Baseball’s Randy Moss All-Stars

Last week Randy Moss—the talented and controversial wide receiver—retired from the NFL. When he made that announcement, my first thought was, which baseball players most resembled Moss?

Moss had a very interesting career in that he combined two features that rarely go together. First, he had a terrific career. Not only was he football’s best receiver in his prime, but he ended his days fifth in receiving yards all-time, eighth in receptions, and second only to Jerry Rice in touchdowns caught. That makes him historically great.

Yet, despite his terrific career, he was a terrific disappointment. There was always a sense he could’ve been so much more. Moss had an empty hole in the middle of his career that featured indifferent play. In 2009, he was a top wide receiver, but in 2010 two teams cut him and he did nothing for a third squad.

Worst of all, the general perception was that his problems were self-inflicted. It wasn’t necessarily inflated expectations or injuries that prevented Moss from living up to his hype, but Moss himself.

So what baseball players are like this? Who belongs on the Randy Moss All-Stars?

Some ground rules for figuring who belongs.

First, try to find guys with some impressive career value. A bunch of guys have great peaks without great career value, but Moss actually had tremendous career numbers, not just his historic peak.

Second, this isn’t supposed to be the best players who got injured. Injuries were never the problem for Moss. The injured players are often the biggest disappointments, but the primary focus is people whose problems are self-inflicted. That said, a person can be both a disappointment and sometimes injured.

Third, do the best you can. Sometimes there isn’t a great fit. Sometimes there might not be a good fit. You can only play the cards you’re dealt.

With that in mind, here are the Randy Moss All-Stars, guy with tremendous careers who seemed like tremendous letdowns.

Catcher: Jimmie Foxx

Wait, Foxx at catcher? He played first base. Yeah, but there are no great catching candidates, and Foxx did play over 100 games as a backstop early in his career.

Without question, Foxx had a terrific career: 534 homers with a .325 average sure looks nice. Yet strangely, his gaudy career numbers are a bit of a disappointment. At the end of 1940, Foxx had exactly 500 homers. To this day, Foxx is one of only two players to reach 500 homers by the end of his age-32 season. However, he only hit 34 more dingers.

Foxx turned into a pumpkin. Within three years, he went from being maybe the best player in the league to a man swatting eight homers in 100 games with a .226 average.

His decline wasn’t just one of those things, either. Foxx was an alcoholic, and that contributed to his decline.

Want an actual catcher? Maybe Thurman Munson. That’s a bit harsh, but he can’t blame his plane crash on anyone else. Or, by the same approach, Roy Campanella. But, if I want to avoid injuries, I probably should avoid guys with such serious issues.

There’s also Darrell Porter, who battled drug problems in his career, but I’m not sure his career can be called a disappointment. So we’ll put Foxx here.

First base: Hal Chase

There’s another reason I put Foxx at catcher—I already had Hal chase at first. Chase was a highly-regarded first baseman, especially well known for his defense. That isn’t why he was remembered, though.

He was the most corrupt ballplayer of them all, probably involved in the throwing of more ballgames than any other player in history. His career was a disappointment because he spent much of the time actively trying to lose games for money.

Second base: I dunno. Possibly no one. Maybe Roberto Alomar

This is the hardest position to find someone. Who do you got? Rogers Hornsby declined quickly and was widely regarded as a first class jerk, but nothing really combines those two points. Ryne Sandberg retired early then came back, but he was already past his prime by the first retirement. Jeff Kent had controversies but got the most out of his career.

Alomar was like Foxx in that he got old quick. He was one of the best players in the game in 2001, and lousy from 2002 onward. That’s probably just aging. It doesn’t work the same for everyone.

Then again, Alomar has been sued twice for exposing women to HIV via unprotected sex. Neither case has gone against him, and it’s not certain if he has HIV. And if he does, it’s still not clear that’s why he declined. But there’s no other good candidate at second.

For the Randy Moss All-Stars, though, it’s either Alomar or no one at second base; but possibly no one.

