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Nothing Sadder Than a Star Struggling to Hang On

By Mike Silva ~ May 11th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, NY Baseball Memories.

Thirty nine years ago today Willie Mays was acquired by the Mets from the San Francisco Giants for Charlie Williams and $50,000.

The Mays trade anniversary, and watching Shaquille O’ Neal hobble around the court for the Celtics the other night, got me to thinking about stars that may have held on too long. If you were doing a ranking Mays would be the unanimous #1 with his performance during the 1973 season (.211 batting average and 6 homers).

If his current offensive production continues Jorge Posada may challenge Mays for that ranking as he is currently hitting .147 with 6 homers. Other fading stars, in no particular order, that spent their final days in a New York uniform that come to mind are:

David Cone - Mets and Yankees fans remember “Coney” for his big game pitching. Who can forget his 20-3 season in 1988, perfect game in ’99, or getting Mike Piazza to pop out in the World Series in 2000. Cone spent 2001 in Boston, and retired at the end of the season. After a one year hiatus he got the itch and tried one last comeback with the Mets in 2003. He pitched five shutout innings his first start against Montreal, but would give up 13 runs in his next 13 innings. Cone called it a career by June, and finished his final season with a 1-3 record, and 6.50 ERA.

Mo Vaughn- One of the most feared hitters in the American League during the nineties came to New York with bad knees. His numbers in 2002 weren’t terrible (.259/26/72), but his body couldn’t hold up and he played only 27 games in 2003 with a .190 batting average, 3 homers, and 15 RBI. It would be a while before he would officially retire as he was owed another $17 million in 2004.

Yogi Berra - the former Yankees All Star catcher managed the Yankees in 1964, but was fired after losing the World Series to the Cardinals. Spent 1965 as a player/coach with the Mets, and went 2 for 9 in four games. Unfortunately, Yogi was never the same, and never really lived up to his Hall of Fame name as a manager.

Lou Gehrig - It wasn’t his fault that he got sick, but Gehrig might be the saddest fading star in all sports, not just baseball, history. Went 4 for 33 with an RBI in 1939, and unfortunately passed away just two years later from what is now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Gil Hodges - The former Brooklyn Dodgers star still stirs up a heated debate about his Hall of Fame candidacy. He was arguably the best manager in Mets history, but his final season playing for the Mets in 1963 was forgettable (5 for 25).

There are other very good players like Kevin McReynolds in 1994(.256 with 4 homers), and Chris Chambliss with his one pinch hit at bat in 1988 that deserve honorable mention as well. Obviously, neither was on the level of a Gehrig, Berra, or Mays, but certainly played an important part in New York baseball history.

Finally, there are the greats that spent their career here, but fizzled elsewhere. Coming to mind are Babe Ruth (Boston Braves) and Duke Snider (San Francisco Giants).

What is even more ironic is how we debated on this site a couple of weeks ago how “done” Mickey Mantle was by the end of his career. The Mick’s .237 batting average, 18 homers, and 54 RBI in 1968 dwarfs the production of any of the aforementioned fading stars. I guess it goes to show you how good Mantle was even at his worst.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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15 Responses to Nothing Sadder Than a Star Struggling to Hang On

  1. donal

    Namath on the Rams

  2. Chris Silva

    Emmitt Smith - Arizona
    Jerry Rice - Seattle/Denver
    Al Leiter - Florida
    Roger Clemens - Yankees (2nd Time)
    Sammy Sosa - Baltimore & Texas (2nd Time)

    Just to name a few

  3. Michael Maggi

    Ken Griffey Jr.

  4. Mike Silva

    Clemens and Sosa weren’t terrible their final year, not great, but not terrible. Leiter you may have a case, but he was still serviceable in the playoffs out of the bullpen.

    Rice and Smith I would agree

  5. tnt1528

    rice was a bronco?? could swear he retired after seahawks season,if he stood he would have been in super bowl.

  6. Stu B

    Among the most pathetic I remember was Steve Carlton going 15-29 with a 5+ ERA in 1986-88 with the Phillies, Giants, White Sox, Indians, and Twins.

