Every MLB Team's Greatest Success Story
We all know of baseball's greatest players of all time, as well as the fan favorites. The best stories in baseball come not from these players necessarily, but from success stories.
The players who have had to overcome odds, fight back in the face of adversity and became successful in spite of the obstacles. Jackie Robinson had to fight through the color barrier and break that down, while others had their own odds to overcome.
Here is the greatest success story of each major league franchise. I tried to pick out historical players where I could, though many are rather recent.
Baltimore Orioles: Pete Gray
The fact that a one-armed player was able to play at baseball's top level at all, even if it was in 1945 when the talent pool was depleted, is simply amazing, and that's what Pete Gray did.
After losing his arm in a childhood accident, Gray taught himself to bat one-handed. He hit .218 during his time with the St. Louis Browns, which amounted to 77 games.
Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester
When Jon Lester made his debut for the Red Sox in 2006, it looked like they had a future ace they could work with. Just a couple months after his debut, though, that nearly came crashing down when it was discovered he had enlarged lymph nodes.
Concern was that this was cancer; it ended up being a treatable form of lymphoma, and by mid-2007 he was back in the swing of things and, for that matter, maybe the most consistent pitcher the Red Sox have.
New York Yankees: Mickey Mantle
Of all the success stories the Yankees had, Mickey Mantle's may have been the best. He had a lot of personal issues that the media mostly kept quiet, but what gets him on the list is that he nearly didn't play baseball.
While playing football in high school, he got osteomyelitis in his leg, which could have easily led to amputation. Pennicilin was available by then, though, so his leg was saved and he made a full recovery, and the Yankees looked past the bout to sign him.
Tampa Bay Rays: Jim Morris
Early in the Tampa Bay Rays' history, back when they were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, they signed a guy named Jim Morris, who had retired all the way back in 1989 after not getting anywhere in the minors.
This happened because he was a pitching coach and promised his tram he would try out again. Sure enough, he made the team and made his major league debut at 35, lasting in the majors two years.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
From his selection in the 20th round of the 2000 draft to a five-year career as a journeyman, Jose Bautista never seemed to be able to stick. When the Pirates sent Bautista to the Blue Jays, suddenly everything changed.
Bautista is now a two-time home run champ and nearly won the MVP twice in a row. His average is down a bit this year, but he's still mashing the ball after coming seemingly out of nowhere just a few years ago.
Chicago White Sox: Charles Comiskey
These days, and even back when sports were rather new, players just didn't become owners; teams were owned by millionaires. That was not the case for the Chicago White Sox and Charles Comiskey.
Comiskey played baseball from 1882 to 1894 and became owner of the Chicago White Sox as the American League became a major league in 1901. Sure, his stinginess ruffled feathers, but the move up was still something you just don't see.
Cleveland Indians: Larry Doby
Everyone remembers Jackie Robinson as the first to break baseball's color barrier, but few remember the second, Larry Doby. Unlike Jackie, Larry struggled in 1947, so he had to deal with attacks from that perspective.
Despite being somewhat unknown compared to Robinson, Doby had a Hall of Fame career, earning seven All-Star appearances as well as a second-place MVP finish.
Detroit Tigers: Hank Greenberg
While there have been many Jewish stars in the game of baseball, this was far from the case during Hank Greenberg's time. In fact, he was the first Jewish star in sports, period.
Throughout the 1930s, Greenberg established himself as one of the game's best sluggers, winning MVP twice and hitting 331 home runs in a career abbreviated due to World War II.
Kansas City Royals: Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke was a young struggling pitcher in 2004 and 2005 for the Kansas City Royals, and as a result in 2006 he came very close to quitting the game due to social anxiety disorder.
He came back the following season, and by 2009 he was a Cy Young Award winner. He has since remained a force as a pitcher and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
Minnesota Twins: Torii Hunter
Torii Hunter has been a great outfielder for the Twins and Angels during his career, but before his baseball career got started, he had to get through a lot.
Hunter lived in a tough part of Arkansas, and his living conditions weren't good either. Beyond that, his father's drug addiction almost destroyed his career before it got the chance to start. Hunter was able to overcome all of that, though.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Shane Loux
Shane Loux's career was originally just two years with the Detroit Tigers in 2002 and 2003. After struggling in the minors in 2004, he retired.
After a friend convinced an Angels scout to give him a workout, he was back in the majors in 2008 and pitched two years for the Angels. He's now on comeback No. 2 with the Giants.
Oakland Athletics: Lou Brissie
Lou Brissiewas a pitching prospect for the Philadelphia Athletics before serving in World War II. While serving, his leg was mangled, and he came very close to losing it. It took years of therapy to walk and pitch again.
Connie Mack kept open an invitation to being him in when he was ready, and as a result he was actually able to pitch well for several years, despite having to wear a plate on the mound and never really regaining full movement in the leg.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki
At the time that the Seattle Mariners bid on Ichiro, he was a huge star in Japan, but no one knew how that would translate to MLB. After all, many have made the jump and failed miserably.
Luckily for the Mariners, Ichiro became a sensation, as he was just as good over here. He's a sure fire Hall of Famer and one of the best to play the game anywhere.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton became very close to being a draft bust, since his career was riddled early on with alcohol and drug use. He became clean in 2005, and the Texas Rangers are happy he did.
