The 10 Saddest Endings to Yankees' Careers

Josh SchermerhornContributor IIJuly 20, 2011

The 10 Saddest Endings to Yankees' Careers

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    Sometimes the memories you have of people are not the good ones, and the Yankees have no exceptions.  Their glory and celebrations throughout the years have also been riddled with tragic stories of failure, embarrassment, sadness and even death.

    Some have made the organization re-consider how they do business in free agency; others have made them realize how lucky they were to have such amazing players and people in their franchise.  

10. Roger Clemens Retires, Returns, Re-Leaves and Denies

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    Roger Clemens was finished in Boston.  The organization didn't want him, but he knew there was more left in the tank.  With that in mind, Clemens left for Toronto, ready to prove them wrong.  After two spectacular seasons, the Yankees came calling in 1999, ready to solidify a dynasty.

    Clemens was great for the Yankees in five seasons, going 83-42 with a 4.01 ERA, and winning two World Series.  He claimed his 300th game in pinstripes, and seemingly walked off into a Miami sunset during his "last" game in the 2003 World Series.  

    However, quick reconsideration sent the Rocket to Houston, where he continued his dominance well into his 40's. After three seasons with the Astros, Clemens was seemingly done: again.

    But in 2007, a year that the Yankees were struggling in for basically an entire season, they reached out to Clemens to ask for his return.  Answering the call in grand fashion, Clemens announced to the world that he would come back to the Bronx for half a season, ready to lead the Bombers back to the promised land.

    That would be his last shining moment as not only a Yankee, but as a professional baseball player.  His next moments were, in a word, sad.

    His less-than-spectacular 6-6 record for the Yankees that season was the least of his worries.  He did not return in 2008, but instead fell into a storm of trouble that he and many major league players were battling. The wall protecting steroids had been knocked down, and many players were coming out, admitting their usage and praying for forgiveness.  

    Clemens, who throughout his career maintained an image of defiance and toughness, did not disappoint, even in front of Congress.  His denial of steroids to this day has ruined not only those images, but any that associate him with a baseball player.

    Clemens is destined to sail off into another sunset, but this horizon looks a little more bleak.  

9. George Steinbrenner Passes

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    George M. Steinbrenner III never pitched in Yankee Stadium or hit a home run to win a pennant.  There was no 3,000th hit or 300th win in his career.  

    He was, however, a consummate teammate, giving the Yankees 100 percent at all times, and doing anything in his power to win.  Luckily for the Yankees, his power stretched a long way.

    Within five seasons of Steinbrenner purchasing the Yankees, they were world champions in 1977 and '78. His dedication to the team was extreme, and sometimes went overboard.  

    His pursuit of championships cost him managers, players, and numerous fines and suspensions from baseball.  He was even suspended from the game completely.  

    But he, along with the Yankees, persevered into a dynasty in the 1990's, and his aggressive trading tactics and pressure on the team were a big part of it.

    However, the next decade did not bring World Series rings, but rather deteriorating health.  His appearances at Yankee Stadium became less frequent, and his involvement in the team dropped significantly.  

    Eventually, ownership passed to his sons.  With a new stadium and an upgraded team, the Yankees returned to championship status in 2009.  It was just in time for the Boss to see.  

    He passed away on July 13, 2010, leaving behind a legacy woven in the pinstripes of the players that wear them. His overwhelming commitment to the team and to winning can never be overlooked and under-appreciated, two things the Yankees are always about.

8. Jason Giambi's Career Ruined by Steroids

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    With the departure of the core dynasty team of the 90's after the 2001 World Series, the Yankees needed a big bat to fill the offensive void left by Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius.  The organization attempted to fill it with one player, and Jason Giambi tried not to disappoint.

    It took him awhile to get on board with the fans in 2002, but his season turned out to be excellent as he pounded out 41 home runs and matched that number in 2003.  However, it was not his production that made his time with the Yankees, and especially the ending, very saddening.

