were the envy of the American League, due to a proliferation of talent and their ability to scout potential talent as well.
One of those particular talents was young southpaw pitcher George Herman "Babe" Ruth.
Ruth saw time in the 1914 season for the Red Sox, but in 1915, the 20-year-old shined, posting an 18-8 record and 2.44 ERA, helping the Red Sox win the American League pennant.
Walt Dropo: Boston Red Sox, 1950
The 1950 season featured the debut of first baseman Walt Dropo for the Boston Red Sox. His rookie year captivated the interest of fans, but in Dropo's case, fame was indeed fleeting.
Dropo posted eye-popping numbers in his first full season at the age of 27, hitting .322 with 34 HR and 144 RBI. Dropo's RBI total led the majors, and his 326 total bases led the American League. Dropo easily outdistanced New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford in voting for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Unfortunately, Dropo could never repeat the numbers he posted in his rookie year, slumping badly in 1951 and then getting traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1952 as part of a nine-player deal.
Ed Summers: Detroit Tigers, 1908
In 1907, the Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant, yet were swept in the World Series by the Chicago Cubs. The following season, the Tigers were bolstered by the presence of a promising rookie pitcher—Ed Summers.
Summers was outstanding in his first year in Motown, posting a 24-12 record and 1.64 ERA, helping the Tigers successfully defend their American League championship. Summers was unable to guide the Tigers to a World Series victory, however, as the Cubs once again bested Detroit in the '08 series, the last time the Cubs were victorious in the Fall Classic.
Summers' rookie season would be his best, unfortunately—just four years later, rheumatism forced Summers to retire.
Tony Oliva: Minnesota Twins, 1964
Cuban-born outfielder Tony Oliva had tremendous raw skills and impressed scouts for the Minnesota Twins when he was signed in 1961.
After brief appearances with the big club in 1962 and 1963, Oliva went north with the club in April 1964, and the results of his rookie season were historical.
Oliva led the American League in batting with a .323 average, adding 32 HR, 94 RBI, a league-leading 43 doubles and 109 runs scored, and leading the majors with 217 hits and 376 total bases.
Oliva became the first player in American League history to lead the league in batting while winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Oliva would go on to be selected to the All-Star team in each of his first eight seasons, helping lead the Twins to the World Series in 1965, his second full season.
Bob Horner: Atlanta Braves, 1978
There are very few players in the annals of baseball history that have been good enough to be drafted and play in the major leagues the same year, but that's exactly what happened in the case of Atlanta Braves third baseman Bob Horner.
Following his collegiate career at Arizona State University, during which he set an NCAA record at the time with 58 career home runs, Horner was selected by the Braves with the first overall pick in the 1978 MLB draft.
Horner went directly to the Braves' starting lineup, making his debut on June 16 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Horner played 89 games his rookie season, hitting .266 with 23 HR and 63 RBI.
While barely playing half a season, Horner outdistanced San Diego Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
David Clyde: Texas Rangers, 1973
In the spring of 1973, the baseball world was buzzing with news that 18-year-old pitcher David Clyde, a senior at Westchester High School in Houston, TX, had just completed his high school career by posting 18 victories and allowing only three earned runs in 148 innings.
Texas Rangers owner Bob Short saw the opportunity to sign Clyde as a marketing promotion, hoping to boost attendance with the presence of a local potential phenomenon.
Sure enough, Clyde was selected by the Rangers with the first overall draft pick in June 1973, and with the largest signing bonus ever given to a draftee ($125,000), Clyde started his career immediately, debuting with the Rangers on June 27 against the Minnesota Twins.
Clyde would win his debut and would pitch well in his second start as well. The original plan called for Clyde to pitch two games for the Rangers before being sent to the minors. However, due to Clyde's fast start, those plans were ditched, and the Rangers would forever rue that decision.
Clyde pitched in 18 games his rookie year, posting a 4-8 record and 5.01 ERA. He would develop arm pain the following year, and Clyde was out of baseball in 1979 at just 24 years of age.
Bob Hamelin: Kansas City Royals, 1994
Prior to the 1994 season, few fans across the country had ever even heard of Kansas City Royals first baseman/designated hitter Bob Hamelin. By the end of the strike-shortened season, however, Hamelin was in the record books.