Hamilton is now the heart and soul of the Rangers franchise through their two AL pennant wins, and it's hard to believe that just six years ago he had essentially been written off.
Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron
What better option for a success story could there be than the Home Run King himself, Hank Aaron? Aaron actually started his career in the Negro Leagues in the early 1950s before being offered a contract by the Braves. The rest is history.
Miami Marlins: Livan Hernandez
Livan Hernandez was born in Cuba and had a tough life growing up. His family was poor, and in order to play MLB, he defected to the United States.
The Marlins took a chance on him, and he had an amazing rookie year that helped them win the 1997 World Series. He has since turned into a workhorse pitcher, but to start he was great.
New York Mets: Fernando Tatis
Between 1997 and 2003, Fernando Tatis had a solid career for several different teams. He then retired from the game to move to the Dominican Republic and build a church there.
In order to raise the money, he went back to baseball, playing with the Orioles in 2006 and the Mets for three seasons, and as a result he was able to raise the money and complete the church.
Philadelphia Phillies: Eddie Waitkus
I came close to using the entire group of Whiz Kids for this slide, but one stood out big time to be, and that was Eddie Waitkus, who started with the Cusb and joined the Phillies in 1949.
Waitkus had an All-Star season before being shot by a crazed stalker in a hotel. He recovered from the wound and had a great year in 1950 to help lead the Phillies to a pennant.
Washington Nationals: Curtis Pride
Early in professional baseball history, there were quite a few deaf players. By World War II's end, as baseball became larger, there were none to be seen. That changed with Curtis Pride.
Pride fought through the minors for many years before finally making his debut with the Expos in 1993, then playing for them during the 1995 season as well. He went on to have an 11-year career in total.
Chicago Cubs: Mordecai Brown
Early on in Chicago Cubs history, back when they won World Series, they had an ace by the name of Mordecai Brown. He was also known as "Three Finger Brown" due to losing two in a farming accident.
He was able to get a sharp curve on the ball with his injured hand and used it to win 239 games during his Hall of Fame career, most of which was spent in Chicago.
Cincinnati Reds: Eric Davis
Eric Davis's biggest success story came with the Baltimore Orioles, but since his best years were with the Cincinnati Reds, I'm including him here. From 1984 to 1991, he was a force for the Reds and one of their best hitters.
In 1997 with Baltimore, Davis was diagnosed with colon cancer. Not only did he make a full recovery, but 1998 was one of his best seasons, as he hit .327 with 28 home runs.
Houston Astros: Billy Wagner
Billy Wagner is one of the best relievers in MLB history, but it wasn't an easy road, especially since he was right-handed; after breaking his arm as a kid he taught himself to throw left-handed.
He fell into the middle of the first round of the draft, since scouts were turned off by his size, then at 5'9". The Astros liked him in spite of that, and he played nine great seasons with them, 16 total.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun
Even through winning an MVP Award and being the face of the franchise, Ryan Braun has still had to fight to be a success story. The positive test and subsequent reversal of the suspension marked the first time that happened, which just adds to the legacy he's already building.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Roberto Clemente
While Roberto Clemente was not the first Puerto Rican to play in MLB, he made his debut at a time where the color barrier was still in the process of being completely broken; as a result, there was some tension in Pittsburgh during that time.
Eighteen seasons and 3,000 hits later, Clemente established himself as one of the greats of the game and certainly one of the best Pirates of all time.
St. Louis Cardinals: Rick Ankiel
In 1999, Rick Ankiel started off his career with the St. Louis Cardinals as a pitcher. He performed well until 2001, when he suddenly couldn't throw strikes anymore. As a result, it looked like his career was over.
Instead of calling it a career, he honed his hitting skills in the minors for a couple seasons, and in 2007, a few years after his pitching career ended, he came back with a vengeance and turned into a great outfielder for a couple of years.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Craig Breslow
Technically, Breslow fits more on the Athletics' slide, but given that Breslow is currently with Arizona, he goes here. Many people seem to be natural ballplayers, but on the surface, Breslow doesn't seem to be.
Craig Breslow is a Jewish Yale graduate and has had to fight stereotypes to become a great reliever, as well as fighting hunger while fasting on Yom Kippur.
Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer
Jamie Moyer recovered from Tommy John surgery to make a starting rotation at the age of 49. Need I say more? It's a shame they released him, because he was actually pitching better than quite a few Rockies.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Jackie Robinson
Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier. He made his debut for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, and his success was just beginning.
Had he been a serviceable player, his legacy may have been different. However, he went on to win MVP in 1949 and have a Hall of Fame career, making him perhaps all of baseball's best success story.
San Diego Padres: Doug Brocail
Doug Brocail started off as a starter for the Padres before turning into a quality reliever, especially once he joined the Tigers. After 2000, though, it seemed that his career was over.
After two Tommy John surgeries and stints being put into his heart, he was able to mount a comeback and returned to the Padres for a couple seasons in one of the more improbable comebacks on this list.
San Francisco Giants: Ryan Vogelsong
Ryan Vogelsong was a pitcher who came through the Giants' farm system, then pitched for them and the Pittsburgh Pirates for seven seasons. After that, he played in Japan and tried returning to the majors, but had a poor 2010 in the minors.
Somehow though, he had an amazing spring in 2011 and has cemented a spot on the starting rotation for the Giants, making an All-Star appearance last year.
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