Baseball

MLB History: Star Players Derailed By Injuries

|
Image for MLB History: Star Players Derailed By Injuries

Recently, Dustin Pedroia announced his retirement from baseball. The former Red Sox star became the latest player in MLB history whose career was cut short by injuries. Pedroia won AL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and won AL MVP in 2008. He was a four-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champion, four-time Gold Glover, and won a Silver Slugger. Unfortunately, Pedroia began to suffer from knee problems in 2017 and was only able to play nine games over the next two seasons.

Pedroia’s career totals were very strong. He finished with 51.6 rWAR, a .299/.365/.439 (113 OPS+) batting line, 1,805 hits, 140 homers, 394 doubles, and 138 steals. Pedroia was Hall of Fame trajectory, but he will likely miss out on Cooperstown due to injuries. He is not alone though in this category.

MLB History: Injury-Shortened Careers

Nomar Garciaparra

Nomar Garciaparra was often overlooked because he played in the same division and the same era as Derek Jeter. “Nomah” was actually better than Jeter though, but the Red Sox didn’t win a championship until after Garciaparra was dealt. Nomar’s WAR7 of 43.1 is directly in line with the benchmark for Hall of Fame shortstops and it’s greater than Jeter’s mark of 42.4. Garciaparra won the 1997 AL Rookie of the Year and was a six-time All-Star, a two-time batting champion, and a Silver Slugger.

At the end of his time in Boston, Nomar had a .323/.370/.553 (133 OPS+) batting line with 178 homers, 279 doubles, 50 triples, 690 RBIs, and 41.2 rWAR. In 2004 though, he began to suffer from an Achilles injury and he was traded to the Cubs that summer. Garciaparra only played in 81 games in 2004 and never played a full season again. His injuries forced him to move to the corner infield positions, and while he was an All-Star in 2006 with the Dodgers, he was still a shell of his former self. Nomar was on pace to become one of the best shortstops in MLB history, but he fell short due to his nagging injuries. He signed a one-day contract with the Red Sox following the 2009 season and retired.

Grady Sizemore

For a brief period of time, Grady Sizemore was one of the most dynamic five-tool players in baseball. From 2005-2008, Sizemore hit .281/.372/.496 (128 OPS+) with 107 homers, 163 doubles, 115 steals, 325 RBIs, and 24.6 rWAR. He was a three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glover, and won a Silver Slugger while finishing in the top 15 of MVP voting three times. Sizemore even racked up a 30-30 season in 2008. Unfortunately, Sizemore never played in a full season again after the 2008 season.

After missing just nine games during that four-year stretch, Sizemore began to suffer from knee and back injuries and had to miss the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He came back to baseball in 2014 but retired following the 2015 season at the age of 32.

Brandon Webb

When Brandon Webb was healthy, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. The sinker-baller from 2003-2008 went 87-62 with a 3.24 ERA/3.48 FIP (143 ERA+), a 1.237 WHIP, and 1,063 strikeouts in 1,315.2 innings (7.6 K/9). Webb was a three-time All-Star and won the 2006 NL Cy Young Award. He finished second in Cy Young voting in 2007 and 2008.

In 2009 though, Webb began battling shoulder injuries and only pitched in four innings. He continued to be hampered by various other injuries and never pitched in the big leagues again. Webb is one of the more underrated pitchers in MLB history, but we may never know what he could’ve been if it wasn’t for the injuries.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his peak. From 2004-2008, he went 86-39 with a 2.82 ERA/3.21 FIP (157 ERA+), a 1.022 WHIP, and 1,189 strikeouts in 1,146.2 innings pitched (9.3 K/9). During that stretch, Santana won two Cy Young Awards and made three All-Star Games while leading his league in ERA three times. In 2006, Santana won the pitching Triple Crown.

In 2009, injuries started to pile up for Santana. He missed the last six weeks of the season after he had surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. In 2010, Santana received surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder, which forced him to miss the entirety of the 2011 season. Santana made a triumphant return to the mound in 2012 and threw the first no-hitter in Mets history that June. After throwing the no-hitter though, Santana was never the same, missing much of the rest of the season with ankle and back problems. In the spring of 2013, Santana tore his shoulder capsule again.