Hamelin, drafted by the Royals in 1988, hit .282 with 24 HR and 65 RBI for the Royals before the season came to an end in August 1994 due to a work stoppage. Hamelin outdistanced Cleveland Indians outfielder Manny Ramirez in balloting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
Alas, like a few other first-season sensations, Hamelin's rookie year would be his best. He would toil for four more years in the majors before calling it quits in 1998.
David Justice: Atlanta Braves, 1990
For the Atlanta Braves, the decade of the 1980s finished in miserable fashion, with last place finishes in the NL East division in three of four years. The 1990s certainly didn't start in fine fashion, either, as the Braves again finished in the cellar in 1990. However, one particular rookie showed promise, leading to high hopes for the future of the Braves.
David Justice debuted for the Braves in late 1989, making the team out of spring training the following season. Splitting time between first base and right field, Justice hit .282 with 28 HR and 78 RBI.
Together with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Gregg Olson and others, Justice formed the nucleus of a team that would go on to win 14 consecutive NL East Division titles and a World Series championship in 1995.
Justice was the easy winner of the NL Rookie of the Year Award, capturing 23 of 24 first-place votes.
Buster Posey: San Francisco Giants, 2010
When catcher Buster Posey was drafted out of Florida State University by the San Francisco Giants with the fifth overall selection in the 2008 MLB draft, he quickly became one of the hottest prospects in all of MLB.
On May 29, 2010, Posey was called up by the Giants in an effort to bolster a sagging offense. The Giants at the time were just four games above .500 and languishing in third place in the NL West division.
Posey's presence in the lineup provided a huge spark for the Giants, who would go on to capture the NL West title and win their first World Series championship in 56 years.
Posey hit .305 with 18 HR and 67 RBI during the regular season and followed up with a .288 average in the postseason, including a home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the World Series against Darren Oliver and the Texas Rangers.
Posey was lauded for his stellar handling of the Giants' pitching staff and was the easy winner of the NL Rookie of the Year Award over Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward.
Livan Hernandez: Florida Marlins, 1997
In June 1997, a Cuban-born pitcher earned a callup to the Florida Marlins. While his regular season record was good, it was his postseason heroics that are most remembered.
After posting a 9-3 record and 3.18 ERA in 17 starts in the regular season, Hernandez started in the postseason for the Marlins, who were in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Hernandez defeated the Atlanta Braves twice in the NLCS, including a masterful complete-game effort in Game 5, allowing just three hits and striking out 15.
Hernandez would follow up that performance by defeating the Cleveland Indians twice in the World Series, helping the Marlins capture their first-ever championship. For his efforts, Hernandez was named the MVP for both the NLCS and World Series.
Kerry Wood: Chicago Cubs, 1998
When the Chicago Cubs drafted Kerry Wood with the fourth overall selection in the 1995 MLB draft, he was considered the top high school pitching prospect at the time. After just three years in the minors, Wood would head north with the Cubs following spring training in 1998.
Just three weeks after making his major league debut, Wood entered the record books, striking out 20 Houston Astros batters in a masterful complete-game one-hit shutout on May 6.
Wood would finish his rookie season with a 13-6 record, a 3.40 ERA and 233 strikeouts in just 166.2 innings of work. Wood won the Rookie of the Year Award, just edging out Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. Wood's rookie season certainly gave promise to a career worth watching.
However, Wood would miss the entire 1999 season after elbow issues required season-ending surgery, and he would continue with assorted health issues, landing on the disabled list 15 times throughout his career.
Hanley Ramirez: Florida Marlins, 2006
In November 2005, the Boston Red Sox, looking for pitching help, entered into a seven-player trade with the Florida Marlins, with the Red Sox receiving starting pitcher Josh Beckett, third baseman Mike Lowell and reliever Guillermo Mota.
In return, the Marlins received pitching prospects Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia, and young shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez, signed by the Red Sox in 2000 out of the Dominican Republic, shined for the Marlins in his first season, hitting .292 with 17 HR, 59 RBI, 119 runs scored and 59 stolen bases. Ramirez would capture the NL Rookie of the Year Award over Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
The trade certainly seemed lopsided at the time, considering Beckett slumped to a 16-11 record and 5.01 ERA his first year in Boston. However, both Beckett and Lowell were key contributors to a Red Sox team that won their second World Series championship in four years in 2007.
Jeff Bagwell: Houston Astros, 1991
Much like with Hanley Ramirez in 2005, the Red Sox were involved in another trade of one of their prospects in August 1990, acquiring relief pitcher Larry Andersen from the Houston Astros in exchange for 22-year-old prospect Jeff Bagwell.