If nothing else, Alomar was certainly a terrific disappointment to the Mets when he joined their team in 2002.

image
Alomar near the end of the line

Shortstop: Garry Templeton

Bill James had an interesting bit on Templeton once. He remembered that when Templeton was the young star with the Cardinals, a reporter asked him what he planned to do from here to improve his game further. Templeton’s reply: He was just going to let it come to him. That raised a red flag for James. It was a little too passive. Rather than working for it, Templeton was just going to rely on pure talent.

Templeton never lived up to his early promise. Before his 24th birthday, he had two 200-hit seasons and three triples titles. After age 24, he never came close to that again. He was still good enough to last over 2,000 games and record over 2,000 hits and 100 triples, but he was still a major disappointment.

Third base: Dick Allen

In terms of popular perception, Allen might be closest to Moss. He had undeniably talent, and his career numbers were impressive enough to garner him some Hall of Fame support (despite the fact that his off-field reputation didn’t help him with the voters).

Maybe if Allen had been healthier, he’d be a better comp for Moss. Allen topped 130 games played only a half-dozen times. Otherwise, he probably would be in Cooperstown, reputation not withstanding.

Then there are the controversies Allen kept finding himself in the middle of. Recounting all of them and their counter-arguments would take a column or 20 just for that alone, and I have no interest getting caught up in the Dick Allen whirligig.

For now, we’ll just note that in his own autobiography Allen admitted he would drink before and during games with the Phillies in the late 1960s, and that he walked off the White Sox roster in late 1974. Clearly, at least some of his problems were self-inflicted.

Right field: Dave Parker

Parker is a borderline Hall of Famer who probably would’ve been a shoe-in had it not been for his mid-career meltdown. In the late 1970s, he looked like he could win the Triple Crown. From 1985-90, he made the All-Star Game three times. In between, Parker was a mediocrity.

Parker’s problems were two-fold. He lost a few years to cocaine, and his weight ballooned upwards. He didn’t improve until he’d gotten past his problems.

Center field: Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones is the biggest waste of talent of his generation.

Jones was good enough to make the majors as a teen and become a full-time starter at age 20. By age 23, he could do it all. At the plate, he bashed 36 homers with a .303 average while stealing 21 bases in 27 attempts. In the field, he was one of the best defensive center fielders of all time.

And that age-23 season was no fluke. At age 21, he belted 31 homers with a .271 average, recorded 27 steals in 31 attempts, and evidenced that tremendous defensive ability. You could be forgiven for thinking Jones was the next Willie Mays.

Nope. He put on some weight, lost a few steps, and became a one-dimensional slugger at the plate. And that all happened in his 20s. By age 30, he was a lousy glove who couldn’t hit and was already losing his power.

But he still has over 400 homers, and WAR gives him credit for almost 60 wins. Just think what he could’ve been.

image
Jones in happier times

Left field: Jose Canseco

At the end of Canseco’s career, Peter Gammons wrote that the three biggest waste of talents he’d ever seen were Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Jose Canseco.

Canseco won the Rookie of The Year award and an MVP, and he was baseball’s first 40-homer/40-steal player. And that was all prior to turning 27, when players are supposed to reach their prime. Canseco turned into an oft-injured, fairly one-dimensional slugger that teams didn’t want to keep for very long.

Normally an injury-riddled career wouldn’t make the list, but Canseco’s injures weren’t just random. He went all-out to get big muscles, most obviously by using steroids. Then he didn’t put nearly as much emphasis on stretching or conditioning as he should’ve, making the big man fragile.

Designated hitter: Hack Wilson

While there are few catchers and second basemen to pick from, there are an abundance of outfielders. Aside from Wilson and the three men slotted in the outfield, there’s banned Black Sox Joe Jackson, Strawberry, or chronic drinker Paul Waner. Heck, in Ball Four, Jim Bouton ponders how much better Mickey Mantle could’ve been if he hadn’t spent so much time carousing.

But Wilson wins the nod here. Waner was terrific into his mid-30s, and does anyone really think Mantle’s career was terrifically disappointing? As for Jackson, well, we’ll get to the Black Sox in a little bit. It’s between Wilson and Strawberry, and I want to vary the eras a bit more.

