The Best Players that Never Were: Careers Destroyed by Injury
Written by Joseph Hubbs & Media by Ryan St. Hill
For the past couple of seasons, NBA fans have been deprived from enjoying the show of one its premier players, Derrick Rose. After being selected first overall in the 2008 NBA draft, Rose exploded into the NBA. Within three years of superb play, Rose averaged 20.9 points per game, 6.7 assists, and was named an MVP. Just when the Bulls looked like they were becoming the best team in the Eastern Conference, Rose tore his ACL in a first round playoff game against the 76ers. The recovery period kept Rose out of the entire 2012-2013 season, and the Bulls learned to play without Rose. Knowing that Rose would be back this season, the Bulls reorganized their roster around him, letting several key bench players walk away in free agency. Ten games deep in the season Rose is now injured again, a torn meniscus in the opposite knee. Several fans now wonder whether Rose will ever play a full season again. If he does, can he regain the elite status he once claimed? For the sake of the NBA and its fans, hopefully these injuries will not destroy the career of such a talented player. In light of these injuries, I thought it necessary to take a look at some of the best players that never were. These are my top 12 guys who could have had monstrous careers had injury not plagued them.
12. Ken Griffey Jr. (Outfielder, Seattle Mariners/Cincinnati Reds)
I know, this guy probably does not belong on this list, but I am including him because a couple injuries after joining the Reds slowed down a legendary career into just a Hall of Fame career. So please, forgive my pettiness. Between 2000 and 2004 Griffey ended three seasons with injury. All of these injuries decreased proved to decrease his bat speed and his power numbers suffered considerably. The worst of it came in 2004 when Griffey hyperextended leg, tearing his hamstring off of the bone. This bizarre injury and several more caused Griffey to miss 260 games in those four seasons. Griffey who hit 630 homeruns and drove in 1836 RBI’s over a 20 year career is still a for sure Hall of Fame inductee after he is eligible. I mean, the guy is sixth all time in homeruns, and if you throw out guys who were juiced, he ranks fourth, below guys like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. So unlike the rest of the guys on this list, he will still be immortalized in the realms of sports. It is just haunting to think about how good his numbers could have been had he not suffered so many injuries in his Cincinnati years.
11. Brandon Roy (Point Guard, Portland Trailblazers/Minnesota Timberwolves)
Brandon Roy is nowhere near the status of Griffey in the sports world, but let’s get more serious for a moment. Roy, like Rose, made his presence in the NBA known right away, and won rookie of the year honors in 2007 with 16.8 points and four assists per game. He was an all-star in all of his next three seasons, averaging over 20 points, five assists, and nearly five rebounds. The Blazers would soon notice diminishing stats from Roy after a torn meniscus of his right knee. Roy admittedly had had several knee problems throughout college due to a lack of cartilage in his knee, and it was finally catching up to him in the NBA. By the beginning of the 2010 season, Roy underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees, and he could never regain his quickness. Nagging knees and a season full of career lows for Roy ended with contemplations of retirement. Sure enough, the four year star called it quits before the beginning of the 2011 season. Since then he tried to make a comeback with the Timberwolves, but his knees still acted up. This time he decided to retire for good. If Roy had just been born with the right amount of cartilage in his knees, he would still be regarded with Chris Paul as a top point guard in the NBA.
10. Bob Sanders (Safety, Indianapolis Colts/San Diego Chargers)
Sanders,once dubbed “the Eraser” by Coach Tony Dungy for his ability to erase his teammate’s mistakes, is probably more known to NFL fans as “that really good safety who is always injured.” In eight NFL seasons, Sanders has only played in more than six games twice, and has never managed to play a full 16 games. A monstrous 2007 season after winning the Super Bowl with the Colts in the previous season gave us a taste at just how dominant Sanders could be on defense. During this one healthy season Sanders racked up 97 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions. Sadly, Sanders has not had a healthy season since then, and his career is now in limbo after injuring his knee while playing with the Chargers earlier this year. It’s sad because he is so talented, but I do not see anyone taking a risk on signing this often injured safety.
