Baseball’s 7 Biggest Busts: Phenoms to Flops

These players started with a bang, some got big signing bonuses, all quickly faded; and one even moved on to Charles Schwab

Rick Ankiel, a former St. Louis Cardinal phenom, after another exasperating performance in 2001. (Photo: AP) Rick Ankiel, a former St. Louis Cardinal phenom, after another exasperating performance in 2001. (Photo: AP)

Every spring, baseball fans have hopes that is the year their favorite baseball team can win the World Series (OK, maybe New York Mets fans don’t have that feeling right now). And with each new season the hype machine lets us know which youngsters are on their way to sure stardom.

Who will be the next Mickey Mantle? Who will fan batters like Sandy Koufax? Over the years, many have been hyped and more than a few have fallen short. But an even more select group includes players who burst on the scene with brilliant play and just as quickly fade to obscurity. 

Bo Belinsky might be the poster boy for the group based on his brilliant four starts for the California Angels and his flaming out amid playboy antics chasing famous actresses. Others, like Steve Blass, simply couldn’t throw a strike anymore, and one Yankee bombed out but landed at Charles Schwab. At least these seven athletes didn't burn through millions of dollars like those in AdvisorOne's Top 10 Worst Financial Meltdowns by Athletes.

Here then are AdvisorOne’s top phenom flops:

David Clyde pitching in Arlington, Texas in 1973. (Photo: AP)1. David Clyde: Too Much Too Soon

(David Clyde pitching in Arlington, Texas, in 1973.)

The Texas Rangers were looking for a way to excite their fans and boost attendance. They had their youth, er, man, in David Clyde, a high school pitcher from Kansas City, Kan. Signing Clyde to a contract that included the biggest bonus to that time ($125,000), the team set off Clyde-mania.

Alas, his on-field performance never matched the hype (the team averaged 27,000 fans per game in his starts vs. 6,000 in other games). His first season, 1974, he finished 3-9 with an ERA of 4.38. The next season he made one start before arm trouble sidelined him. Three seasons in the minors, a stint with the Cleveland Indians followed by a stop back with the Rangers was all that was left of his career. Clyde is retired from the lumber business.


 
Steve Blass pitching against the Cubs in 1971. (Photo: AP)2. Steve Blass: Sudden Wildness Ends Career

(Steve Blass pitching against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1971.)

His career was going great with 18 wins in 1968 and two World Series victories in 1971, helping the Pirates beat the Orioles. Then something happened that derailed his career: Blass couldn’t find the strike zone. His poor marksmanship got so bad the affliction was named Steve Blass Disease. In 1973, Blass went from being a feared pitcher to a bad joke.

Still as he tried to come back he was paid his major league salary, which was $60,000, according to People magazine. By 1975 he was out of baseball. He did manage a comeback of sorts when he joined the Pirates broadcast team in 1983, a job he still holds.


 
Rick Ankiel pitching in practice in 2005. (Photo: AP)3. Rick Ankiel: Steve Blass Disease Strikes Again

(Rick Ankiel trying to return to pitching form during practice in 2005.)

Rick Ankiel's career as big league pitcher got off to a great start. In his first full season in 2000, he struck out more than a batter an inning. His Cardinals made the playoffs and because of injuries he was asked to take the mound in Game 1 against the Atlanta Braves. After getting through the first two innings unscathed, the bottom fell out on Ankiel’s career on the mound. In the third, he allowed four runs, two hits, four walks and uncorked an astonishing five wild pitches. The Cardinals won anyway and Ankiel took the mound in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets. The craziness continued with Ankiel not making it out of the first inning. He threw 20 pitches, five of which sailed past the catcher. Ankiel never got past his wildness.

The story has an unusually happy ending for a phenom flop: Ankiel converted to the outfield in 2005 and finally returned to the Majors with the Cardinals in 2007, where he proved to be a good fielder and hitter. Financially, Ankiel did OK, starting at $200,000 per year in 1999, then earning $3.25 milliion with the Kansas City Royals in 2010 and raking in $1.5 million last season with the Washington Nationals.


 
Kevin Maas in 2009 exhibition game. (Photo: AP)4. Kevin Maas: Bronx Bomber to Bronx Goner

(Kevin Maas greeting Steve Finley at 2009 exhibition game in Cooperstown, N.Y.)

Kevin Maas was living a dream when he was the heir apparent to take over for New Yankees star Don Mattingly at first base in 1990. Getting his chance when Mattingly was injured, Maas started with a bang, setting records for needing the fewest at bats to get to 10 (72 at bats), 13 (110) and 15 (133) home runs. By the end of his rookie season he had 21 homers and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Fans were so thrilled that a group of young women, called the “Maas Tops,” would remove their shirts and jump up and down whenever the Hollywood-handsome slugger hit a homer. They were banned from Yankee Stadium and quickly enough the Maas magic was gone, too.

He hit 23 homers in 1991, but struck out at an alarming rate and was no longer a fulltime big leaguer by 1992. After bouncing around baseball in the U.S. and Japan (earning as much as $255,000 in 1993), Maas went to work as a financial consultant for Charles Schwab in California.


 
Bo Belinsky in 1962 before the fall. (Photo: AP)5. Bo Belinsky: Playboy Burns Out Quickly

(Bo Belinsky in 1962 before the fall.)

Imagine being a starting a pitcher for an second-year expansion team in the trendy Los Angeles of 1962. Then imagine winning your first three starts and capping the run in the fourth game by hurling a no-hitter to beat the Baltimore Orioles. Those four games were the zenith of the lefty’s career. He was written about in gossip columns, which described his playboy antics, including dating actresses like Tina Louise, Ann-Margaret and others. After his nanosecond in the spotlight, Belinsky drank and cavorted his way through the minor leagues. Big league salaries weren’t what they are today and Belinsky was paid $15,000 in 1964, the only year for which the financial data is available. Eventually, he became a born-again Christian and worked selling cars. Belinsky died in 2001.


Bill Pulsipher pitching for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series in Mexico in 2005. (Photo: AP)6-7. Generation K: Two-thirds of Mets Trio Strikes Out

(Bill Pulsipher pitching for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series in Mexico in 2005.)

The New York Mets thought they had hit the pitching trifecta in the mid-1990s with three pitchers who seemed destined for greatness. Alas, two of them were gigantic busts and the other didn't find his place as a closer until after he left the Mets.

The franchise gained a lot of press when Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen burst on the scene. All were hotshot pitchers and the trio ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Maybe the magazine’s rumored jinx was to blame for what happened next.

Pulsipher hit the majors in 1995 and threw more than 200 innings. Then he missed all of the next two seasons with an elbow injury. Despite several comeback attempts, he was never the same again, bouncing around the minors, battling depression and finally retiring after last season. Pulsipher’s career earnings were a shade over $600,000. This season, he’ll draw a paycheck as the pitching coach for the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the American Association.
  
Wilson's 1996 debut season was marred by injury and he never pitched for the Mets again. He became a serviceable pitcher for the Rays and Reds. In 2004, he posted his best season with a record of 1-6 in 29 games. Wilson made a decent living for his efforts though, earning a total of more than $13 million.

Isringhausen was the lone member of the trio to a become star, but it took some time. He came up to the big leagues in July 1995. He made a splash at 9-2 with an ERA of 2.82. Then multiple injuries caused him to struggle in 1996 and 1997. He missed all of 1998 after elbow surgery before being traded to Oakland. He quickly found his way to success as a closer, helping the A’s and St. Louis Cardinals with stellar seasons. He ended up back where he started, closing games for the Mets.

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