Wilson drank his way out of the game, though. In 1930, he famously tallied a still-record 191 RBIs in a season, largely thanks to his 56 homers on the year. He’d knock out only 51 more homers in his career. The man who led the league in homers four times in five years just hit a wall very suddenly at age 31.

His overall career counting stats aren’t as impressive as the others here, but he was sixth all-time in homers when his career ended.

Starting pitcher: Eddie Cicotte

There has to be at least one Black Sox on this team.

Cicotte took $10,000 for helping to throw the 1919 World Series, and for that baseball banned him for life. That might have cost him 300 wins for his career.

Though he was already in his mid-30s when banned and with only 209 career wins, Cicotte was a spitballer (shineball, technically) and those guys aged well. They put less stress on their arms, allowing spitters like Burleigh Grimes and Jack Quinn to pitch effectively for a long time. Besides, Cicotte was still in his prime when banned.

Maybe he wouldn’t have won 300 games. That’s the most likely scenario, but he could have.

Starting pitcher: Dwight Gooden

It’s hard to pick pitchers for this team. Most disappointing pitchers suffer injuries, and that’s just part of the job. Gooden is on here because he seemed so inhumanly good when he started. At age 19, he set a record for most strikeouts per nine innings. At age 20, he went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA.

How much of his future problems stemmed from arm wear and tear and how much from cocaine? Tim Raines, Keith Hernandez, and Paul Molitor used cocaine and did fine. But Gooden’s drug problems were more serious, including a suspension for the entire 1995 season.

Gooden’s production mostly declined due to overuse, but his entire career seemed like such a tremendous disappointment. Yet, he still won 194 games.

Starting pitcher: Bob Welch

Welch entered baseball as a promising young fireballer. Later, he won 27 games in a season. In between, he battled the bottle and looked like a journeyman pitcher for much of the 1980s. Despite seeming like a disappointment for much of his career, Welch still went 211-146 with a solid ERA.

Starting pitcher: Dennis Martinez

El Presidente is a superior version of Welch. Martinez came up a talented young pitcher, but he devolved into alcoholism. Martinez went 7-16 for the world champion 1983 Orioles, and in 1986 won three games all year long. Then Martinez recovered, and pitched long enough to pass Juan Marichal as the all-time winningest Latino pitcher.

Starting pitcher: Denny McLain

McLain doesn’t really belong, as his career numbers aren’t that great, and an arm injury largely derailed his career. But it wasn’t just an arm injury, and his other problems really stand out.

McLain won the Cy Young in 1968 and again in 1969, but he went 3-5 in 1970 despite no serious arm injuries. Instead, baseball repeatedly suspended him for misconduct for gambling and being a bookie. He also didn’t take care of his overall health, noting he drank a case of Pepsi a day.

Closer: John Rocker

No, Rocker doesn’t really belong. He doesn’t have much career value. Then, again, not many closers last that long. Guys frequently flame out pretty quickly in this position, so frequently that it’s hard to call the ones that last disappointments.

Also, the position as a whole is overrated, so it’s hard to find a long-lasting closer whose career seems like a serious disappointment. Seriously, try to think of one. Billy Wagner? That’s mostly for his postseason performances, but looking at his career numbers, it’s hard to call him a disappointment.

So let’s say Rocker. He had two great seasons and then gave that memorable interview with Sports Illustrated.

From a storyline perspective, it would be great if Rocker immediately collapsed under the backlash and pressure. And it was considerable: In his first game in Shea after the interview, the stadium had nearly 12 times as many police on duty as normal, and Rocker had to leave separately from the team after the game, trailed by numerous security vehicles. It’s enough pressure and backlash to affect someone.

But life doesn’t work according to storylines. After his SI interview, Rocker had his third consecutive high-quality season, and he did pretty well for the first half of the next season. Then the Braves traded him and he cratered.

Manager: Billy Southworth

He’s a Hall of Fame skipper who had to overcome himself to get there. He battled alcoholism throughout his career and near the end suffered a possible nervous breakdown. Southworth has one of the shortest managerial careers for a Hall of Fame skipper. It was long enough to get him in Cooperstown, but who knows how much more he could’ve done had he not battled his personal demons?