The Sox wanted Andersen in the bullpen for their postseason push, while Bagwell's progress in Boston was considered to be blocked by the presence of incumbent first baseman and 1995 AL MVP Mo Vaughn.
The trade turned out to be one of the most lopsided in MLB history, as Bagwell captured the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1991 for the Astros, posting a .294 average with 15 HR and 82 RBI. Bagwell would go on to win the NL MVP Award in 1994 and retire in 2005 as one of the greatest players in Astros' history.
Andersen's career in Boston lasted exactly 15 games—he was signed as a free agent by the San Diego Padres in December 1990.
George Watkins: St. Louis Cardinals, 1930
Outfielder George Watkins was a late bloomer, not making his debut in the majors until the age of 29. However, few rookie seasons stand in comparison.
Watkins played his first game for the St. Louis Cardinals on Apr. 15, 1930, and by the time his season was over, Watkins had set a new mark for rookie batters that still stands today.
Watkins hit .377 his first year, setting the National League standard, contributing 17 HR and 87 RBI as well. The Rookie of the Year Award was still 17 years away from debuting in the majors, so Watkins didn't gain any hardware for his efforts. However, his feats on the field that year are still unmatched.
Joe Jackson: Cleveland Naps, 1911
It took Shoeless Joe Jackson three years and two teams to finally make it as a regular in the major, but when he did, the results were indeed remarkable.
Jackson was signed by Connie Mack to play for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908, but after two seasons, Mack traded Jackson to the Cleveland Naps. Jackson was called up by the Naps late in 1910, hitting .387 in just 20 games.
In 1911, Jackson made the Naps out of spring training, and his first full season was one for the record books. Jackson hit .408, the all-time mark for rookies that still stands, and narrowly missed out on the AL batting title to Ty Cobb. Jackson also led the AL with a .468 on-base percentage and hit seven HR with 83 RBI.
Darryl Strawberry: New York Mets, 1983
In 1980, the New York Mets selected outfielder Darryl Strawberry with the first overall selection in the MLB draft. Just three years later, Strawberry would reward the Mets with their selection.
Strawberry made his debut in 1983, and while the Mets finished dead last in the National League East division, Strawberry quickly delighted fans with his play on the field.
Strawberry finished the season with a .257 average, 26 HR and 74 RBI. Strawberry won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, outpointing Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig McMurtry.
Strawberry's arrival in New York coincided with the Mets' surge, as he helped form the nucleus of the team that would win the World Series in 1986.
Dwight Gooden: New York Mets, 1984
Following on the heels of the success of outfielder Darryl Strawberry in 1983, the New York Mets brought along another rookie in 1984—19-year-old starting pitcher Dwight Gooden.
Gooden set a modern rookie record, striking out 276 batters to go with a 17-6 record and 2.60 ERA, earning a near-unanimous selection in Rookie of the Year Award balloting and a runner-up finish in NL Cy Young Award voting as well.
Gooden would get that Cy Young Award the following year, doing himself one better with a record of 24-4, a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts, capturing the Triple Crown of pitching categories.
Jim Rice: Boston Red Sox, 1975
In 1974, the Boston Red Sox finished in third place in the AL East division, just six games above .500. However, the 1975 season showed promise, as two rookies in particular were primed to join the team and help the offense—center fielder Fred Lynn and left fielder Jim Rice.
The pair certainly didn't disappoint, being dubbed the Gold Dust Twins and bringing hope to Red Sox fans everywhere. Rice and Lynn were almost identical statistically entering the second week of September, with Rice hitting .309 with 22 HR and 102 RBI.
Unfortunately, Rice's season ended prematurely on Sept. 21 when he was hit on the hand with a pitch by Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Vern Ruhle. However, Rice's contributions certainly helped lead the Red Sox to win the American League East division.
Fred Lynn: Boston Red Sox, 1975
Along with Jim Rice, Boston Red Sox center fielder Fred Lynn formed the second half of the Gold Dust Twins, as the two rookies helped the Red Sox all the way to the World Series in 1975.
Lynn's season was remarkable. He hit .331 with 21 HR, 105 RBI, a major league-leading 47 doubles and 103 runs scored, tops in the American League.
Lynn became a household name on June 18, when he homered three times and drove in 10 runs in a 15-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on national television.
Lynn became the first player in MLB history to capture both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same season.