  7. RealityChuck

    That’s very unfair to Mays. He did not hang on too long — he wanted to retire after 1972, but the Mets offered him a lot of money for one more season and he’d have been a fool not to take it.

    Mays still was the team’s best center fielder, too. Mays had an OPS of 82; Don Hahn, the team’s regular, was a dismal 62. Mays 6 home runs sound low, but it put him fifth on the team and three of the four players in front of him had twice the plate appearances.

    Also, Mays slumped badly in the early part of the season, but after July 1 was hitting .245/.333/.400 — not great, but respectable. Hahn, OTOH, was .223/.286/.284. The team was better with Mays playing.

    But the fact was that the Mets had no one better to play center, and Willie as a team player came back for one more season as a favor to the management. He does not deserve to be ridiculed for his performance.

  8. Chris Silva

    Rice played his last season with Denver. Not much a season he made it through most of camp and preseason. Then retired because he wasnt going to get a spot on the team. Few other players come to mind

    Roberto Alomar - Mets/White Sox/D-Backs
    John Smoltz - Boston/Atlanta
    Keith Hernandez - Indians
    Gary Carter - SF/LA/Mon
    Trevor Hoffman - Brewers
    Jesse Orosco - SD/Yankees/Twins

  9. Bill

    I agree with realitychuck. Mays sticking around wasn’t his fault. The Mets were terrible and Mays, no matter how hobbled he was, was still a draw. Baseball has always been and always will be the entertainment business. Ripken, Favre, Mays and the like all had appeal well past their prime.
    The truly sad ones are the ones who can’t let it go and no one really wants them around…Sosa would fit in that group. Actually, many of the steroid era guys stuck around after the fans had soured on them and their bodies had paid the price for selling their souls. Many of them are still popular (Nomar), but some of them had to dragged away (Bonds, Sosa).
    To put icons like Gehrig, Ruth and Mantle with the steroid clowns is a disservice. The story doesn’t ring particularly true.

  10. tnt1528

    if you retire before you break camp ,then you’re an official member of team?…then kevin stocker and bret boone should be considered mets because they retired in spring training, and aaron heilman is a mariner then, because he went to seattle then was flipped to chicago.

  11. Stu B

    tnt1528, I don’t think any of that matters…

  12. tnt1528

    then jerry rice wasnt a bronco

  13. Buck

    Mays was the greatest ballplayer I ever seen and I started watching baseball in 1957. If Mays had played anywhere else but Candlestick he could have hit close to 800 home runs, my opinion! I remember when they opened that $hi!hole of a park, the wind would blow in from right and left field so bad it would bring a flyball that looked like it was going out and bring it back in to the infield the second basemen or shortstop would turn around and catch it like it was a popup. Sad place the fog was so bad they called games because you could not see the outfielders sometimes shortstop!The wind blew so hard you could get injured from a flying hotdog wrapper if it hit you in the face, and lets not forget the seagulls crapping all over the place it was like Pearl Harbor. I wish Willy could have played in a nice park like ATT. I finally got to meet Willy when I was 56 it only took me 49 years to get the oppertunity and it was well worth the wait. He signed two baseballs for me when I started going on about how much I loved him as kid growing up I still have those two balls sitting in my room and I look at them everyday along with the other pictures of him and the MICK together in NewYork. I loved the 50′s and 60′ as a kid growing up in the Bay Area. And I will always me a MAYS FAN.

  14. UncleMario

    Franco Harris - Seahawks
    Eric Lindros - Maple Leafs
    Darryl Dawkins - Pistons
    Frank Viola - Blue Jays

  15. Mike S.

    The 1968 Yanks (.214 team BA) were so bad that Mantle, criticized for hanging on too long, still led the team in HR (18) and his .237 was 23 points better than the team average. He was feared enough that he still drew 106 walks (second in the league) because pitchers would still rather pitch around the Mick to face the other weaklings in the Yanks’ lineup that year.

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