References & Resources
Info comes from Baseball-Reference.com. I used its Play Index to find the best players at each position and kept looking for the first disappointments I could find. I may have missed some, most notably at pitcher.

Also, I did do the lazy’s man research and check wikipedia for info on John Rocker’s fun.

Finally, I first asked the question, who is most similar to Moss at Baseball-Reference.com when he retired, and many of the answers came from people’s responses. That said, I think I would’ve come across them anyway by my Play Index checks.

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Comments

  1. White Sox Fan Brother said...

    There should be room on this list for Steve Howe.  Lord knows, baseball gave him enough chances to come back and be great.  Rookie of the Year in 1980, but his drug and alcohol problems kept him from playing for four years in the middle of his career.

    Even after he resurfaced with the Yankees, he was suspended – for life – in 1992.  He managed to successfully appeal the decision and pitch four more years, putting up a mighty impressive 258 ERA+ in 1994.

    What could have been if he had been able to stay clean?  As Frank Drebin once so famously said, “Angel drawers, you’ve got one last chance.  Not one of those Major-League-Baseball-Steve-Howe last chances.”

  2. David P. Stokes said...

    How about Ted Simmons at catcher?  He certainly has impressive hitting stats, but he was never really considered a top-flight catcher.  OTOH, maybe not having the defensive skills to handle such a demanding position isn’t exactly a self-inflicted problem.

    At second, maybe Lou Whittaker would fit.  He had a great career, but he was alway looked at as kind of an airhead who wasn’t getting the most out of his talent (though perhaps that perception was unfair).

  3. Paul G. said...

    I agree on Howe.  He was the first name that popped in my head.  The other reliever that might fit is Kyle Farnsworth, the guy with the electric fastball who has had a very up-and-down career.  You are right that it is hard to rate relievers for this sort of thing.  They rarely have big value unless they are very good.  You have to grade on a curve.

    At second base a better option may be Gregg Jefferies, the perpetual Minor League Player of the Year.  When he came up in 1988 for the Mets he was genuinely great.  The next three years he was pretty good at second and third base – he lead the NL in doubles in 1990 – but he did not live up to the hype.  This was grossly unfair, given that he was only 20-years-old in 1988 and was producing well for a young middle infielder.  Gregg proved not up to the pressure as he was immature even for his age, and the Mets fans matched it by treating him like a whiny bum.  Then he was traded for Saberhagen, which did not make him friends in KC.  He still went on to have a decent career including a couple of All-Star games but all-and-all was a disappointment.  He also got fat, which didn’t help.  The only issue is that he really did not have a position.  He was a minor league shortstop that the Mets put at second because they had Kevin Elster, and then jerked him around between second and third, you know just to make it harder on him, and he eventually drifted to left field and first base.

  4. Drew said...

    Jefferies had minimal value in all but one or two seasons, light counting stats, was always seen as both a malcontent AND a horrendous glove – what was disappointing about him besides the fact that he didn’t tear up the majors as he did the double-A pitching?

    He’s clearly more of a “first round bust” than a “terrific disappointment”.

  5. Chris J. said...

    Howe probably would be a good pick, a better one than Rocker.  I didn’t realize just how much of a career Howe actually had.

    As for Jefferies, I don’t think he had a good enough career to make this list.

    Eck – I considered him, but I already had two alcoholic pitchers from his period in contention, and Eck is a weird one.  As a starter, he isn’t as good as Welch or Martinez.  As a closer, he’s no kind of let down.

    eric errickson – that’s an interesting idea.  That might be an idea for a future column.

  6. Matt S. said...

    Randy Moss = Manny Ramirez

    Hall of Fame players that never gave their all (but their 75% was still better than almost everyone) and had a series of off the field (and on the field) antics that either got them in trouble or gave them a black eye in the public.

    Weird press conferences …
    Alienating teammates …

    The list goes on and on. How have none of you mentioned Manny?

    (Other than this glaring omission, this is a great story concept and good research!)

    Oh, and for the guy who says a hall of famer doesn’t belong on the list … that makes no sense. Moss is a hall of famer who could have been the best ever at his position. It’d be way more questionable about guys who AREN’T hall of fame players on this list.