9. Nomar Garciaparra (Shortstop, Boston Red Sox)
From 1997-2000, in the late 90’s great era of shortstops, Garciaparra was a household name in baseball. Within that stretch the Red Sox slugger hit .337 with 113 homers and 420 RBI’s. A broken wrist in 2001 was an omen for endless injuries to come in the rest of his career. He missed all but 21 games that season, and would come back to have a couple more solid seasons with 100 plus RBI’s each year. Following a trade to the Chicago Cubs and a torn groin, Garciaparra’s career became a succession of injuries. Microfractures in his hand, a torn left calf, and a sprained knee are only some of the injuries that put him on the disabled list throughout the remainder of his career. After bouncing around a few teams and playing different positions, Garciaparra never appeared in more than 122 games in a season. His power numbers suffered considerably and he was never the same.
8. Mike Mamula (Defensive End/Linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles)
Mike Mamula came out of Boston College with a valuable track record and impressed all of the scouts at the 1995 NFL Combine. The Philadelphia Eagles were so taken on him that they traded their first round pick and two second round picks in order to take Mamula 7th overall. At defensive end, Mamula recorded a respectable eight sacks in 1996 to go along with 42 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. His career seemed to be panning out the way the Eagles had hoped, and then he tore a ligament and cartilage in his right knee, missing the entire 1998 season. Mamula had a bounce back 1999 campaign in which he recorded 8.5 more sacks and scored another touchdown, but once again in 2000 he suffered through injury. Because the former combine star was forced to retire due to injury after the 2000 season, we will never know if he could have lived up to the hype surrounding him during that 1995 draft day. Mamula admits that if the Eagles would have played him at linebacker rather than defensive end, things could have shaped differently and his career may have been longer. But we will never know.
7. Greg Oden (Center, Portland Trailblazers/Miami Heat)
Drafted first overall in the 2007 NBA draft over Kevin Durant, Oden was expected to propel the Blazers to a championship. However recurring knee injuries have kept Oden from amounting to anything in the NBA thus far. He missed the entire 2007-2008 season, and in his 2008 NBA debut he suffered a foot injury after only 13 minutes. In six seasons with the Blazers Oden only played in 82 games which ended with arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. They let him go and there was doubt that anyone would give him a chance to play again. This year the Miami Heat signed Oden to a one year contract, but he is still yet to play in a game. Obviously Portland’s front office has received plenty of scrutiny over the years for taking this bust over Kevin Durant, but you cannot deny the impact he on Ohio State in college. He had all the tools of becoming a dominant big man in the NBA, and there was no way Portland could have predicted his chronic knee problems.
6. Charlie Simmer (Forward, Los Angeles Kings)
Old school hockey fans remember Simmer as part of the famous “Triple Crown” line of the early 80’s Los Angeles Kings, alongside Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor. This forward line was just plain scary. Simmer scored a sensational 56 goals in the 1979-1980 season. In the following year he matched that mark, scoring 50 goals in 51 games, which is almost unheard of in hockey. Unfortunately, in a game against Toronto, Simmer broke his leg and had to be carted off the ice. He played several more seasons, bouncing around a few cities, but never regained his prowess as a scoring threat. No, Simmer would not have been another Gretzky, but without the setback he may have kept up the pace of 50 plus goals a season, and possibly gained a place among hockey’s greatest players.
5. Tracy McGrady (Forward/Guard, Orlando Magic/Houston Rockets)
For a period of time T-Mac was the best player in the game. Period. In back to back seasons with Orlando he led the league in scoring, including an unworldly 32.1 points per game in the 2002-2003 season. This guy was a lot of fun to watch and put fans in the stands everywhere he went. The seven time all-star’s move to Houston came with several distressing injuries however. He still managed to produce over 20 points per game when healthy, but in his last two seasons with Houston he was limited to only 41 games due to a plethora of injuries. After surgeries on his knee, shoulder, and time out because of back spasms, McGrady lost his explosiveness. The rest of his career he hopped around from team to team, but played limited minutes and never averaged more than 10 points per game. He last appeared last year at the end of the bench for San Antonio in the NBA Finals before retiring this summer.