    When baseball's villain, Jose Canseco, came out with the "stunning" information that he and many others did steroids while they played, it did not take long for Giambi's name to surface.  Coinciding with this information was a string of injuries and illnesses from Giambi, but this was far from coincidence.  

    His coming off of steroids while in Yankee uniform made him a poster child for steroid usage, something the New York media did not hesitate to use.

    Giambi eventually left the team after the 2008 season.  He was beloved by his teammates, but his confusing career choices with what could have been the wrong crowd are unfortunate to say the least, but a testament to what the steroid era brought many players.

7. Roger Maris's Lack of Recognition

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    There may have been no more beloved player in Yankees' history than Mickey Mantle, forcing many of the greatest players of all time to play under a shadow of a legend.  Outfielder Roger Maris fell in that category, but more so than most players. The Fargo, N.D., native barely fit in the big city of New York, unlike his switch-hitting counterpart, who thrived in the city life.

    As popular and spectacular as Mantle was, even he could not accomplish what Maris did in 1961.  With the M&M Boys (the nickname given to Mantle and Maris) in full swing, Babe Ruth's sacred home-run record was in serious jeopardy.  

    But with a nagging injury to Mantle, it left only Maris to swing for 61 home runs.  The stress built on him with pressure from the fans and media, wondering if he was even a worthy candidate to go after the record.  

    There was even controversy as to whether the record should be a real record if it wasn't completed in the 154 games Ruth had to do it.  

    Stress and questions aside, Maris broke the record, hitting his 61st on the last day of the season.  The bat launching the ball into the right-field stands was the loudest noise Maris made with the Yankees for the rest of his career.  

    His final seasons became decreasingly impressive until his departure after the 1966 season.  He faded out of baseball shortly after, and passed away from cancer in 1985.  

    This season marks the 50th anniversary of his amazing feat, breaking arguably the most valued record in baseball history.  Even though it has been broken by three players since then, they have all been either accused of or admitted to using steroids in their careers, making Maris the true single-season home run champion.  

    However, his acknowledgement of the record is frankly mysterious.  In 50 years, Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit will be celebrated immensely, and that isn't even a unique record.  It is a shame that Maris has faded away into baseball oblivion like no other legitimate record-holder.

6. Joe Torre's Fallen Dynasty

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    The hiring of Joe Torre by George Steinbrenner before the 1996 season was one of great concern for Yankee fans everywhere.  He had never succeeded on the highest level before, so how could he lead the Yankees to a World Series?  That doubt was put to rest immediately.

    Using a vast amount of baseball knowledge and an ability to relate with players very well, Torre quickly solidified a Hall of Fame managerial campaign with the Yankees, winning four World Series in his first five seasons with the team.

    His moves with pitchers, players, and pinch-hitters were incredibly good at just the right time, seemingly every time.  He was loved by the crowd and most of his teams.

    Behind the scenes, however, his relationship was up-and-down with management.  In a book released after his Yankees' career was over named "The Yankee Years," Torre and author Tom Verducci explained the strains between the manager, Steinbrenner and his brain trust, and general manager Brian Cashman.  

    When the Yankees didn't win by 2005 and 2006, it was even in question if Torre would return.  Every season, he would torment with ownership until they finally let him know the job was his again.

    After a disappointing 2007 season ending with midges surrounding Joba Chamberlain in Cleveland, Torre thought his job could be in jeopardy, but decided to meet with Yankees' brass to discuss it.  

    The meeting did not take long, as Torre asked for guaranteed years and money, and the organization wanted nothing to do with that.

    Cashman, who had vouched for Torre many times but did not put full trust in him near the last part of their relationship together, moved on from Torre, signing Joe Girardi instead.  Torre moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he managed a less-talented team to two NLCS rounds in three years.  

    To say the Yankees lack of winning during the last decade under Torre was his fault is hard to say. Management's obsession with overpaid, aging players with fragile psyches made managing difficult.

