10 Fastest Rises to MLB Superstardom of All Time

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2013

10 Fastest Rises to MLB Superstardom of All Time

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    No two superstars are created equal.

    Some, like Derek Jeter, take years to achieve the highest level of stardom. Others, like Los Angeles Dodgers' rookie Yasiel Puig, take less than a week to reach such lofty heights.

    Stardom, like success, can be fleeting, and for as fast as some players become superstars, they disappear from the forefront of fans' minds just as quickly.

    In a "what have you done for me lately" society, only the truly special players can maintain that level of stardom for an extended period of time.

    While Puig's meteoric rise to fame is not normal, other ballplayers throughout the game's history have reached those lofty heights incredibly quickly as well.

    Here's a look at 10 players—besides Puig—who became superstars faster than anyone else.



    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Joe DiMaggio

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    Joe DiMaggio put together a 61-game hitting streak for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in 1933, landing himself national recognition as one of the great semi-pro ballplayers in the country. 

    DiMaggio overcame a serious knee injury in 1934 and was sold to the New York Yankees, but not before being named the PCL's MVP in 1935 after hitting .398 with 34 home runs and 154 RBI.

    He'd make his highly-anticipated MLB debut in 1936 and didn't disappoint, hitting .323 with 29 home runs and 125 RBI, quickly becoming one of the game's premier young stars and one of the most recognizable athletes in the country. 

Mark Fidrych

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    Mark Fidrych came out of nowhere in 1976, taking the baseball world by storm and becoming one of the few players that could draw fans to any stadium in the country when he was on the mound.

    Fans wanted to see "The Bird" and his antics on the mound, which included (but were not limited to) talking to himself, talking to the ball, aiming the ball at home plate like it was a dart, fixing cleat marks on the mound and demanding that balls with hits in them were removed from the game.

    Fidrych led the league with 24 complete games and a 2.34 ERA, being named the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game and winning Rookie of the Year honors convincingly over Minnesota's Butch Wynegar with 22 of 24 possible votes.

    He'd finish as the runner-up to Baltimore's Jim Palmer for the Cy Young Award and 11th in the MVP voting, but the heavy workload he put in took its toll, as injuries would cut his career short, with the superstar forced into retirement following the 1980 season.

Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Baseball fans were already familiar with Ken Griffey Jr. when he made his major league debut with Seattle in 1989 thanks to spending many of his childhood summers in dugouts and clubhouses around the league thanks to his dad, Ken Griffey Sr., but it didn't take long for Junior to make a name for himself.

    His youthful exuberance and obvious love of the game was infectious and, before the end of his rookie season, Junior had become one of the biggest stars in baseball.

    I was 12 years old when Griffey Jr. made his MLB debut, and he was the first baseball player that kids my age could really relate to—and that we believed could relate to us. He wore his hat backwards. He was cool, but he didn't seem to work at being cool. It seemed effortless, just like his play on the field.

    His numbers speak for themselves, and that he emerged from the steroid era without even a whisper that they could be tainted making his star shine even brighter.

    When he is elected into the Hall of Fame (shame on the voters if he doesn't get in on his first ballot), it will be a celebration of the biggest superstar that a generation of fans have ever seen and, for Junior, the celebration of a life and career that almost ended before it ever really began.

Dwight Gooden

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    In 1984, a 19-year-old Dwight Gooden destroyed baseball's record for strikeouts by a rookie pitcher by fanning 276 batters, beating the prior record holder, Cleveland's Herb Score, by 31.

    He racked up double-digit strikeout totals in 15 of his 31 starts and missed the mark by one in two other starts, earning the nickname "Doctor K."

    Gooden had become the biggest thing in the biggest market in the world, New York. He was as big a superstar as any sport had at the time, which includes the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson and Joe Montana.

    The runner-up to Chicago's Rick Sutcliffe in the Cy Young Award race, Gooden would pick up that award in 1985 and help the Mets win the World Series in 1986 before injuries and drug abuse derailed what looked to be a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper hadn't even been drafted when, at the age of 16, he appeared on the June 8, 2009 cover of Sports Illustrated, labeled "Baseball's Chosen One." 

    The first overall pick in the 2010 draft by Washington, the hype—and his legend (name another 17-year-old kid who was the subject of legend)—continued to grow:

    At 17, Baseball’s Next Sure Thing: Bryce Harper http://nyti.ms/9kadqp

    — The New York Times (@nytimes) May 16, 2010

    When he finally made his major league debut two years later, Harper didn't disappoint, becoming the only teenager in baseball history to hit 20 home runs, post an OPS above .800 and score at least 98 runs in a single season.