Don Newcombe: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1949
In 1947, Jackie Robinson would finally break the color barrier, debuting with the Brooklyn Dodgers and winning the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award. Just two years later, another African-American in Brooklyn would follow suit.
Don Newcombe debuted for the Dodgers in 1949, putting together a terrific first year with a 17-8 record and 3.17 ERA, leading the National League with five shutouts.
Newcombe would become the first African-American pitcher to start a World Series game later that year and was the first winner of the Rookie of the Year Award after the honor went to players from both leagues.
Derek Jeter: New York Yankees, 1996
Exactly one year after the New York Yankees totally bombed with their first-round draft pick (Brien Taylor), they used their first-round selection in 1992 to select young shortstop Derek Jeter out of Central High School in Kalamazoo, MI.
Three years later, Jeter debuted with the Yankees under manager Buck Showalter in late May after incumbent shortstop Tony Fernandez landed on the disabled list. Jeter played in only 15 games that year, but the Yankees saw enough to proclaim Jeter as their everyday starting shortstop for the 1996 season.
The results were indeed impressive—Jeter hit .314 in 157 games, with 10 HR, 78 RBI, 104 runs scored and helped lead the Yankees to their first World Series title in 18 years. For his efforts, Jeter was unanimously selected as the AL Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Joe Charboneau: Cleveland Indians, 1980
The Cleveland Indians have certainly been blessed with some terrific players who shined in their rookie seasons, but none of them captivated the city of Cleveland quite like Joe Charboneau.
Charboneau burst onto the MLB scene in 1980 after hitting .352 for Double-A Chattanooga in 1979. Charboneau's rookie year was memorable for several reasons. Not only did he show the ability to hit, with a .289 average, 23 HR and 87 RBI, but his eccentric personality was a big hit with the Cleveland faithful, whom were awe-struck by Charboneau's bizarre behavior.
However, 1980 turned out to be Charboneau's finest hour. After hurting his back in spring training the following season, Charboneau hit just .210, and became the first Rookie of the Year Award winner ever to be demoted to the minors the following season. Charboneau never fully recovered and was completely out of baseball by 1983.
Wade Boggs: Boston Red Sox, 1982
In April, 1982, the Boston Red Sox already had a third baseman who was a pretty prolific hitter—Carney Lansford had captured the American League batting title the previous year. However, by the end of 1982, the Red Sox knew they had a star in the making in Wade Boggs.
Boggs only played in 104 games for the Red Sox in 1982, splitting time between third and first base. However, his .349 average was more than impressive, leading the Red Sox to part ways with Lansford at the end of the season, trading him to the Oakland A's for center fielder Tony Armas.
Boggs' average would have led the AL had he accrued enough plate appearances. However, he would go on to capture five batting titles altogether during his career.
Hideo Nomo: Los Angeles Dodgers, 1995
When Hideo Nomo debuted for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 2, 1995, he became the first Japanese-born player to defect from the Japanese League to play since 1965. Nomo's appearance in the majors sparked an new era in which MLB teams routinely started scouting and courting Japanese players for the majors.
Nomo was brilliant for the Dodgers that first year, posting a 13-6 record and 2.54 ERA in 28 starts.
Despite missing the first month of the season, Nomo still managed to lead the National League with 236 strikeouts, and he easily captured the NL Rookie of the Year Award over runner-up Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves.
Joe DiMaggio: New York Yankees, 1936
By the time the 1936 season arrived, the New York Yankees were already facing life without the great Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig, while still in the midst of his record-breaking games played streak, was aging as well. Fortunately, the Yankee Clipper came to the rescue.
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio debuted for the Yankees in early May 1936, and his first season certainly showed the promise of greatness in the making. DiMaggio hit .323 in his rookie year, leading the majors with 15 triples and adding 29 HR, 125 RBI and 132 runs scored.
DiMaggio also collected 206 hits in spite of missing the first three weeks of the season, and his rookie campaign served as the catalyst to a career that led him to become one of the greatest center fielders in baseball history.
Willie Mays: New York Giants, 1951
In 1951, 19-year-old center fielder Willie Mays started out in Triple-A, playing for the Minneapolis Millers. However, after just 35 games, Mays go this chance to debut with the New York Giants.
Mays' major league career got off to a less-than stellar start—he was hitless in his first 12 at-bats. However, Mays finally collected his first hit, a home run off of fellow future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.