    Nevertheless, his lack of success lost him trust in the organization, and therefore his dismissal was more tragic than celebrated.  It took him until the 2011 Old Timer's Day for Torre to return to Yankee land.  He was cheered, but it's a shame he ever left.  

5. Don Mattingly's Stolen Career

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    If only.  That's an easy thing to say when Don Mattingly is talked about.  His first seasons as the first baseman for the Yankees were ones of historical significance.  He entered the majors in 1982, and took off as a slick-fielding hit machine that New York quickly fell in love with.  

    Mattingly's 1985 season was one of the best in Yankees' history, as he batted .324 with 35 home runs and 145 RBI, and hitting 48 doubles.  In 1986, Donnie Baseball played all 162 games and reached 238 hits and 53 doubles.

    That was the only season Mattingly played every game in a season, however, which became a theme for the remainder of his career.  A freak back injury in 1987 looked to be a bit nagging, but turned into one that would slowly diminish Mattingly's play for the next decade.  

    To make matters worse, his team had never made the playoffs, and it didn't look promising as his stats began to decline over the years.

    Thankfully for Mattingly, fresh faces like Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill and a very young Derek Jeter helped the Yankees get to the postseason in 1995, a foreign environment even for a great like Mattingly.

    Even in his fading moments, their captain delivered a tremendous ALDS, batting .417.  Unfortunately for the Yankees, Ken Griffey Jr.'s slide across home plate in Seattle ended their run, and ultimately ended Mattingly's career.  

    It was nice he reached the postseason once, an almost sentimental appearance.  His injuries, however, were not so affectionate, and certainly derailed his Hall of Fame career.  

    His greatness was obvious for many seasons, but what could have been?  His brilliant career ended much too soon.

4. Billy Martin

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    After Reggie Jackson jogged up to a ground ball in right field, taking too long to get it to the infield allowing the runner to get to second base, manager Billy Martin pulled him off the Fenway Park grass, claiming he wasn't hustling.  Jackson stormed into the dugout, furious at Martin, and the two nearly came to blows and had to be separated.  

    In the Bronx Zoo (a term given to the Yankees of 1977 and '78 because of the big personalities and drama on the team), players, Martin and George Steinbrenner clashed numerous times, but their battles were backed by World Series rings, and Martin was the defiant leader of it all.

    His winning ways did not start as a manager.  He came up with the Yankees in their glory years, winning four straight World Series starting in 1950 when he entered the league.  He was an average player, but his winning mentality fit in with other stars in the Yankees.  

    He is also known for his partying with the likes of Mickey Mantle.  Eventually, his drinking seemed to be a problem, and he was traded to Kansas City in 1957.

    Martin was crushed, but he would return in 1975 as a manager.  He quickly won over the fans and the team, winning the pennant in 1976 and the World Series in '77.  His brash managing ways got the best of him, and after suspending Jackson for not bunting, he was forced to resign in 1978.  

    The self-proclaimed "proudest Yankee ever" would return three more times for the Yankees (1983, '85, '88), but could never keep the job.  His tumultuous, love-hate relationship with Steinbrenner created great drama, but was an unfortunate turn of events.  To make matters worse, Martin's drinking problem followed him throughout his life, which included four marriages.

    The sad story ended in no less of a fashion on Christmas Day, 1989.  Martin was killed as the passenger in an ice-storm car accident, and was reportedly drinking, ending a troubled life of a man who swore by the Yankee tradition and loved every minute he wore the pinstripes.  

3. Mickey Mantle's Descent

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    If there was one player who you could say "had it all," that player would have to be Mickey Mantle.  He had blinding speed, immense power, a charming personality, and a smile to light up a city as big as New York.  His career is legendary to say the least.  

    The switch hitter finished with 536 career home runs, won three MVP awards, pounded out 18 World Series home runs, and won the rare Triple Crown award (led a league in home runs, RBI, and average) in 1956.

