Sports Stars Who Forgot How to Play Sports
There’s this great moment at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises where it seems like Batman has completely forgotten how to superhero. His hair is a mess, he’s out of shape, and he can hardly walk without a cane. Indeed, Bruce Wayne’s days as a masked crime fighter seem a thing of the past.
Same thing happens to professional athletes all the time – players will seemingly be on top of the world, only to inexplicably tumble into obscurity in the blink of an eye. Difference is, the players included on this list didn’t regain superhero form and save Gotham by the end of the movie.
Like Forgetful Jones could never remember who his relatives were, these guys suddenly couldn’t remember how to play sports.
Sure, it’s tough to feel too sorry for a guy who is paid millions and millions of dollars to screw up his job on national television every night. But there is something truly tragic about a man who devotes his entire life to tossing a ball around, only to wake up one morning completely unable to do it.
If you haven’t heard the name “Andruw Jones” much lately, it’s because you haven’t been watching nearly enough Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles games. His stellar 2013 campaign, in which he hit a whopping .243 and struck out in 27 percent of his plate appearances, proved why he was worthy of making the big jump from Major League Baseball to the prestigious international stage.
Two seasons later – his last year in Atlanta – began a downward spiral of epic proportions. Jones hit only .222 and struck out a frightening 138 times. He took his talents to Los Angeles in the offseason, slipping to a baffling .158 batting average with only 3 home runs.
Most astonishingly, though, is the fact that as a Dodger, Jones went only 10-for-116 with runners in scoring position. To put this in perspective, 10-for-116 is a measly 8.6% - slightly lower than MIT’s acceptance rate. Ouch.
Perhaps we’re being unfair to Jones. After all, his career wasn’t all bad. In fact, he finished with a respectable 434 home runs, good for 44th all time. Jones just decided to use up all his home runs before he turned 30, rather than spreading them out over his entire career like most people.
Tiger Woods vs. David Duval. The rivalry to end all rivalries. An unstoppable force up against an immovable object. A clash of titans. Nothing in sports could possibly match it.
At least, that’s the way it was supposed to be after Duval surpassed Woods as number one in the world in 1999 and went on to win The Open Championship in 2001. Duval made a bold statement following his rise to the top, as reported by Lee Honeyball of The Observer:
"I always believed I would win a major and I wasn't thinking one, I meant several," he said. "This victory will intensify my drive and my desire to win more."
Well, since then, Duval has been about as close to another major championship as the Cubs have been to winning the World Series or Blaine Gabbert has been to winning the NFL MVP.
Duval from the top of the list to 515th in the world by 2004, eventually lost his PGA Tour card, and was super cranky about the whole thing throughout it all, sharing this gem in an interview after a particularly frustrating round at The Open (via Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune):
"That's exactly why I don't want to talk, because you weren't out there and so you're asking about the same old stuff. I played 32 good holes of golf and made three triples and a quad and I'm out of the golf tournament. So, thanks."
That’s right, Dave! You tell ‘em! Whose idea was it to make these golf tournaments so darn long, anyway?
Alas, Duval is still chugging along today, apparently determined to return to his glory days, like a disgruntled dad who still hasn’t gotten over the fact that his middling Varsity football career ended thirty years ago.
Needless to say, if you’re given betting odds on David Duval vs. the field, you’d be wise to go with the latter.
There’s nothing in sports easier than the free throw in basketball. After all, there are literally no variables. Nobody is allowed to guard you, there is no wind factor, and you’re always exactly 15 feet from the basket. Theoretically, anyone on earth should be able to become a nearly perfect free throw shooter with enough practice and dedication.
Well, not if you ask Nick “The Brick” Anderson, former Orlando Magic star and world-renowned choke artist.
Flan Blinebury of Yahoo! Sports recounted the tragic flop that has become the sole legacy of Anderson’s otherwise successful career:
Four times, he missed.
0-4 is understandable in baseball – a ball is flying through the air at 100 mph and you need to make contact with a tiny piece of wood and hope it lands in a gap between nine speedy fielders. Even 0-4 kicking field goals in football makes marginal sense, as you’re dealing with the wind and a line of enormous men charging towards you.
But free throws?!
A few seconds later, Houston hit a game tying three-pointer as time expired, won it overtime, and went on to sweep the best-of-seven series.
Like a child that forgets how to ride a bike or a fish that forgets how to swim, Nick Anderson was a professional basketball player who apparently forgot how to shoot a free throw. As Mike Lopresti of USA Today explained, Anderson’s troubles did not cease when the game ended:
[Anderson] learned that some bad nights never die. "Constant ridicule" is his memory of the long shadow afterward. Two seasons later, Anderson made only 40.4% of his free throws.
Well, as they always say: if at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail again.
Tim Lincecum was dubbed “The Freak” when he burst onto the scene in San Francisco in 2007 for his wild delivery and wilder hair. Lincecum won seven games that season – his rookie year – and struck out 150 batters in only 146.1 innings.
