25 MLB Stars and Prospects Whose Careers Were Cut Short
From a baseball fan's standpoint, nothing is more demoralizing than watching a player on your favorite team go down with an injury that forever alters their career. New York Yankees fans felt this feeling last week, when future Hall of Famer and all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls during batting practice.
Though the 42-year-old Rivera would later go on to announce his return for next season, it would have been a much different story had he not. In that case, his career would have ended far too soon and in a manner that no future Cooperstown enshrinee should have to exit the game.
To give some better examples, here are 25 past and present MLB stars who were robbed of elite careers thanks to the injury bug.
No. 25: Fred Lynn
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Lynn burst on the scene for the Boston Red Sox in 1975 and in helping the team reach the World Series, he became the first player to win both AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP in the same season. Blessed with a keen hitting ability, decent power and superior fielding, the sky appeared to be the limit for Lynn.
Unfortunately, despite nine All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and a batting title achieved in 17 seasons, Lynn just couldn't stay healthy. He only reached the 150-game mark once and his injury woes are probably one of the reasons why he hasn't been enshrined in Cooperstown despite hitting .283 for his career and smacking 306 home runs.
No. 24: Rich Harden
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Harden had so much potential as the man at the back end of an Oakland A's rotation that was just flat-out amazing, but injuries kept him from becoming a memorable strikeout artist.
Chronic shoulder issues kept him from ever pitching over 200 innings and today, at age 30, he is expected to miss the entire season with an injury that has been present since 2007.
No. 23: Marty Cordova
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Cordova took home AL Rookie of the Year playing for the Minnesota Twins in 1995 and with his hitting abilities, he appeared to be the heir apparent to fan favorite Kirby Puckett. Puckett would retire the following year, but Cordova would never reach his full potential due to chronic back problems.
He never played 150 games in a season and was out of baseball by 2003.
No. 22: Juan Encarnacion
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Encarnacion wasn't exactly a star by conventional standards, but the pop in his bat and ability to play all three outfield positions was of good value to the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he spent the last two seasons of his career.
On August 31, 2007, he was waiting in the on-deck circle when a foul ball struck him in the eye, causing multiple fractures to the orbital socket. He has not played since that fateful day.
No. 21: Stephen Drew
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Though more durable than his brother J.D., Stephen Drew's career appears to be in serious jeopardy following his ankle fracture last year. He is still not back from the injury and though he is rehabbing it now, there is no telling how effective he will be upon his return.
No. 20: Joel Zumaya
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Poor Joel Zumaya; the man just can't catch a break from injuries. From injuring himself playing Guitar Hero to his elbow and shoulder problems, the man with the blazing fastball just can't stay on the field and hasn't appeared in a game since 2010.
Last offseason, he signed a contract with the Minnesota Twins with hopes of reviving his career. In another cruel twist of fate, he tore an elbow ligament in spring training and now must work to come back from Tommy John surgery.
No. 19: Brian Roberts
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In 2005, Roberts finally broke out as he hit .314 with 18 homers, 73 RBI and 27 steals, netting an All-Star berth in the process. Unfortunately, at the end of that season, he dislocated his elbow and his power has never been the same since.
The past couple of years, a multitude of injuries have kept Roberts off the field as he has only appeared in 98 games since 2010 and has yet to play this season.
No. 18: Darren Dreifort
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Though Dreifort was inconsistent and had a lengthy injury history, the Dodgers re-signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract prior to 2001. From the get-go, it was a mistake.
Arm problems limited Dreifort to just 26 starts over the course of the contract and he missed all of 2002 and 2005. By the end of his career, he was an inconsistent relief pitcher.
No. 17: Bobby Crosby
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Crosby became Oakland's starting shortstop in 2004 and despite hitting just .239 in 150 games, his 22 homers and 64 RBI were enough to net him the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Sadly, injuries took over and he was never the same after that.
Crosby would only hit 40 more home runs and play just one more full season following his rookie campaign due to a number of injuries that slowed him down. He has not played in the majors since 2010.
No. 16: Rocco Baldelli
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After a stellar rookie season in 2003, Rocco Baldelli looked like the man who would turn the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays from lovable losers into contenders. Then, he tore his ACL before the 2005 season and it all went downhill from there.
Baldelli was expected to be back by the All-Star break in 2005, but suffered an elbow injury during rehab and had to get Tommy John surgery. His injury issues lingered and he was later discovered to have a mitochondrial imbalance that affected his metabolism.
He was never fully able to overcome his injury problems and retired at age 29 in 2010.
No. 15: Ellis Valentine
Valentine's arm is considered to be one of the strongest in baseball history, and his 25 outfield assists in 1978 make it hard to disprove that. He also had good power and it appeared he was on his way to a long and productive career.
Unfortunately, the man just couldn't stay healthy and only appeared in 100-plus games once from 1980 up until his retirement at age 30 in 1985.
No. 14: Kirby Puckett
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In terms of his career as a whole, Kirby Puckett had it all: two World Series rings, 10 All-Star berths, six Gold Gloves and a batting title. Even as he approached his mid-30s, he was showing no signs of slowing down. Then, that fateful day in 1996 happened.
Puckett was tearing it up in spring training, but woke up on the morning of March 28 with no vision in one eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma and placed on the disabled list for the first time. His vision was never restored and he retired that July.
Sure, his career was great up until then, but he could have done so much more had he not lost his sight.