    Though his tough play through multiple major injuries can't be argued, his lifestyle choices can be.  He was known throughout his playing career to be out into the late hours partying with teammates, friends, and girls, something people speculate to have affected his play.  Even with his night-life ways, Mantle's game was tremendous.  

    The sadness of his tale is not of one picture of his life and career, but the entire photo album. He drifted into mediocrity after many years in center field, hobbling around the bases on bad knees while he hit his 500th home run.  His retirement in 1969 was nothing surprising, and he was honored with his own day and plaque in center field.

    His life after baseball was troubling, and can mirror his career.  What could have been a glorious post-Yankees life filled with baseball royalty with the likes of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron was replaced with alcohol and more partying.  

    He distanced from his wife and children, relating to his sons as drinking buddies from time to time.

    After decades of a rough lifestyle, Mantle checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic on Jan. 7, 1994, looking to fix the problems of his last 40 years.  It was, however, far too late.  In August, 1995, Mantle passed away from cancer, likely due to alcohol damage.

    The end of his life may have been the most productive, as he urged followers to "not be like him."  If someone was like him off the field, trouble may have ensued.  But if they were like Mantle on the field, they would be one of the greatest players in baseball history. 

2. Lou Gehrig's Tragic Goodbye

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    Wally Pipp was a good first baseman for the Yankees in the 1920s.  But one day he didn't feel well and sat out just one game to get better.  Well, that's what he thought.  Replacing him was a New York native named Lou Gehrig, and as they say, the rest is history.

    If it were not for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig would be considered the most legendary player of a generation. His statistics are easily overlooked because of Ruth, but they are incredible.

    In 1927, the year Babe Ruth set the record for home runs in a season with 60, Gehrig hit 47 homers, driving in an amazing 175 runs batting behind the Bambino.  Gehrig drove in over 150 runs in seven of his 17 seasons, finishing with 493 home runs and 1,995 RBI.

    Those stats aren't even what Gehrig is most known for.  After replacing Pipp, Gehrig went on to play in 2,130 consecutive games, a record held for nearly six decades until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995.  

    Unfortunately, Gehrig is not most known for baseball, but for a terminal disease named ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a muscular illness with no cure that slowly debilitates its victim until complete loss of muscle movement results in death.  Gehrig realized something was wrong with himself, and he eventually could not play anymore.  

    On July 4, 1939, he made his famous speech in the middle of Yankee Stadium, claiming to the Bronx faithful that he was"the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."  

    In June 1941, ALS claimed his life and his name, taking one of the best players in baseball's long history.

    The disease bears the title Lou Gehrig's disease, a name it is not worthy to have for such an amazing baseball player. 

1. Thurman Munson Killed in Plane Crash

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    Besides being a catcher, Thurman Munson loved to fly and hoped that planes could help him see his family in Canton, Ohio, a little easier.  Unfortunately, it would be a plane that would take his life.

    Munson wasn't just a catcher, but an excellent one.  He was loved by fans, his managers, and especially George Steinbrenner, who gave him the title of "Captain," a title now held by shortstop Derek Jeter.

    Munson was known to have full control of his pitching staffs, and he was not afraid to battle with competitors like Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.

    In August 1979, however, his playing career and life came to an end as he came too low on a tough-and-go landing practice in Ohio, hitting a tree and crashing the plane, killing Munson.  The news shocked the baseball world, most significantly his teammates.  

    Contemplating cancelling their next game, which was scheduled for the day of his funeral, the Yankees chose to play the game.  Heroics by Bobby Murcer, a close friend of Munson, allowed the Yankees to win the game.

    Rarely is an athlete taken in such sudden and tragic fashion.  But Munson was not just an athlete, but a tremendous player and leader that was adored by teammates and fans alike.  He may not have been the best player whose career ended too quickly, but he certainly has the most tragic story.