Mays' numbers rebounded, as he would eventually hit .274 with 20 HR and 68 RBI. While the numbers later in his career would dwarf those of his first season, it was still enough to garner the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Herb Score: Cleveland Indians, 1955
When 21-year-old southpaw pitcher Herb Score debuted with the Cleveland Indians in 1955, he was joining a starting rotation that already featured the likes of Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. With Score's electric fastball and great array of secondary pitches, he quickly made his own mark.
Score was 16-10 with a 2.85 ERA his first season, striking out 245 batters with 11 complete games. Score became so nasty on the mound that it prompted no less than New York Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle to call Score the toughest pitcher in the American League.
Score easily won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and went on to win 20 games the following season.
However, in early May 1957, Score was severely injured when Yankees' second baseman Gil McDougald hit a wicked line drive up the middle, hitting Score in the face and causing several facial fractures. Score eventually recovered, but elbow issues then ensued, and he was out of baseball by 1962.
Bob Feller: Cleveland Indians, 1936
Speaking of pretty good Cleveland Indians rookies, this dude wasn't too bad himself.
In the early summer of 1936, a scout happened upon a young high school pitcher from Van Meter, IA, 17-year-old Bob Feller. Feller was signed for the princely sum of $1 and made his debut for the Indians without the benefit of even on minor league game.
Feller's debut, on July 19, 1936, was nothing special—in fact, his first six appearances were all in relief.
On Aug. 23, Feller got his first major league start against the St. Louis Browns and offered up a complete-game six-hitter, striking out 15. Just three weeks later, Feller struck out 17 in a complete-game two-hitter over the Philadelphia Athletics.
Feller did all of this before he had even graduated from high school.
Willie McCovey: San Francisco Giants, 1959
On July 30, 1959, the San Francisco Giants trotted out a youngster in their lineup at first base—21-year-old Willie McCovey.
McCovey was a tall, lanky kid who seemingly hadn't even filled out yet. However, he quickly gained the attention of teammates and fans with his skills at the plate.
McCovey hit .354 with 13 HR and 38 RBI in 52 games that season, and while he only played the final two months of the season, he left such an indelible impression that he was the unanimous winner of the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Cal Ripken: Baltimore Orioles, 1982
When shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. made his debut for the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 10, 1981, no one envisioned that the tall, lanky youngster would one day set a record that may never be matched.
Indeed, Ripken represented a new era for shortstops—adding power to a position that had previously been known for solid gloves and weak bats.
In 1982, Ripken hit .264 with 28 HR and 93 RBI, easily capturing the AL Rookie of the Year Award over Minnesota Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek. Ripken also started his record-breaking consecutive-games-played streak on May 30 of that year as well.
Ted Williams: Boston Red Sox, 1939
In April 1939, the Boston Red Sox decided to give a young lanky outfielder his first shot in the big leagues, and that decision led to the development of one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball.
Ted Williams made his debut on April 20 that season, and players and fans quickly saw just why Williams was considered a star in the making.
Williams hit .327 his rookie season with 31 HR and major league-leading 145 RBI. His 344 total bases were tops in the American League, and his keen batting eye and sweet swing already were being marveled.
Wally Berger: Boston Braves, 1930
In 1930, young center fielder Wally Berger debuted for the Boston Braves and would put together a season that became the benchmark for rookie sluggers.
Berger hit .310 that year, with 38 HR and 119 RBI. His homer mark is still the National League rookie record, since matched by Frank Robinson in 1956. His RBI total was the benchmark for rookies until Albert Pujols surpassed it in 2001.
Frank Robinson: Cincinnati Reds, 1956
The Cincinnati Reds were four games under .500 in 1955 and hadn't even sniffed a winning record since 1944. That all changed in 1956.
Young right fielder Frank Robinson made his debut for the Reds that season, and his presence in the lineup immediately lifted the hopes of Reds' fans.
Robinson hit .290 with 38 HR and 93 RBI, tying the home-run rookie record set by Wally Berger in 1930. He led the league with 122 runs scored and was the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year award honors.
Albert Pujols: St. Louis Cardinals, 2001
On April 2, 2001, 21-year-old rookie Albert Pujols made his debut for the St. Louis Cardinals, starting in left field against the Colorado Rockies. However, it wasn't Pujols' defense that caught everyone's eye.