No. 13: Bo Jackson
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Multi-sport athletes should look at Bo Jackson's story when it comes time to pick which sport they want to play professionally. His playing both pro football and baseball led to his MLB career lasting just eight seasons thanks to his injuries on the gridiron.
No. 12: Brien Taylor
Photo courtesy of Bleeding Yankee Blue Blog
Taylor's injury history is more infamous than others because unlike the rest of the people mentioned on this list, he never once appeared in the major leagues. The New York Yankees drafted him first overall in 1991 with the hope that his blazing fastball could turn him into their pitching staff's future ace.
His first two seasons in the minors went well and despite walking too many hitters, he appeared to be on the right path. Sadly, on a fateful night in the winter of 1993, Taylor injured his shoulder defending his brother in a fight and missed all of 1994 recovering from surgery.
Once he came back, his velocity and control were gone.
No. 11: Mark Prior
When the Cubs drafted Prior in 2001, their hope was that he and Kerry Wood would form a deadly one-two punch at the top of the team's rotation. Unfortunately, that never happened as both careers were derailed by injuries.
Prior had one good season in 2003, before elbow and shoulder problems took over. He was never the same and has not pitched in the majors since 2006, when he was 25 years old.
No. 10: Dean Chance
Photo courtesy of Halos Heaven
At the start of his career, Chance was a valuable innings eater who did a great job of shutting down hitters and allowing very few runs. In 1964, he won the AL Cy Young Award with a 20-9 record and incredible 1.65 ERA.
Unfortunately, years of pitching so many innings led to back trouble that slowed him down way too soon. He retired after the 1971 season, just 30 years old.
No. 9: Mark Mulder
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Mulder was a key member of the Oakland A's rotation during the early years of Moneyball. In 2001, he led AL with 21 wins and finished second in Cy Young voting. He would continue to pitch effectively even after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, but then his shoulder woes took over.
Mulder made just 21 starts from 2006-2008 and officially retired in 2010 at age 33.
No. 8: J.R. Richard
The Astros started to look like contenders in the mid-1970s and their rotation was headlined by Richard and his almost freakish ability to rack up strikeouts. From 1978-1979, he led the majors with 616 K's and at just 29 years old, appeared to have a Hall of Fame career ahead of him.
A cruel twist of fate struck Richard in 1980, however, when he suffered a stroke while playing catch. His reaction time and depth perception were forever affected and he never played in the majors again.
No. 7: Daisuke Matsuzaka
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After going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008, Matsuzaka appeared to be on his way to becoming the effective front of the rotation man the Red Sox thought they were getting when they paid $51 million just to negotiate with him.
Unfortunately for Boston, a multitude of injuries robbed Matsuzaka of his effectiveness and his needing Tommy John surgery last season seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. The jury is still out on this one, but the man's injury history already speaks for itself.
No. 6: Brandon Webb
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2008 was a great year for Brandon Webb. Just two years after winning the NL Cy Young, he continued to pitch effectively and led the majors with 22 wins to go with an impressive 3.30 ERA. There were high hopes for him in 2009, but he left after pitching just four innings in his Opening Day start that year, due to shoulder discomfort.
That discomfort has never gone away and Webb has yet to appear in a major league game since.
No. 5: Joe Charboneau
The Cleveland Indians were in major need of a pick-me-up in the 1980s, and outfielder Joe Charboneau and his quirky personality appeared to fill that void. He hit .289 with 23 homers in 1980 and took home AL Rookie of the Year, but the honeymoon was short.
Charboneau hurt his back in spring training the very next year and was never the same player. By 1983, he was out of the game.
No. 4: Dickie Thon
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Thon's breakout season came with the Houston Astros in 1983 when he hit .286 with 20 homers and 79 RBI to go with 34 steals. At just 25 years old, the sky was the limit.
In what can only be described as the worst luck ever, Thon was hit in the face by a Mike Torrez fastball just five games into the 1984 season. He was gone for the year and while he returned in 1985, his depth perception was permanently affected and he never reached his full potential despite playing until 1993.
No. 3: Mark Fidrych
Photo courtesy of ESPN
Fidrych took the majors by storm when his quirky personality and resemblance to Big Bird from Sesame Street captured the fans' hearts in 1976. That year, he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and took home AL Rookie of the Year.
Yet, Fidrych's story ended almost as soon as it began. Knee and shoulder issues limited him to just 27 starts over the next four seasons and he retired in 1980, just 25 years old.
No. 2: Nomar Garciaparra
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At the start of his career, Garciaparra looked like the next great hitter. He won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, but his injury issues started just a year later. He ruptured a tendon sheath in 2001 and was limited to just 21 games.
He would come back and have a couple more good years, but the injury demons took over after the Boston Red Sox traded him to the Chicago Cubs in 2004. From that point on, he never again played a full season and was no longer the home run and RBI machine he once was.
No. 1: Don Mattingly
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At one point, Mattingly was the kind of first baseman managers dreamed of. He had great power, could hit for average and was a defensive wizard. In 1985, at just 24 years old, he took home the AL MVP Award with a .324 average, 35 homers and an MLB-best 145 RBI.
Over the next few years, however, chronic back trouble would rob the man known as "Donnie Baseball" of his power and knack for hitting for a high average. To add insult to injury, Mattingly spent most of his career as the best player on a bad team, making the playoffs just once in 1995. His back made him retire after that season and just a year later, in 1996, his New York Yankees would win their first World Series since 1981, the year before Mattingly made his MLB debut.