Cleveland Busts From the Past

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Cleveland Busts From the Past
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Cavaliers recently traded for Shaquille O'Neal. Eyes of Cavs' fans everywhere lit up at the prospects of having two legitimate superstars wearing a Cleveland jersey at the same time.

Granted, Shaq's resume is drowning in titles, MVPs and countless other awards and accomplishments, but his best years are behind him.

This trade is clearly a good one for both parties. The Cavs get O'Neal's services without being locked into a long-term contract and they give up very little in terms of meaningful contributions from the players they lost, Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic. The Suns get out from under O'Neal's contract and position themselves in a much better place financially.

I would like to take this opportunity to walk down memory lane and review the many players who have had very successful professional careers, but when they found themselves in Cleveland, they did not live up to their incoming expectations.


1. Chris Speilman Local product from Massillon, Ohio and Ohio State Buckeye legend Chris Speilman had a stellar career in Detroit making the Pro Bowl four times as a linebacker. At OSU he won the Lombardi Award and was an All-American twice. He recently was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was drafted by the Lions and in addition to his four Pro Bowl selections, he led the team in tackles all eight years.

He returned back to Ohio to play with the Cleveland Browns in 1999 during their first year back after the heart breaking move to Baltimore four years earlier. It was supposed to be storybook as the prodical son returned home. Having already suffered a neck injury that required him to miss a entire season, he experienced a scare in a preseason game when, again, he hurt his neck. This ultimately led him to his retirement before he took a single regular season snap for the Browns.



2. LeCharles Bentley Stop me if this sounds familiar. Bentley was also a hometown boy attending perennial football powerhouse St. Ignatius high school in Cleveland. He went on to Ohio State University as well and successfully led the Buckeyes offensive line. He was a four-year letterman, two time All Big Ten and an All American in 2001. He was drafted by the New Orleans Saints and made the Pro Bowl twice.

Like Speilman, he was injured in the preseason. A staph infection only made things worse and he never played a down with the Cleveland Browns. Yet another hometown product's return cut tragically short.



3. Chuck Finley Tagged "The Yankee Killer," Finley killed nothing but his reputation as headlines of his wife beating him with a shoe surfaced. After a long and solid run with the Angels, he was added to the Cleveland Indians' starting rotation in 2000 as a much needed lefty and was thought to help get the Tribe past the dreaded Yankees. His stint—two and a half seasons with the Tribe—was very mediocre. He managed 16 wins in the 2000 season with 11 losses and had an ERA over four. The next season and a half were even less inspiring. In the end, he didn't kill the Yankees and didn't do much at all. Period.




4. Jeff Garcia Garcia was a unique case in that he had success before his time in Cleveland AND rediscovered it after his departure. Like Steve Young before him, he was a successful QB in San Fransisco that initially started outside the NFL before he earned his chance. He was a three-time Pro Bowler while in San Fransisco and he led the 49ers to the playoffs including a memorable comeback victory against the New York Giants in 2003.

The best way to describe his time in Cleveland would be to just quote Wikipedia's entry for his season with the Browns: "Garcia signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns on March 9, 2004. Garcia was released by the Browns after the 2004 season, in which he struggled to find any consistency and battled with injuries."



5. Juan Gonzalez Juan Gone won AL MVP twice in Texas with the Rangers. He was an offensive superstar. His season batting average never dipped below .295 from 1995-1999. He was an RBI machine driving in more than 128 runs each season from 1996-1999. His HR numbers were consistently in the 40s with only a few seasons below.

He had two stints in Cleveland with the Indians in 2001 and finally ending his career in 2005. His season in 2001 was far from a disappointment. His offensive numbers were near his MVP numbers of the past. Unfortunately, the Indians only enjoyed one season of Gonzalez's dominance as he left as quickly as he came, going back to the Rangers in the 2002 season.

But the memory that sticks with many Cleveland fans is his first and only at bat in the 2005 season when he tore his hamstring so severely that it ended his career. His triumphant return was extremely anti-climatic.



6. Jack McDowell "Black Jack" McDowell came to Cleveland to pitch for the Indians in 1996 after winning a Cy Young Award in 1993 and made the All Star team three times from 1991-1993. He was supposed to be a right handed ace for the Tribe who was in the midst of their American League dominance in the mid 1990s.

In 1996 McDowell went 13-9 with a less than stellar 5.11 ERA. The following season he only started six games going 3-3 and had an ERA of 5.09 contributing very little to the success of the team that year, nowhere near the expectations he brought with him as a Cy Young winner, All Star and former AL wins leader.



7. Dave Winfield Winfield is best known for his years in Yankee pinstripes. Throughout his career he won numerous accolades including 12 All Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves and a Comeback Player of the Year in 1990 among other awards. He was acquired at the end of the 1994 strike shortened season and played with the Tribe in 1995. Once again, this star's performance in Cleveland was far less than the rest of his career as he only hit .191. He did not even make the postseason roster as the Tribe advanced to the World Series.



8. Dwight Gooden Dwight Gooden was also best known for his days in New York except his glory days were with the Mets. He was one of the most dominant pitchers of his time. He won Rookie of the Year in 1984 when he led the league in strikeouts. He followed that up with a Cy Young Award in 1985 when he led the National League in wins, earned run average, innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts. That same season he finished fourth in MVP voting. He made the All Star team four times.

When he made his way to Cleveland in the 1998-1999 seasons, he put up average numbers at best. His win totals never exceeded eight. His ERA was 3.76 in 1998 and 6.26 in 1999. He was unable to manage more than 100 strikeouts in either season.



9. Andre Rison Andre Rison had a number of successful seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons before coming to Cleveland. He was best known for his success in Atlanta where he made the Pro Bowl four times in five seasons. In 1993 he led the NFL with 15 receiving touchdowns.

He played one year in Cleveland which was the worst season of his career only catching 47 passes for 701 yards and only three touchdowns. The epitome of a bust.



10. John Rocker Known more for his controversial ramblings and anger management issues, Rocker came to the Indians from the Braves after several successful seasons in which his ERA was below 3.00 every season and his save totals were 38 and 24 in his first two full seasons. He came to the Tribe in the middle of the 2001 season with 19 saves but never fulfilled his promise in Cleveland going 3-7 and watching his ERA balloon to over five.



These are ten that my friends and I could come up with ourselves. In addition to these ten, there are several established stars that came to Cleveland and didn't live up to their incoming status but managed some limited success. While they didn't live up to their expectations, they can't be called "busts" in my mind either.

The toughest example for me to label would be Shawn Kemp. This is a tough one because Kemp DID lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs. It was a very mediocre team at the time as well. He was the obvious leader on the court and carried the team. But he was far from the touted "Rainman" that we loved to watch in Seattle. He was really a shell of his former self.


Then there's Larry Hughes. He was signed as the second man to LeBron James. The Scottie Pippen to Micheal Jordan. The Robin to Batman. But he never embraced that role and never lived up to his hype as he struggled to develop any consistency shooting or on the defensive end.


Some others who were able to contribute in a positive manner although not as well as they did in pre-Cleveland years included Orel Hersheiser, Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez.

Some had solid careers prior to their Cleveland let down but didn't arrive with the high expectations these others; Ball, Mark Mosely, Don Strock, Pepper Johnson, Joe Jurivius, Phil Neikro, Steve Carlton, Mark Bavaro and Jamir Miller, for example.

We can talk about the Curse all we want when it comes to the teams' lack of championships and numerous moments of bad luck, but don't forget the bad luck Cleveland has had with superstars as well.

Unless otherwise noted, I referenced Wikipedia to find specific statistics and background information.

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