The Mets bought Santana out following the 2013 season and he signed a minor league contract with the Orioles. In June of 2014 though, Santana tore his Achilles and missed the rest of the season. Santana attempted to come back with the Blue Jays in 2015 but never made it back to the majors. He was poised to become one of the best pitchers in MLB history, but he was stopped short by his injuries.

Sandy Koufax

Most people who know my father know that Sandy Koufax was my father’s favorite player growing up. Koufax broke into the majors with the Dodgers in 1955 as a 19-year-old. He struggled with control issues for the first half of his career, but from 1961-1966, Koufax dominated baseball. During that stretch, he went 129-47 with a minuscule 2.19 ERA/2.16 FIP (156 ERA+), a 0.970 WHIP, and 1,713 strikeouts in 1,632.2 innings (9.4 K/9). Koufax was an All-Star every year during that time and won three Cy Young Awards. In 1963, Koufax won the NL MVP award. With arguably the best curveball in MLB history, Koufax won World Series MVP twice and helped the Dodgers win three rings.

Following the 1966 season though, Koufax unexpectedly retired at the age of 30 due to an arthritic condition in his elbow. Had Tommy John Surgery existed back then, Koufax could have continued his career. Despite playing just 12 seasons, Koufax was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972. He is remembered as one of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history.

Troy Tulowitzki

The Rockies selected Troy Tulowitzki with the seventh overall pick in the 2005 MLB draft, and he debuted in the majors just a year later. “Tulo” finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 and became known not just for his bat, but for his fantastic glove. Though he only won two Gold Gloves, Tulo would rack 99 DRS at shortstop including a whopping 31 DRS in 2007. He was a five-time All-Star and won two Silver Sluggers too. In 2010, Tulo embarked on a stretch from September 3-18 in which he hit 14 homers. Following the 2010 season, the Rockies locked him up on a six-year, $120 million contract extension.

While Tulo was consistently one of the best shortstops in baseball, he was injured almost every season. In 2012, he played in only 47 games due to a groin injury that required surgery. In 2013, Tulo missed almost a month of action after suffering a fractured rib. In 2014, Tulo was having the best season of his career when he suffered a season-ending hip injury in July. At the time of his injury, Tulo was hitting .340/.432/.603 (190 OPS+) with 21 homers, 18 doubles, and 52 RBIs. Despite playing in just 91 games, Tulo put up a whopping 5.8 rWAR, which would have placed him firmly in MVP conversations if he had played a full season.

Tulowitzki was an All-Star in 2015, but the Rockies traded him to the Blue Jays that summer as part of a blockbuster deal. The Blue Jays would rally after the trade, going 43-18 over the last two months of the season and snapping their 22-year playoff drought, but Tulo was hardly a contributor. He hit just .239 after getting traded and that September, he collided with teammate Kevin Pillar and suffered a cracked shoulder blade. While Tulo’s glove was still strong, his offense was never the same and he continued to battle injuries. In 2017, Tulowitzki played in just 66 games because of hamstring and ankle problems. In Spring Training of 2018, Tulo underwent season-ending surgery because of a bone spur in his right ankle.

The Blue Jays released Tulowitzki following the 2018 season, and he would sign a contract with the Yankees for the 2019 season. Just five games into the season, Tulo would suffer calf strain, and he would announce his retirement that summer. Tulowitzki was on track to become one of the greatest shortstops in MLB history, but instead, he will be remembered as one of the more injury-players in the sport.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. is one the best players in MLB history, but his career could have been even better had it not been for what happened to him in the latter half. For the first 12 years of his career, Junior was almost unstoppable. He made 11 All-Star Games and won 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and the 1997 AL MVP Award. He hit .296/.380/.568 (148 OPS+) with 438 homers, 342 doubles, 173 steals, 1,270 RBIs, and 76.2 rWAR. Before the 2000 season, Junior was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

While he was able to produce in 2000, Junior would never replicate his Seattle numbers again. The injury bug bit him hard, and he would miss over half his team’s games from 2002-2004. In 2004, Junior suffered an injury in which his hamstring was completely torn off its bone. While he would come back strong and win NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, Junior would undergo arthroscopic knee surgery towards the end of the season. He would make one last All-Star Game in 2007 and be traded to the White Sox in the middle of the 2008 season.

