The Rookie of the Year award represents the climax of years of prospect-gazing by baseball fortune tellers everywhere.
We picture high school kids in major league uniforms. We tag them with labels like "The Next Junior" or "Ichiro with Frank Thomas power." Then we follow them through the dream-killing grinder of the minor leagues, where many fall by the wayside.
But, once a year, we recognize the best of the survivors as "Rookie of the Year." Genius fan-scouts can finally pat themselves on the back.
"I told you that Hollandsworth guy was a sure thing from the beginning!"
"I would have bet my life on Geovany Soto."
But, what happens next?
The Rookie of the Year award, unlike the other postseason awards, is not the pinnacle of a player's career. Often the winner is not even among the top 20 players in their league.
An MVP is accepted as a bona fide star, if only for a year. A ROY is accepted as…promising?
Assuming that the ROY award is a checkpoint on the way to greatness, let's take a look at some winners who didn't live up to the hype. These players' initial greatness and subsequent mediocrity lead us to the question: Does winning Rookie of the Year mean anything?
This list factors in a player's post-award stats, injury history and (to a smaller extent) the subsequent success of their team.
I also give a pass to recent winners Chris Coghlan and Geovany Soto, who are already on the road to bust-ville.
If they ever come off the 365-day DL, they may yet live up to their promise.
Before I get stoned for including Wood in this group of underachievers, let me remind you of this: 9IP, 1H, 20K, 0BB.
In case you are too young to remember, that was Kerry Wood's fifth career start.
It was beyond Strasbourg-ian. It was one of the greatest starts in baseball history.
Young Kerry Wood was Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens all wrapped into one supernatural gift from the baseball gods. He threw 100 mph with a curveball only seen in backyard wiffle ball leagues.
Excuse the excessive hyperbole, but this list is not about the worst Rookies of the Year. Wood makes it here because he is arguably the most disappointing.
Like all good young aces, Wood spent a year as a Tommy John patient. Then, from 2000-2004, his average season was as follows: 11-9, 3.69 ERA, 10.0 K/9.
Not bad. Actually, very good if your name is Jaret Wright. From Wood, however, we hoped for more.
In the midst of 14 DL stints over 13 years, Wood admirably transitioned to a relief pitcher on some bad Cubs and Indians teams. Given that his arm is now held together by twisty ties, longevity may be his most impressive feat.
Wood's career can be boiled down into one heart-wrenching nutshell. He was on the mound at Wrigley in 2003 with a chance to end the curse, save the Cubs and save Steve Bartman's anonymity.
Alas, superstardom was not meant to be.
The Kansas City Royals use a lot of rookies. In fact, during a 10-year span from 1999-2008, 10 of their rookies received votes in Rookie of the Year polling.
They averaged 67 wins over that same time period.
The Royals farm system pipeline has produced far more duds than studs. And, as soon as a Royal shows stud potential, he is suddenly no longer a Royal (see: Zack Greinke, Carlos Beltran).
Angel Berroa was a dud.
It started out just fine. The 2003 Royals won 83 games. Berroa succeeded in a strong lineup that featured Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Beltran. He was a dual threat, batting .287 with 17 HR and 20 SB while playing good defense at shortstop.
In short, Berroa was a deserving award winner. There was a "Miguel Tejada" feel about him and the Royals were on the rise.
Clearly, it was not meant to be.
Berroa's skills declined quickly, and his glove became inconsistent. Those promising 2003 Kansas City Royals? They are a distant memory as well.
Beltran and Ibanez were out the next year. From 2004-2006, the Royals averaged 103 losses and decided to go back to what they do best: producing Rookie of the Year candidates.
2002 was a down year for National League rookies. To win the award that year, Jennings beat out non-phenoms Brad Wilkerson, Austin Kearns and Kaz Ishii. Not exactly Cooperstown material.
He also must have looked like an ace on a staff that gave up 5.2 runs per game in 2002.
But if we want to use fancy statistics, Jennings helped the Rockies to 0.7 wins above replacement in 2002. By comparison, 2001 winner Albert Pujols carried a WAR of 6.9
While Jennings' performance didn't scream "ace material" as a rookie, it got even worse.
Over the next three years, he ate up innings on the back end of the rotation with a 5.25 ERA with a WHIP of 1.65. Not even the steroid era justifies those kind of numbers.
Jennings is probably the least memorable ROY of the last decade.
He will be remembered in history alongside other "hard-to-put-a-face-to-a-name" victims of Coors Field like Pedro Astacio, John Thomson and Shawn Chacon.
When I have a left-handed hitting son, I will teach him how to swing by popping in a mixed tape of Ken Griffey Jr., Rafael Palmeiro and Ben Grieve. Grieve's swing was picturesque, as were his first few years as a big leaguer.
Grieve was an early Moneyball prototype. He was patient. He got on base. He scored runs. Grieve is the forgotten piece of the A's young nucleus that included Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez and an all-world pitching staff.
And then...he was gone.
Grieve's skills deteriorated steeply during years when he should have become a superstar. By 2003, Grieve was buried in Tampa Bay, splitting time as a 27-year-old washed up platoon outfielder. Back then, platooning in Tampa Bay was not exactly good for the ol' resume.
Grieve was out of baseball two years later.
There are no good explanations. He was not injury prone, nor did he suffer from any Chuck Knoblauch-like mental challenges. Sure, Grieve was a horrendous outfielder, but that's why we invented the DH.
Today is not the day to solve the mystery of Ben Grieve, only to rank his precipitous downfall as one of the most disappointing Rookies of the Year.
Hammerin' Bob Hamelin blasted onto the scene in 1994, hitting 24 home runs in 101 games before the season was cut short by a player strike. By the following Spring, with the dispute resolved, baseball was back in business.
One problem: Someone forgot to tell Bob Hamelin. He hasn't been seen since.
A man identified as Hamelin hit .168 through 72 games in 1995 before getting sent to the minors. He never again got more than 320 ABs and was out of baseball three years later.
The legend of "The Hammer" came to a glorious end in 1999 when Hammer reportedly grounded out, kicked some equipment, told his manager "I'm done," and walked out of baseball forever.
This four-eyed Bambino's star burned out much too early. We may never know why.
Perhaps the "enhanced" workout regimens of the mid-'90s passed him by. Perhaps the thought of a long career with the Royals couldn't get him out of bed in the morning.
In any event, this year's top rookies hope to fare better.