Athletes Who Looked Completely Different as Rookies
As the years pass, everyone (and everything) changes—even if it happens in varying degrees.
Anyone who was conscious and alert through puberty understands this. And those of us on the wrong side of 30 get to relive the fun—except now, none of the changes are welcome.
Despite the ravages of vodka martinis and the unrepentant arc of time, most people don't undergo some kind of radical metamorphosis.
Rather, the battles are fought on the scale, our heads and the morning following a night without sleep.
So, picking the 19-year-old you from a photo spread of like-aged dudes might trigger a sense of regret, but rarely does it pose a serious challenge.
For athletes who are at the pinnacle of their sports, these changes are documented for the world to see on team websites, season programs or any promotional material highlighting a roster.
Without a doubt, athletes (like the rest of us) evolve over time—physically and in their personal style.
But some clearly fall into the category of Whoa, that's him? when comparing their rookie-year looks with their present appearance.
These are athletes who looked completely different as rookies.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Ed Reed
Photo Date: April 2002
Event: NFL draft
After being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens out of the University of Miami, Ed Reed was rocking cornrows and a sweater vest when he was introduced to the Baltimore media.
Grizzled Veteran: Ed Reed
Photo Date: September 2013
Event: Houston Texans vs. Baltimore Ravens
By the time his career was winding down with the Texans last season, Reed had a lot more hair and a lot more tattoos than he did a decade ago. And it’s really hard to imagine him in a sweater vest.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Mike Napoli
Photo Date: February 2006
Event: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo Day
Mike Napoli was still sporting a little baby fat when he debuted for the Angels at age 24. He could pass for a teenager without the mild scruff, which we know has since blossomed.
Grizzled Veteran: Mike Napoli
Photo Date: March 2014
Event: Boston Red Sox Photo Day
It’s been only eight years since the Red Sox catcher entered the league, but he’s barely recognizable with that epic beard.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Tim Duncan
Photo Date: June 1997
Event: NBA draft
Tim Duncan looked like a little kid when he was drafted out of Vanderbilt by the San Antonio Spurs at age 21.
Grizzled Veteran: Tim Duncan
Photo Date: June 2014
Event: NBA Finals—San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
Tim Duncan still has the moves in San Antonio, coming off the fifth championship of his career in June, although he’s lost his youthful glow. His hairline and trademark slump remain perfectly intact, though.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: CC Sabathia
Photo Date: March 2002
Event: Cleveland Indians Photo Day
A photo of then-Indians pitcher CC Sabathia in his rookie year was not available, but this one was taken just a few months later. He was just 22 at the time.
Grizzled Veteran: CC Sabathia
Photo Date: February 2014
Event: New York Yankees Photo Day
Time has really altered the Yankees pitcher. Sabathia’s weight fluctuations over the years have also contributed to his drastic change in appearance.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Joe Namath
Photo Date: June 1965
Event: New York Jets Photo Day
After three seasons at Alabama, Joe Namath was into both the AFL and NFL in 1965 at the age of 22. His boyish good looks and movie-star persona were a big hit in New York when he eventually signed with the Jets.
Grizzled Veteran: Joe Namath
Photo Date: May 1977
Event: Joe Namath at the St. Louis Rams Press Conference
A testament to the hazards of hard living, Broadway Joe squeezed decades of living into just 12 years, and at the end he looked predictably older.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Barry Bonds
Photo Date: May 1986
Event: Pittsburgh Pirates Game
A far cry from the man most people know today, back in 1986 Pirates rookie Barry Bonds was just a skinny 22-year-old kid trying to make a name for himself in MLB.
Grizzled Veteran: Barry Bonds
Photo Date: September 2007
Event: San Diego Padres vs. San Francisco Giants
Bonds certainly did make that name for himself, with one of the most offensively productive careers in the history of baseball. But after 21 years, he was basically double the man he used to be—that includes his head and neck.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Tony Stewart
Photo Date: May 1996
Event: NASCAR Big Birthday Auto Racing
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart was the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 1996. Believe it or not, he’s just 19 years old in that photo.
Grizzled Veteran: Tony Stewart
Photo Date: July 2014
Event: NASCAR—Crown Royal Brickyard 400-Practice
Maybe all that rage over the years has polluted Stewart from the inside out, because he looks much older than his 43 years.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Sammy Sosa
Photo Date: March 1989
Event: Texas Rangers Photo Day
Everyone knows former MLB slugger Sammy Sosa’s appearance has been dramatically altered over the years. The change is particularly noticeable compared to his rookie photo with the Rangers.