Junior would return to Seattle for the 2009 and 2010 seasons but he was not very productive. He unexpectedly retired in the middle of the 2010 season following a loss to the Twins and amid rumors that he was napping during games. Regardless, Junior was inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first in 2017, receiving votes from all but three writers. His remarkable numbers could have been even better, but the injury bug got the best of him.

David Wright

David Wright was to me what Sandy Koufax was to my dad. Wright was beloved by baseball fans, but especially Mets fans. He was consistently one of the best third basemen in baseball during his prime. He had a 30-30 season in 2007 and was a seven-time All-Star. Following the 2012 season, the Mets signed Wright to a franchise-record contract extension of seven years and $138 million.

In 2013 though, Wright would miss time because of a hamstring injury. His performance would decline in 2014 as he battled a shoulder injury. In 2015, Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition that would hamper him for the rest of his career. In 2016, Wright missed a majority of the season due to a herniated disc in his neck. While rehabbing from his neck injury, Wright suffered a shoulder injury that would cause him to miss the entire 2017 season. He would continue to suffer setbacks in the 2018 season and was forced to retire at the end of the year. Wright is the Mets’ franchise leader in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, RBIs, position player WAR, walks, runs scored, and total bases.

Tony Conigliaro

Tony Conigliaro suffered one of the most horrifying injuries in MLB history. He was a promising young outfielder for the Red Sox and he made the All-Star Game as a 22-year-old in 1967. During that season, however, Conigliaro was struck in the cheekbone with a pitch by Jack Hamilton. Conigliaro suffered a fractured cheekbone, a dislocated jaw, and his eyesight was permanently damaged. He would return and have two more strong seasons in 1969 and 1970, but his vision damage forced him to retire in 1975 at the age of 30.

Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood had an electric arm and despite his control problems, he experienced success. Wood pitched arguably the greatest game in MLB history where he struck out 20 batters and allowed just one hit on May 6, 1998. That year, he won NL Rookie of the Year.

In Spring Training of 1999 though, Wood was diagnosed with a torn UCL and had to undergo Tommy John Surgery. In 2003, Wood was an All-Star and led MLB in strikeouts with 266 and led the Cubs to an NL Central crown. From 2004-2007 though, Wood suffered a succession of injuries that caused him to miss significant time. While he would return to the All-Star Game as a closer in 2008, Wood never quite lived up to expectations. He retired in the middle of the 2012 season.

Mark Prior

It’s impossible to mention Kerry Wood without talking about his teammate Mark Prior. He drafted second overall in the 2001 MLB Draft and made the majors in 2002. After finishing seventh in Rookie of the Year voting in 2002, Prior broke out with a monstrous 2003 season. That year, he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA/2.47 FIP (179 ERA+), a 1.103 WHIP, and 245 strikeouts in 211.1 innings (10.4 K/9). Prior was an All-Star and finished third in Cy Young voting and ninth in MVP voting.

The rest of Prior’s career was marred by injuries. In 2004, he missed the first two months of the season because of an Achilles in injury. In 2005, Prior missed the first two weeks of the season with an elbow problem and then was struck by a line drive, causing him to miss another month. Prior was productive in 2005 when he was healthy, but it all came crashing down in 2006. He suffered a series of shoulder injuries that caused him to miss time and his velocity dropped significantly. As a result, Prior’s ERA skyrocketed to 7.22.

Prior would attempt to come back for many different teams in the following seasons. Each stint either ended with him getting injured or getting released because there was no room for him on the MLB roster. Prior retired following the 2013 season when he was 33 years old. Wood and Prior were expected to become one of the most dominant pitching duos in MLB history, but injuries cut the dream short.

MLB History: Closing Thoughts

Throughout MLB history, there have been a ton of players who have seen their careers get cut short due to injuries. Some players can play long enough where they still make the Hall of Fame, while many have their Cooperstown aspirations brought down.

Follow me on Twitter at @Mathias_A_K for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram –  @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!

Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports! 

Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

Share this article

Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.