MLB Stars Past and Present Who Have Overcome the Longest Odds
Baseball players are always going to be an inspiration to fans, as we all dream of growing up to be just like our favorite players on the diamond. Yet, the players whose roads to the majors were rougher than most are the ones we tend to like the best, for their stories are extra special. These men had a common goal and ran physical and emotional gauntlets to make sure it happened, while most others in their situation often gave up.
One story that stands out to me is that of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who overcame some of the worst kinds of addiction demons after being drafted first overall in 1999 and later became one of baseball's deadliest power hitters as well as the 2010 American League MVP. He still fights his past today, but no longer lets it get in the way of his job on the field.
Of course, Hamilton isn't the only player who has had to overcome tremendous odds. Other baseball players have had to deal with much more.
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In baseball's 19th century days, one basically had to be a perfect physical specimen in order to play the game. That said, the story of William Ellsworth "Dummy" Hoy is one of the most uplifting and inspirational in baseball history.
You see, Hoy was deaf, which back then must have put him at a major disadvantage. Yet, his blazing speed and knack for getting on base led to a prolific 14-year career. When he retired in 1902, he had 596 career stolen bases to go with an astounding .386 OBP.
Seeing as how he didn't let his being deaf stop him from becoming one of baseball's greatest and most forgotten speedsters, it's definitely fitting that Hoy be the leadoff man in this case.
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For those of you who have seen the movie The Rookie, you know that it tells the story of Jim Morris, a former left-handed reliever for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. However, some may not appreciate just how much Morris went through to get to the major leagues.
You see, Morris was drafted fourth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers back in 1983, but never made it past Single-A minor league ball due to arm problems. Thus, he retired and became a high school science teacher and coach.
Yet, at age 35, Morris ended up going to an open try out for the Devil Rays thanks to a bet he made with his students. The amazing part is that he made the team and ultimately made it to the major league level. His tenure in MLB was short, as his arm problems resurfaced.
Still, to debut at age 35, appear in 21 games from 1999-2000 and walk away with a 4.80 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 15 innings is pretty impressive no matter how you look at it. Morris had a dream and though it appeared to be dead, he gave it one more shot because deep down, he knew he owed it to himself.
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During World War II, many of baseball's stars were off serving in the United States Military. As a result, teams were desperate to put a lineup together. In the case of the St. Louis Browns, their left fielder in 1945 was Pete Gray, who had lost his right arm in an accident at age 6.
Players in more recent years (who shall be discussed shortly) overcame obstacles similar to Gray's, but he was one of the most inspirational figures of his time. In his lone season in the majors, that 1945 campaign, he appeared in 77 games and hit .218 with 13 RBI.
No matter how you look at it, the fact that he was able to do that much with just one arm is unbelievable.
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Like Gray, Abbott had a distinct physical disadvantage when it came to playing baseball, as he was born without a right hand. Still, he wanted to play baseball so badly that he learned how to pitch and then catch the ball with his left hand, using his now-famous glove switch. After a successful high school career, he went on to play at the University of Michigan where his success continued.
Ultimately, Abbott went on to enjoy a 10-year MLB career in which he went 87-108 with a 4.25 ERA. The highlight of his career came in September 1993, when he threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees.
Oh, and let's not forget his Olympic gold medal in 1988, either.
Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown
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Injuries sustained in a farming accident and a subsequent fall turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Brown, as he was able to put a unique amount of spin on the balls he pitched. You see, on his right hand, Brown had no index finger (amputated) and three mangled fingers besides his thumb.
While some would see this as a great disadvantage, Brown in fact became one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation. In a 14-year career spent mostly with the Chicago Cubs, Brown won two World Series championships and went a remarkable 239-130 with an astounding 2.06 ERA and incredible 1.06 WHIP.
In 1949, one year after his death, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
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Lester made his debut for the Boston Red Sox in June 2006 and made an immediate impact, going 7-2 with a 4.76 ERA in 15 starts. However, he soon received some shocking news. The 6'4" southpaw was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer, in the middle of the summer. Regardless of its high survival rate, having cancer of any kind is terrifying.
Still, Lester proved to be a fighter and returned to the mound in July 2007, going 4-0 with a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts. He was also the winning pitcher in the clinching Game 4 of that season's World Series.
The man has since become one of the most consistent starters in baseball, with his strikeout velocity and overall control being the rock of the Boston Red Sox starting rotation. Even better is that he is still in remission and building upon his past experiences by getting better each year (we'll call 2012 a fluke).
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Due to then-Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis' iron-fisted insistence on keeping African Americans out of the major leagues, Negro League star pitcher Satchel Paige did not make his MLB debut until 1948, when he was 41 years old. That year, pitching for the Cleveland Indians, he went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in just 21 games. He would go on to pitch two years in Cleveland and then three for the St. Louis Browns, primarily as a reliever. With St. Louis, he would make two All-Star teams.
Yet, Paige would also go on to play one game with the Kansas City Athletics in 1965, at age 58. In that game, which he started, he would pitch three innings of one-hit ball, even striking out a batter.
Simply put, if you look at his whole MLB career, Paige was out to prove that age was nothing but a number. He clearly wanted to pitch in the majors and even if it was as a 40-something pitcher well past his prime, it still meant achieving a goal.
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The story of Josh Hamilton is an interesting one, as it goes back over a decade. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted him first overall back in 1999, yet he did not make his MLB debut until 2008, with the Cincinnati Reds. You see, while definitely talented, Hamilton was for a time addicted to hard drugs like crystal meth and crack cocaine, along with alcohol. Thus, his story could easily have been one that ended with him never making it to the majors.
However, Hamilton eventually got sober in 2005 and worked his way through the minors before finally debuting for the Reds in 2008. That year, he appeared in 90 games and hit .292 with 19 homers and 47 RBI before being traded to the Texas Rangers in the offseason.
Since joining Texas, Hamilton has become one of the most feared power-hitters in baseball and has been instrumental in leading his team to the last two World Series. In 2010, he was named AL MVP.
His battle is far from over, as he has relapsed with alcohol twice in the past three years.
Still, the fact that he has gotten himself together and acknowledged his mistake each of those two times says a lot about him. He is determined to overcome his addiction, otherwise he would definitely not be on the field right now.
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Come on, folks. Did you really think we weren't going to talk about Robinson? This man set the tone for overcoming obstacles and in terms of his own, he fought through them solely because he just wanted to play.
As the first man to break Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, when he was 28 years old, Robinson faced everything from fans screaming racial slurs to teams flat out refusing to play against him. Thus, the man silenced the haters in the best way possible: outdoing them on the field. He would end up spending 10 years in the majors, batting .311 for a fine career that saw him be named 1949 NL MVP and receive a World Series ring in 1955.
That said, I could go on and on about every African American player that debuted not too long after Robinson did, but their stories would all be the same from Hank Aaron to Willie Mays. The fact of the matter is that without Robinson, we wouldn't even be discussing them. Thus, it is important that we all remember just what the man had to overcome just to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.