Things would only get better from there for the baby-faced, shaggy-haired star. Lincecum took home the Cy Young award each of the next two seasons – the first to do so since Randy Johnson – by recording ERAs of 2.62 and 2.48 with 265 and 261 strikeouts, respectively.
Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end. The seemingly impenetrable reign of the Roman Empire finally collapsed after 2,214 years. The seemingly impenetrable reign of Tim Lincecum, Cy Young King, came to a crashing halt after two.
After successful – but less dominant – seasons in 2010 and 2011, Lincecum’s ERA suddenly and inexplicably exploded to 5.18 in 2012, good for last place in the National League among qualified starting pitchers. Dead. Last.
Worse than Joe Blanton. Worse than Bud Norris. And a mere 0.8 points better than Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey’s ERAs added together.
Point of clarification: Yes, this is the same Tim Lincecum that was the first back-to-back Cy Young winner since Randy Johnson.
A devoted student of the game, Lincecum has made several (unsuccessful) adjustments to his game since The Great Collapse of 2012:
At this point, we’ll all have to wait patiently to see what Timmy decides to change next. On behalf of all San Francisco Giants fans, I hope it’s his fastball.
I’ve never stood at 7 feet tall, but at that size, I imagine it must be nearly impossible to get lost in a crowd. In the first game of the Pacers’ second round playoff series with the Washington Wizards – just when his team needed him most – Roy Hibbert achieved the impossible.
After a rough first round series against the Hawks, Hibbert – a two-time All-Star and the superstar centerpiece of the league’s best team – opened round two with a jaw dropping zero points and zero rebounds in 18 minutes. Zero! That’s the same number of points as the Bucks and 76ers have scored this postseason! And Hibbert is no one-game wonder – as Michael Lee from Wizards Insider pointed out, this was his “third scoreless game of the playoffs and fifth scoreless outing in his [last] 12 games.”
Here’s a quick, comprehensive list of all the players who had more points AND rebounds in the game than the 7’2” Hibbert, along with their respective heights: David West (6’9”), Paul George (6’9”), Lance Stephenson (6’5”), George Hill (6’3”), Evan Turner (6’7”), Luis Scola (6’9”), Trevor Ariza (6’8”), Nene (6’11”) Marcin Gortat (6’11”), Bradley Beal (6’5”), John Wall (6’4”), Martell Webster (6’7”), and Drew Gooden (6’10”)
Maybe Hibbert needs to tell John Wall to pick on someone his own size.
Before there were cars, there was the horse and buggy. Before text messaging, there was Morse code. And before instant replay was introduced to Major League Baseball, the umpire was always right, even when it was clearly, painfully obvious that the umpire was, in fact, dead wrong.
Unlike the other members of this list, Jim Joyce isn’t an athlete, and Jim Joyce didn’t suddenly forget how to play a sport. He did, however, forget how to do his job in the most epic way imaginable, destroying the best day of a really mediocre pitcher’s life with a single word: SAFE!
With 26 consecutive outs to open the game, Tigers pitcher Armando Galaragga was on the verge of a perfect game, when Joyce, the first-base umpire, apparently decided he was going to make a different kind of history that night. Houston Mitchell of the LA Times described the incident following the game:
The Tigers led the Cleveland Indians, 3-0, with two out in the ninth inning when Jason Donald hit a grounder to first base. Replays showed that Galarraga, covering at first, got the throw from Miguel Cabrera and touched the base a stride ahead of Donald, but Joyce inexplicably called Donald safe. Galarraga retired the next batter for a one-hitter that should have been perfect.
It’s not like Armando Gallaraga is going to get very many more shots at perfection. He followed that game with a 5.61 ERA in his next three starts and was promptly sent down to the minors. Now, he pitches overseas for the Chinatrust Brother Elephants. Chances of witnessing The Armando Gallaraga Redemption Story are quickly waning.
Perhaps the world is better off because Joyce blew the call. If nothing else, we gained a thrilling new addition to the canon of classic American literature. Joyce and Gallaraga penned a book together following the incident, and titled it Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History.
Without the blown call, this heart-pounding page turner never would have existed – and let’s face it, Armando’s Perfect: Memoirs of an Inconsequential Perfect Game by a Future Brother Elephant wasn’t going to make anyone’s summer reading list.
Everyone has had that terrible dream where they’re being chased by some sort of horrible monster, and they try to run away, but simply cant get up or run move fast enough or can’t even move their feet.
Replace “can’t run away” with “can’t dribble,” and the horrible monster with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and you get Chris Paul’s disastrous final minute of Game 5 of the Clippers-Thunder second round playoff series.
Maybe he just got nervous, maybe it’s the beginning of the Curse of Donald Sterling – either way, Chris Paul needed only a handful seconds to make the transition from revered "Point God" to the pantheon of legendary choke artists.