Stephen Strasburg

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    Stephen Strasburg is the most hyped pitching prospect that I've ever seen—and the top overall pick of the 2009 MLB draft didn't disappoint in his major league debut against Pittsburgh on June 8, 2010, holding the Pirates to four hits and two earned runs over seven innings while striking out 14.

    The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore took to Twitter after the game to point out just how impressive the 21-year-old's debut was:

    Before tonight, no one in baseball history had struck out 14 or more batters in 96 pitches or less. Stephen #Strasburg needed 94.

    — Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) June 9, 2010

    Kilgore wasn't the only person on Twitter who noticed what baseball's next great superstar pitcher had done.

    His fastball, which sat in the upper-90's throughout the game, impressed ESPN's Tony Reali:

    Stephen Strasburg's fastball just beat Apollo Creed and Rocky on the beach. It then tenderly hugged his curveball in slow motion.

    — Tony Reali (@AroundTheHorn) June 9, 2010

    TSN's Bruce Arthur found one of Strasburg's secondary offerings even more impressive than his heater:

    Stephen Strasburg's curveball just punched physics in the eye and stole its girlfriend.

    — Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) June 9, 2010

    Strasburg had become such a huge star after only one game that even the fake Twitter accounts of Hall of Famers in other sports were compelled to chime in:

    If Brett Favre and Sandy Koufax had a love child, I've gotta believe his name was Stephen Strasburg. I mean I mean he's incredible!

    — Faux John Madden (@FauxJohnMadden) June 9, 2010

    When Faux John Madden is mentioning you in the same sentence as Brett Favre, you know you've made it to a level of superstardom that few ever get a chance to experience.

Ichiro Suzuki

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    Yes, Ichiro Suzuki was already a superstar in Japan by the time he made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

    But much like a musical act, just because you achieve superstardom in one country doesn't mean that you'll enjoy similar success overseas.

    It didn't take long for stateside MLB fans to take note of the special talent that was on display in Seattle.

    By the time the season ended, Suzuki led the American League in batting with a .350 average and led the majors with 59 stolen bases and 242 hits. The latter set a new major league record which broke Shoeless Joe Jackson's 90-year mark of 233.

Mike Trout

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    Fairly or unfairly, Mike Trout was being compared to one of baseball's most iconic superstars of all-time before he ever set foot on a major league field. Courtesy of Baseball America's Jim Callis:

    Scout on Mike Trout: "The comparisons to Mickey Mantle are actually pretty good." #Angels

    — Jim Callis (@jimcallisBA) October 8, 2010

    He was viewed as a superstar when he made his major league debut on July 8, 2011, and it was that perception that made his rough 40-game indoctrination to the big leagues (.220, 5 HR, 16 RBI) seem worse than it actually was.

    A year later, Trout was in the conversation as the best player in baseball and on the verge of going from superstar to megastar.

Fernando Valenzuela

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    When a pudgy 20-year-old Mexican who spoke no English and had a name that most people couldn't pronounce.took the mound on April 9, 1980 against the Houston Astros, nobody paid much attention.

    That was the last time that Fernando Valenzuela enjoyed relative anonymity.

    Fernandomania swept the nation, as Valenzuela became a rock star overnight. Sold out stadiums along with the atmosphere at the ballpark during his starts, resembled a college football game more than a professional baseball game.

    It was one, gigantic party, with people from all backgrounds of all creeds—especially the Latino community—coming together to watch and celebrate Valenzuela.

    He was electric on the mound, leading the league in starts, innings pitched (192.1), complete games (11), shutouts (eight) and strikeouts (180).

    He'd go 3-1 during the postseason, including a complete-game victory over the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the World Series.

    Valenzuela would win both the National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards, the only pitcher in baseball history to win both awards. He'd also finish fifth in the MVP race.

Ted Williams

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    Ted Williams made a name for himself in 1938 while with Boston's Double-A affiliate, the Minneapolis Millers, with whom he'd hit .366 with 42 home runs and 142 RBI, winning the American Association's triple crown and gaining national recognition.

    Heading into the 1939 season, Gerry Moore of the Boston Globe put the arrival of "The Kid" in perspective (via Leigh Montville's 2004 book Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero:

    Not since Joe DiMaggio broke in with the Yankees by getting 'five for five' down in St. Petersburg in 1936 has any baseball rookie received the nationwide publicity that has been accorded this spring to Theodore Francis {sic} Williams of the Red Sox.

    Teddy Ballgame put together a nine-game hitting streak to begin the season, and by the time it was over, the lanky outfielder led Boston in hits (185), runs (131), doubles (44), triples (11) and RBI, trailing only future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx for the team lead in batting average and home runs.

    His 145 RBI were the most in baseball, 17 more than Cincinnati's Joe McCormick, while his 344 total bases led the American League. Williams' play backed up the hype, and the never-ending debate about which outfielder was better—DiMaggio or Williams—began in earnest.