Grizzled Veteran: Sammy Sosa
Photo Date: November 2011
Event: Latin Grammy Awards Arrival
This photo was taken four years after Sosa played his last game in 2007, but the skin-bleaching didn’t get out of control until after he retired. Drawing attention to a face on top of a head and neck that expanded weirdly due to possible steroid use is just not a good idea.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Brian Cardinal
Photo Date: March 2000
Event: Purdue vs. Oklahoma
Brian Cardinal was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the 2000 NBA draft. Maybe it was the dramatic hairline, but he always kinda looked like an old man trapped in a young man’s body.
Grizzled Veteran: Brian Cardinal
Photo Date: March 2012
Event: Dallas Mavericks vs. Sacramento Kings
Although he looked a lot different by his final season with the Mavs in 2012, Cardinal definitely settled into the look that works best for him—that of a middle-aged man. That despite him only being 35 at the time.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Brian Wilson
Photo Date: February 2007
Event: San Francisco Giants Photo Day
Pitcher Brian Wilson debuted for the Giants in 2006 at the tender age of 24. A photo from his rookie season was unavailable, but this one gets pretty close.
Grizzled Veteran: Brian Wilson
Photo Date: February 2014
Event: Los Angeles Dodgers Photo Day
Obviously, facial hair can dramatically alter someone’s appearance, but no one in sports has been more transformed by his hair than Dodgers reliever Brian Wilson. Between that massive black beard and all the tattoos, it’s like this guy is in witness protection or something.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Photo Date: July 2005
Events: St. Louis Rams Photo Day
Undrafted out of Harvard, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed by the Rams as a free agent in 2005. He was 21 years old at the time, but he doesn’t look a day over 16 in that photo.
Grizzled Veteran: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Photo Date: August 2014
Event: NFL Preseason—Atlanta Falcons vs. Houston Texans
Fitzpatrick has gone another direction entirely with his look over the last few years. He’s definitely got the grizzled part of the grizzled veteran thing down pat.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Mark McGwire
Photo Date: February 1987
Event: Oakland A's Photo Day
Mark McGwire was 23 when he made his rookie debut for the A’s in 1997. Back then he looked like your typical All-American jock.
Grizzled Veteran: Mark McGwire
Photo Date: August 2001
Event: Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals
More than a decade later McGwire looked more like the guy who ate a few All-American jocks and absorbed all their powers. By the time he was chasing home records and closing in on age 40, McGwire’s appearance was jarring to anyone who had seen him play early in his career.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Dennis Rodman
Photo Date: January 1986
Event: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Detroit Pistons
Considering the ever-changing array of increasingly outlandish looks he became known for later, seeing Hall of Fame forward Dennis Rodman during his rookie season with the Pistons is a little jarring.
Grizzled Veteran: Dennis Rodman
Photo Date: January 2004
Event: ABA Men's Basketball—Long Beach Jam vs. Fresno Heat Wave
Rodman’s career in the NBA ended in 2000, but he actually played in the ABA and overseas for another six years. He was 43 when this photo was taken and, aside from the dyed hair and various face piercings, the years of hard living had already taken a toll.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Pete Rose
Photo Date: February 1963
Event: Pete Rose Debuts at Cincinnati Reds Training
Blissfully unaware of the tremendous successes and scandals to come in his future, Reds great Pete Rose was just 22 years old when he debuted at Cincinnati’s spring training back in 1963.
Grizzled Veteran: Pete Rose
Photo Date: September 1985
Event: [No information available]
Rose’s trademark bowl cut didn’t do him any favors in the twilight of his career. And the guy didn’t seem to age well. He was still playing in 1985 when this photo was taken—today there are managers who look to be in better shape to play.
Fresh-Faced Rookie: Allen Iverson
Photo Date: August 1996
Event: Philadelphia 76ers Photo Day
Look at this adorable kid! Allen Iverson was just 19 when he debuted for the 76ers as a rookie after just one season playing college ball at Georgetown.
Grizzled Veteran: Allen Iverson
Photo Date: January 2010
Event: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
By the end of his career, Iverson was just a shell of the stunning, world-class talent he had once been. Yeah, he changed his hair and went the tattoo route, but the real difference is in his face. He looks well beyond his 35 years in that photo.