1. Point God turns the ball over
2. Point God fouls Russel Westbrook, leading to three successful free throws
3. Point God turns the ball over
4. Game ends, Thunder wins
Two nights later, the Clippers were eliminated from the post-season.
Applications for position of Point God now open to the public.
“Fundamentally Sound Chuck,” they called him. And fundamentally sound he was! Chuck Knoblauch could seemingly do it all – he could hit (.312, .333, .341 in 1994 – 96), he could hit for power (17 home runs his first season with the Yankees), he could run (40 stolen bases in three consecutive seasons), and, of course, he could field, taking home the 1997 AL Gold Glove at second base (stats via The Baseball Page).
Then one day in 1999, Fundamental Chuck woke up and forgot how to do one of the simplest, most important tasks a baseball player will ever have – throw the ball to first base. You see it all the time in youth leagues across the country – players with wildly erratic arms who just can’t seem to hit a target. But they’re not paid millions of dollars to toss a ball into a glove.
The Baseball Page reported on his demise:
Once considered one of the game's best fielders (in fact, ESPN personalities nicknamed him "Fundamentally Sound" Chuck Knoblauch), Knoblauch's play deteriorated shortly into his Yankee career. In 1999 he began to have difficulty making accurate throws to first base, a condition sometimes referred to in baseball as "the yips" or "Steve Blass Disease". By 2000, the problem had grown serious enough that he began seeing more playing time as a designated hitter.
While the errors were embarrassing (he once made three in six innings and had to leave the game), Knoblauch hit rock bottom on one particularly errant throw during a game in 2000, which was reported on by the Los Angeles Times:
The suddenly scatter-armed second baseman made another wild throw Saturday, this one hitting a woman sitting behind the first-base dugout in a game against the Chicago White Sox. New York newspaper reports Sunday identified the woman as Marie Olbermann, mother of Fox broadcaster Keith Olbermann. Olbermann initially declined help, then walked with two Emergency Medical Service workers through the stands to the first-aid station. She spent only a few minutes being checked before heading back to her seat.
Olbermann himself offered a poignant response to the incident and the demise of Fundamental Chuck (via LA Times):
"Her face is a little puffy and she expects a shiner. Her eyeglasses were broken, as was her confidence in Knoblauch."
Comparisons at the beginning of his career: Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax
Comparisons by the end: Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn from Major League
Yes, Rick Ankiel’s long tumble from the top is particularly depressing, mind boggling, and amusing in part because of how extraordinarily great he once was.
When he first came up with the Cardinals, Ankiel was the most promising young pitcher the league had seen in years. After a dominant 2000 season in which he compiled an 11-7 record, a 3.50 ERA, and 194 strikeouts in only 175 innings, Ankiel mysteriously forgot how to pitch at the worst possible time: Game 1 of the Cardinals’ first round playoff series against the Atlanta Braves.
ESPN’s Jeff Merron describes the colossal collapse:
[In the third inning of Game 1 of the NLDS], St. Louis actually staked Ankiel to a 6-0 lead over Atlanta when he suddenly and inexplicably lost all control: walk, foul out, wild pitch, wild pitch, walk, wild pitch, strikeout, walk, wild pitch, base hit, wild pitch, walk, base hit.
You counted correctly – five wild pitches in two-thirds of an inning.
And we’re not talking about the “aw-shucks-that-one-just-slipped-away-from-me” type of wild pitch. No, these were the rare and disconcerting “all-fans-in-sections-one-through-350-take-cover-or-leave-the-premises” variety.
All this happened in two-thirds of an inning. In two-thirds of an inning, the entire nation watched with eyes wide open and jaws dropped as one of the most dominant young pitchers in the history of baseball completely forgot the one thing he had ever known how to do. In two-thirds of an inning, Rick Ankiel began his miraculous fall from superstar pitching prodigy to a punch line of a Steve Blass joke.
For whatever reason, Ankiel couldn't regain form, and his enigmatic problems became so overwhelming that he was playing Rookie Ball by the end of 2001 and was out of baseball by 2002. Other than a brief Roy Hobbs-esque comeback as an outfielder years later, Ankiel never tasted the limelight again.
How about an entire team that forgot how to play sports?
After promising championship seasons in 1907 and 1908, the Cubs struggled to regain their winning form for the next century or so. The cause of the drought is inexplicable, though fans have tried hard to identify it, blaming goats and innocent bystanders alike.
This year hasn’t exactly been a step in the right direction. The lovable losers are off to a predictably frustrating start, and Stephen Colbert took notice on Twitter last week:
@StephenAtHome: The Chicago Cubs just lost their 10,000th game. And I think that's just this season.
Though the past and present are bleak, the future looks bright: the Cubs made their first truly successful acquisition since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in 2011, adding an adorable new mascot named Clark. Clark should provide a cute and fun distraction during games, making it much easier to avoid watching the ragtag bunch that will trot on field another hundred times between now and October.