  7. rudy york said...

    i might consider rudy york at catcher, and foxx at first base.

    both derailed themselves with serious alcohol issues.

    as far as hal chase goes, have you read the bio ‘the black prince of baseball’?  while i admire bill james greatly, and have since the eighties…he doesn’t have his facts straight on chase as far as chase’s biographers show…

    and, chase didn’t compile anywhere near enough career value to belong on this list.

  8. Mitch said...

    Not sure I agree with Manny’s inclusion. He may have been a similar nutcase, but I hardly think he was ever considered a disappointment. He was an offensive beast for a long time. Teammates tell of how dedicated a hitter he was, even if anecdotal. He never looked to me like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world besides the batter’s box.

    It will be interesting to see if Josh Hamilton will end up on a similar list in the future. He’s already 30 years old and after 2011 will have only had arguably 2 full seasons (even in his MVP 2010 year he played in only 133 games).

  9. rudy york said...

    as far as whether we can consider mickey mantle a disappointment?  isn’t that the point of the list?  he’s got great individual seasons, tremendous career stats…and according to most accounts cud have been so, so much more..

  10. Marc Schneider said...

    Despite what Bouton said, I think Mantle is more of a case of injuries than of booze.  According to Jane Leavey’s bio, Mantle tore his ACL in his rookie year and, due to the limited sports medicine technology of the day, basically played with it like the rest of his career.  That affected his hitting, especially as he got older.

    Would he have been better off if he didn’t party so much?  Possibly, although as Clete Boyer once said, how much better could he have been?  The boozing and women didn’t cause his injuries (although maybe the partying retarded his recovery)and he probably didn’t party any more than Babe Ruth.  I wouldn’t put him on this list.

  11. Dreas said...

    Glad to see Ellis Burks didn’t make the list, but he sure could have.  When he came up the talk wasn’t about when he was going to win the MVP, rather how many.  Injuries did slow the guy down, but he never really lived up to his potential.

  12. REA said...

    Fascinating list.

    Believe it or not, a friend and I were very recently tossing around a nearly identical concept for all sports. We phrased it as such: Other than Randy Moss, about what players can it be said that they both (a) were indisputable Hall of Fame-caliber players, and (b) under achieved for their career?

    We ruled out injuries, because that list would go on- Sandy Koufax, Gayle Sayers, Bill Walton, et al.It’s actually tough to come up with any; Moss is truly unique!

    The ones we arrived at are Manny Ramirez, Barry Sanders, and possibly Tracy McGrady (T-Mac’s HOF credentials are questionable). Bo Jackson (the football version) is worth considering. Another intriguing potential future member of the list: Tiger Woods.

    Any thoughts, anyone?

  13. Paul G. said...

    Jefferies is not a perfect choice for second base, though keep in mind that his career 17.5 WAR is the same as Steve Sax, who had the reputation as a good player.  Hal Chase (22.6 WAR) and Garry Templeton (25.2) are not exactly blowing him away here on career value either.

    I suspect that he’s in a sort of a gray area.  He had a decent career, but not a good one.  Even before he came up with the Mets, the team was hyping him for all he was worth to the point that anything besides a Joe Morgan like career was going to be a disappoinment, especially after his first season when he looked genuinely great, so he is a failed prospect.  But he did have legitimate talent at least with the bat, but got derailed by his own immaturity, a Mets organization that seemed dead set on getting him to fail in creative ways, a Mets fandom that outright hated him, and his issues with caloric intake.  But even after all that, he breaks through in 1993-94 and at age 26 finally looks like the big star that he had been hyped to be, but then just falls apart.  How many players hit the wall at age 27?  Maybe he’s the poor man’s Randy Moss. *shrug*

  14. James said...

    I don’t know if I agree with the argument that Andruw Jones was the biggest waste of talent of his generation.  It seems more likely that playing 150+ games a year at one of the most demanding positions in the game, and playing it better than anyone else who has ever played it might have contributed to his downfall more than being lazy.  He was still considered the best defensive center fielder in the game in 2007. 

    Just because someone isn’t as good as Willie Mays doesn’t mean that someone wasted his talent.