Pujols hit .329 with 37 HR and 130 RBI, establishing a new record for runs batted in by a rookie. Pujols was the unanimous selection for National League Rookie of the Year Award honors and also captured his first Silver Slugger award.
Pujols also finished fourth in MVP balloting and would start a streak of 10 straight seasons of hitting at least .300 with 30 doubles, 30 HR and 100 RBI, surpassing the mark set by Lou Gehrig.
Ken Griffey, Jr.: Seattle Mariners, 1989
In baseball, not every son of a Major League star can surpass or even equal the accomplishments of their father (Pete Rose, Jr., anyone?). However, in 1989, one particular youngster who had baseball in his genes quickly showed that he was the exception to the rule.
Ken Griffey, Jr. grew up around baseball, following his father, Ken Griffey, Sr., around the field as a youngster while dad starred for the Cincinnati Reds.
A first-overall draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1987, Griffey, Jr. made his debut in April 1989, and fans in the Northwest quickly became enamored with their young prodigy.
Griffey's number weren't eye-popping that first year (.264 BA, 16 HR, 61 RBI). Yet his youthful exuberance, grace in patrolling center field and unabashed enthusiasm for the game quickly made him a fan favorite in Seattle.
Mike Piazza: Los Angeles Dodgers, 1993
Mike Piazza was 19 years old and playing first base for Miami-Dade Community College when his father asked Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to draft him in 1988.
Lasorda honored his request, selecting Piazza in the 62nd round. While the selection was a favor to a friend, it turned out to be one of the greatest low-draft selections in Major League history.
Piazza worked on converting to the catching position during his time in the minors and made his debut with the Dodgers when rosters were expanded in Sept. 1992.
The following season, Piazza became a mainstay behind the plate for the Dodgers, and the favor that Lasorda granted his friend paid off. Piazza hit .318 his rookie year, with 35 HR and 112 RBI.
His story was told again and again across the country, and he was the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year award honors in the National League.
Ichiro Suzuki: Seattle Mariners, 2001
Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki was already a star in one country, having played nine years for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific League. However, he gained international stardom with his rookie season in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners.
Suzuki debuted with the Mariners in April 2001 after signing a three-year, $14 million contract, and he immediately began paying back in dividends.
Suzuki led the American League in batting with a .350 average. He also led the majors with 242 hits (a rookie record) and 59 stolen bases.
For his efforts, Suzuki became only the second player in MLB history to be named the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season (Fred Lynn, 1975).
Jackie Robinson: Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947
On Oct. 23, 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a contract. While the news on its face didn't seem significant, the fact that Robinson was African-American completely changed all that.
Robinson made his debut with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, becoming the first African-American player since 1880 to break the color barrier in the major leagues.
Robinson endured a rash of racial epithets thrown his way that year, even from opposing ballplayers. Undaunted, Robinson hit .297, leading the National League with 29 stolen bases, and became the first-ever winner of the Rookie of the Year award, an award that would eventually bear his name.
Mark Fidrych: Detroit Tigers, 1976
He talked to the ball. He "manicured" the mound. He was animated like no other. He was Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.
In 1976, Fidrych caught the baseball world by storm, but not just with his antics on the bump. Fidrych posted a 19-9 record and a major league-leading 2.34 ERA. He made 29 starts that year, completing an astonishing 24 of them.
Fidrych gained instant fame across the country in a nationally televised game on June 28, 1976 when he defeated the New York Yankees, 5-1. Fidrych instantly became a household name.
His performance on the field made him the easy selection for American League Rookie of the Year award honors.
However, it would be the highlight of his career. Fidrych tore up his knee in spring training the following year, and along with a rotator cuff tear, Fidrych would only win 10 more games in his career.
Fernando Valenzuela: Los Angeles Dodgers, 1981
After debuting as a 19-year-old rookie in a late September call-up in 1980 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mexican-born left-hander Fernando Valenzuela became all the rage the following year, and Fernandomania was born.
Valenzuela won his first eight decisions to start the 1981 season and was 9-4 when baseball was interrupted by a strike that lasted two months.
When baseball returned, Valenzuela was instrumental in re-generating fan interest. He ended the regular season with a 13-7 record, a 2.48 ERA and 180 strikeouts, which led the majors. Valenzuela also posted eight shutouts, leading the majors as well.
Valenzuela was 3-1 during the postseason, including a complete-game victory over the New York Yankees in the World Series. For his efforts, Valenzuela became the only pitcher in major league history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season.