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:
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.
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.
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.