  15. Chris Waters said...

    I wish people would get off of Allen’s case a little, as when he came up, he hustled like heck but the City of Brotherly Love “fans” used to just brutalize him, calling him and his family just about anything and everything that any can ever imagine, and he really became a different persona. Some people consider Bobby Bonds in the same way, but he was really targeted as well. Great idea, though, and fun to read, Chris!
    Also, a lot of old-timers that had knee problems and such ( like Hornsby ) would probably have been most productive into their 40’s in this day and age.
    Suggestion that would fit the premise: Bret Saberhagen.
    P.S.: Warren Wells was better than Randy Moss.

  16. George Rownd said...

    How about Chuck Knoblauch at 2nd base?  Rookie of the year, 4 time all-star, won a gold glove, washed out at age 33. 41 WAR, good postseason record, had “issues” in New York City.

  17. Greg Magarian said...

    Three guys who I always think of as fitting this mold are Frank Tanana, Cesar Cedeno, and Fred Lynn.  They were all superstars early on, fell well below that level, but played and helped their teams for a long time.  They didn’t necessarily cause their own problems, but they were disappointments who nonetheless had long and valuable careers.

    For a closer, how about Dan Plesac?  He was lights out with the Brewers for four and a half years.  Then he melted down during a game with Seattle—I was there, I remember it. He was never really a closer after that; he got more than 70% of his career saves in those first five seasons.  Even so, he stuck around for another 13 years and had a solid career.

  18. Ebessan said...

    It depends on how much you want to discredit his slashes, and you absolutely should, but how about Dave Kingman at 1B over Prince Hal?

    Like, when you talk potential but ending up with a pretty enviable career regardless, I think that he counts.

  19. Ebessan said...

    “discredit him”, for his slashes.

    For closer, I’d also say Armando Benítez.

    If we want to get into the Foxx-tier of Hyperstar, (and weirdly I compared them yesterday on Poz’s blog, but whatever, ‘tis life), how about Eddie Mathews, and move Allen to 1B or DH?

  20. Kyle said...

    Carlos Baerga should have been put at second base.  At the age of 26, he basically didn’t care that much and was known for partying a lot. 

    At the age of 23 and 24 he hit well over .300, hit 20 plus homeruns, and drove in 105 and 114 runs.  Then the strike shortened season stopped him from having another 200 hit season plus 20 homeruns and 100 RBI.  The next season injuries slowed him some, but was a .313 hitter and 3 time all-star.

    Caminiti deserves some honorable mention at 3rd base.

    Nomar deserves one at shortstop considering he probably juiced up, and had one valuable, somewhat healthy season after the age of 29.

    Kevin Brown could be on here due to injuries and roid(and two seasons he arguably could have won the Cy Young.)  Rocker has no place on here when you think about Eric Gagne.  Look at his numbers from 2002 to 2004.  No closer has ever been that dominant over a 3 year period.  His ERA was 1.78, 152 saves, 247 innings, 365 k’s, .82 WHIP, and was an all-star every season and Cy Young Winner.  Plus he finished 12th, 6th and 11th in MVP voting those seasons.  Then he missed more than half of 2005, all of 2006, and steroids and injuries finished his career.

  21. Hank G said...

    I think Mickey Mantle’s career was a disappointment. Sure he had injuries, especially the one in the 1951 Series (I place the blame for that jointly on Joe DiMaggio and Casey Stengal), but Mantle himself admitted that he didn’t train as hard as he should have or work hard enough on his many rehabilitations.

    I defy anyone to claim that someone plays better walking around in an alcoholic daze than they would sober. I believe Mantle said that there was one whole season (1957?) that he couldn’t even remember and all he knew about it was what other people told him about it.

  22. pete c said...

    Interesting topic, and one for good discussion.  I don’t know how much more Moss could’ve done with his career. He played with average to below average QB’s, had one year with Brady and a year off a reconstructed knee, and in 2 years in Oakland(worst offense in NFL history) had a 1,000 yd/8 TD year.  So, last year was a mess, but outside of that, I’ll take 153 TD’s for any career.  He’s played 13 yrs with 2 maybe being disappointments, which everyone has at some point of their career.  Could’ve been so much better?!?! I don’t think so.

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