10 Overhyped Baseball Players Who Fizzled
By almost all accounts, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is a can't-miss prospect who will enjoy a long and prosperous major league career. The amount of Strasburg-related memorabilia available on eBay grows by the day. Before you think about investing in the No. 1 pick of June's amateur draft, consider the following 10 players who went from sizzle to fizzle in no time, leaving fans broken-hearted and prospecting collectors and dealers with an excess of worthless inventory.
1. Bob Hamelin
The Hype: "The Hammer" broke Bo Jackson's Royals record for home runs by a rookie in the strike-shortened 1994 season to capture AL Rookie of the Year honors, the hearts of Kansas City baseball fans, and the confidence of legend George Brett. "I've always been a big Bob Hamelin fan," Brett said of the man who replaced him as the Royals' designated hitter. "Before, when I was a Bob Hamelin fan, I hoped that he would play well, but never well enough to take my job. Now, I'm hoping he stays there for 20 years." By then, the thinking went, Hamelin would have shattered all of Brett's records en route to the Hall of Fame and collectors would consider themselves lucky to own the slugger's first minor league card, which misspelled his name "Hamblin."
The Aftermath: Hamelin hit only 16 home runs over his next two years in Kansas City before being traded to Detroit. While playing with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in 1999, Hamelin walked back to the dugout after grounding out in the sixth inning of a midseason game, told his manager that he was retiring, and headed for the clubhouse. "I told them to put somebody else in and left," Hamelin told the Topeka Capital-Journal several years later. "Even if I was going to get called up at the end of the year, I wasn't looking forward to playing for the Tigers at all. They weren't very good that season." Currently, Hamelin serves as a scout for the Washington Nationals.
2. Todd Van Poppel
The Aftermath: While $3 doesn't sound like much by today's standards "“ most packs now cost at least that much "“ that turned out to be about $2.99 more than what anyone should have paid for a card bearing his image. Van Poppel started one game for the A's in 1991, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings. He missed all of 1992 with arm trouble and returned in 1993 to go 6-6 in 16 starts. He won a career-high seven games in 1994, but also lost 10 games and walked a league-high 89 batters. Van Poppel last pitched in the majors in 2004 and retired with a career record of 40-52 and a 5.54 ERA.
3. Bill Pulsipher
The Aftermath: Pulsipher's unusual major league career was derailed by arm and back injuries, as well as depression. Pulsipher pitched for seven teams in four different organizations from 2000 to 2001, and after being released by the Yankees in 2002, he took a job as the groundskeeper at the Mets' minor league complex in St. Lucie, Fla. Pulsipher fought his way back to the major leagues for a brief stint as a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005 before injuries ended his major league career. Since then, Pulsipher has pitched in various Mexican and independent leagues. He spent this past season with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League and hopes to return next year, potentially as a player/pitching coach.
4. Jerome Walton
The Aftermath: Walton's fall from grace didn't take long. He hit .263 in his sophomore season and .219 the year after that, losing his starting job. Walton eventually became a journeyman, playing for the Angels, Reds, Braves, and Orioles. Walton's last major league stop was in Tampa Bay, where he appeared in 12 games for the Devil Rays in 1998 before being optioned to Triple-A when Wade Boggs came off the disabled list.
5. Gregg Jefferies
The Aftermath: Jefferies wasn't horrible, but he wasn't a huge star, either. As the unanimous favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year in 1989, he was benched in late July and finished the year hitting .258 with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Of the value of Jefferies cards', Norm Cohen of Newsday wrote, "Don't expect Gregg Jefferies to start falling off as his batting average approaches his weight. Investors who have sunk a lot of money into his cards are hoping it's just the sophomore jinx having hit the phenom a season early." The pressure of playing in New York got to Jefferies, and after two more mediocre seasons during which time he fell out of favor with his teammates, the Mets traded him to the Royals for pitcher Bret Saberhagen. Jefferies would make two All-Star game appearances with the Cardinals and later played with the Phillies, Angels, and Tigers.
6. Brien Taylor
The Aftermath: In December 1993, while attempting to defend his younger brother, Taylor was involved in a fight and injured his shoulder. Taylor's agent, Scott Boras, told reporters that his client's shoulder was bruised, but the diagnosis was much more severe. Taylor had torn his labrum and required surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 1994 season. He returned to the Yankees' rookie league affiliate in 1995, but struggled to regain the velocity and form that had made him one of the game's top prospects only two years earlier. The Yankees released Taylor after the 1998 season, by which point it was clear he would never become the pitcher he was before his surgery.
Taylor appeared in five games for Cleveland's Single-A affiliate in 2000 before retiring, having never reached the majors. When Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News caught up with Taylor in 2006, he was living in his hometown on a street named after him, in the house that he had purchased for his parents.
7. Ben McDonald
The Aftermath: McDonald enjoyed more success than several players on this list, but never became the star that the Orioles had envisioned. McDonald signed with Milwaukee as a free agent after the 1995 season and played two years with the Brewers before shoulder problems ended his career. McDonald retired with a record of 78-70.
8. Ben Grieve
The Aftermath: Grieve followed up his solid rookie season with two more good years. In 2000, he hit 27 home runs and had 104 RBI, but the A's traded him to the Devil Rays before the 2001 season and he was never the same. Grieve hit 34 home runs in two-and-a-half seasons in Tampa Bay before moving on to Milwaukee and then Chicago. Jose Canseco would later write that Grieve could have benefited from using steroids: "He had a slow bat, slow feet and average ability"¦I could have taken Grieve and turned him into a stud." If only. Grieve appeared in 23 games for the Cubs in 2005 before disappearing from the major leagues for good.
9. Ricky Jordan
The Aftermath: Jordan's major league debut was probably the highlight of his otherwise mediocre career. He started 132 games for the Phillies in 1989, finishing with 12 homers and 75 RBI, but would settle into a role as a platoon player and pinch-hitter for the final six years of his career. Jordan missed all of the 1995 season with a shoulder injury and played 15 games with the Seattle Mariners in 1996 before leaving the major leagues for good. He finished his career with 55 home runs and a .281 average.
10. Alex Gordon
The Aftermath: While Gordon could eventually become a solid player, he hasn't lived up to the gaudy expectations that have followed him throughout his brief career. Gordon hit 31 home runs in his first two major league seasons and was expected to break out this year before undergoing hip surgery in April following a slow start. Gordon returned in August, but struggled mightily, and the Royals optioned him to Triple-A.