4. Mark Prior (Pitcher, Chicago Cubs)
This is not the first pitcher the Cubs thought would become their franchise’s savior. Kerry Wood, who had a 20 strikeout game his rookie year also lost his dominance after ceaseless injuries. Prior burst into the majors for the Cubs in 2002 with a nasty repertoire of pitches that featured a slurve and a mid-nineties fastball. By his sophomore year he was already one of the most prevalent pitchers in the MLB, winning 18 games with 243 strikeouts, and an ERA under three. Starting in 2004, his problems began, an Achilles tendon issue sidelining him for the first two months of the season. Then in 2005, although he won 11 games, he missed one month after a comeback line drive to the mound fractured his elbow. Finally in the following season Prior complained about shoulder pains, and could not overcome the discomfort. The once dominant starter fell apart in the 2006 season going 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA before receiving his demotion to the minors. Prior has never played in the big leagues since.
3. Grant Hill (Guard/ Forward, Detroit Pistons/Orlando Magic)
Like McGrady, there was once a time when Hill was thought to be one of the best players in the NBA. In his first game ever, Hill scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out five assists and blocked three shots. As far as all-around play goes, Hill was comparable to LeBron James of today’s game. Playing six seasons for the Pistons, Hill averaged 22.8 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.2 steals. Upon leaving Detroit, his problems began. Subsequent to a trade, Hill only played four games in his first season with the Magic. From 2000 to 2007 Hill played sparingly, suffering through several ankle problems. With the Magic, Hill underwent five different ankle surgeries, nearly dying of a staph infection that resulted from them. Hill resurrected his career with the Phoenix Suns, but he had to reestablish himself as a role player.
2. Terrell Davis (Running Back, Denver Broncos)
Winning two Super Bowls and one MVP award, Davis was on the path to pass Barry Sanders and Walter Payton as the best running back the NFL had ever seen. A miraculous 1998 season in which Davis rushed for 2008 yards and 21 touchdowns put him in an elite club of guys to rush for 2000 yards in a single season. At that time only three other players had ever accomplished the task. Davis is also the only player to ever rush for 1000 postseason yards in a career lasting less than 12 seasons. However, his 1998 Super Bowl MVP year would be the last time Davis asserted his rushing authority. A string knee of injuries limited Davis to 17 games in his last three seasons. He simply could not play through the knee problems, and decided to retire in the 2002 preseason. A lot of people today do not remember T.D. but if it had not been for the brittle knees, he might have been the greatest rusher in the history of the NFL.
1. Bo Jackson (MLB/NFL)
Bo Jackson makes the top spot on the list because his injury destroyed two possibly immortal careers. Regarded as the greatest athlete of all time by ESPN, Jackson is the only player to ever be an All-Star in two major sports. Because he was a two sport athlete he never played a full season in either league, but he still managed to pull of stunning numbers. In four NFL seasons for the Los Angeles Raiders, Jackson rushed for 2782 yards and 16 touchdowns. Those same years with the Kansas City Royals, Jackson smashed 107 homeruns and drove in 304 runners. This included an All-Star 1989 season in which he hit 32 homeruns and brought in 105 RBI’s. He was feared in the backfield, and at no pitcher wanted to face him. A hip injury in a 1991 playoff game destroyed the best athlete known to man. The injury ended his NFL career and severely impaired his baseball skills. Jackson could not able to run anymore, was held to designated hitter duties, and only stole one base the rest of his career. Without full movement in his hips he also lost some of his power and never hit 20 homeruns in a season again. Baseball fans argue that had Jackson solely stuck with the MLB, he could have been an extraordinary member of Cooperstown.