There is a reason baseball is referred to as “America’s Favorite Pastime.” Growing up, young men play little league baseball and dream of one day playing at the big league level. They have their role models from the big leagues, who they look up to and try to imitate when they take the field. As they get older, some see their dream fade away, but they still watch the game they grew up loving on TV, watching those players they admired as kids pass the torch to young and up-and-coming players.
Growing up, watching baseball through the 1990s and into the 2000s, there are many players that fans might have lost track of or forgotten about. These players could range from record holders to World Series heroes that helped bring their teams the ultimate prize every big league team strives for during the season. Some of them were touted as youngsters who would take the league by storm and were sure fire Hall Of Famers, but for some, injuries would derail that.
After doing some brainstorming and research on players that were household names during the 90s and early 2000s, but are not any longer, here is a list of the top fifteen you probably forgot about. Many of these names, you will recognize, while others will make you think “Oh! I remember that guy!” So here is the list. Enjoy!
15 Rich Garcés
During his career, Rich Garcés pitched for the Twins, Marlins, Cubs, and Red Sox, where he gained a lot of his popularity. During his ten year big league career, Garcés was 23-10 with a 3.74 earned run average and 296 strikeouts in 341 1/3 innings. In 2002, after showing weak arm strength and posting a 7.59 ERA in just twenty one innings, the Red Sox had no choice but to cut Garcés. He signed with the Rockies in 2003, but was cut before the season started.
He signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox in June 2005, only to be cut once again in October. After a strong showing in a Venezuelan Winter League, the Nashua Pride from the Can-Am Independent League signed Garcés. They took advantage of his popularity at the big league level and sold t-shirts that said “El Guapo,” his nickname, and even had a promotion of a Rich Garcés bobble-belly dolls during the time he was with the team.
14 Eric Gagne
If you were a Dodgers fan back in the 90s and early 2000s, this guy’s name will ring a bell. Eric Gagne was a pitcher for the Dodgers from 1999 to 2006. He was nearly unstoppable at one point with fans referring to him as Eric “Lights Out” Gagne because when he came into a game, the chances of the batters getting a hit were pretty slim. He even became the first relief pitcher in eleven years to win the Cy Young Award when he won it in 2003 after finishing the season with a 1.20 ERA, 55 saves and 137 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings pitched.
In 2005, the injury bug hit Gagne. He had to have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and missed a huge chunk of time. After being let go by the Dodgers, he tried to revive his career with the Rangers, Red Sox, Brewers, and even spent time with the Quebec Capitales in the Can-Am Independent League. In 2010, he rejoined the Dodgers in hopes of a comeback, but that didn’t go too well, it resulted in his retirement shortly after.
In 2013, he served as the pitching coach for Team France during the World Baseball Classic. Later that year, he was promoted to manager of the team, a position he still holds today. Earlier this year, Gagne was seen pitching in the Can-Am league again and
13 Kenny Lofton
Do you remember that speedy lead-off man for the Cleveland Indians? That man goes by the name of Kenny Lofton. He could do it all during his playing days. He made the All-Star team six times, won four gold gloves, and finished his career with 622 stolen bases. He played for 11 different teams during his career including three stints with the Indians.
So you might be asking “What is he doing these days since his career has ended?” He owns his own television production company, which is called Filmpool, Inc. In 2011, the Indians hired him as an outfield and base-running coach. Is there a better guy to coach both outfield and base-running than Kenny Lofton, who was known during his career for being excellent in both areas? Nowadays, he is a post-game analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
12 Kerry Wood
Remember all of the hype about Stephen Strasburg before he made his major league debut? Before Strasburg, Kerry Wood was the guy being hyped up. The hype seemed to be met in his fifth career start in the big leagues, when he struck out 20 players in a one hit shutout against the Astros. Many fans would say that was the single most dominant pitching performance in major league history. He won the Rookie of the Year award that season (1998) and earned the nickname “Kid K.” During his time with the Cubs after his rookie season, he did not sustain any type of eye popping numbers, but put up good numbers, while fighting off a couple injuries as well. During his career, he played with the Cubs, Indians, and Yankees before signing with the Cubs for his final season.
He made news last month for going off on umpire Joe West on Twitter after the official ejected Cubs manager Joe Maddon during a game.
Apart from that, Wood has mostly stayed out of the spotlight and still lives in the Chicago area.
11 Byung-Hyun Kim
If this name does not ring a bell, look up the 2001 World Series. Kim was the closer for the Diamondbacks at the time and blew two saves in games four and five of the World Series against the Yankees. He was tagged with the loss in game four and, luckily for him, the Diamondbacks took game five to extra innings before losing.
He can be forgiven, given the fact that the Diamondbacks fended off the Yankees in seven games. He played one more season with the D’Backs before they traded him to the Red Sox for Shea Hillenbrand during the 2003 season. In 2004, he was traded to the Rockies. In 2006, Kim was the pitcher that gave up Barry Bonds’ 715th career home run to pass Babe Ruth for second all-time on the home run list. Now, he is playing for the Kia Tigers in the KBO League in South Korea.
10 Luis Gonzalez
If you are a Diamondbacks fan, you remember the hit this guy had off of Mariano Rivera in Game Seven of the World Series in 2001 to bring the World Series trophy to Arizona. His career started in 1990 with the Houston Astros, but he is mostly known for his time with the Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2006.
In 2001, he gave Barry Bonds a run at the single season home run record before tapering off and finishing the season with 57. Bonds broke the record and hit 73. After the 2006 campaign, he played two more seasons before hanging up his spikes. Gonzalez had the honor of being the first player to have their number retired by the Diamondbacks in franchise history in 2010.
He currently is on the board with the Baseball Assistance Team, which is an organization that helps major league and minor league players that are facing difficult circumstances. He also has his own company, IsTalking, LLC, which creates social networking sites for colleges.
9 David Wells
If you are a Yankees fan, this name is probably very familiar to you. David Wells had a long career as a durable left-handed pitcher in the big leagues and he is known for his time with the Yankees and Blue Jays. In 1998, as a member of the Yankees, he threw the fifteenth perfect game in major league history with a 4-0 win over the Twins. During the following off-season, he was a key piece in the trade with the Blue Jays that brought Roger Clemens to the Bronx. He spent two seasons with the Blue Jays, going 17-10 in 1999 and 20-8 in 2000.
After his time with the Yankees and Jays, he spent time with the White Sox, Yankees (again), Padres, Red Sox, Padres (again), and Dodgers before hanging up his cleats. Nowadays, Wells serves as a commentator for TBS during the regular season and postseason. He is also the host of The Cheap Seats on the Fox Sports website.
8 Mark Prior
If you want to feel sorry for a player who had the potential to be a legend but was hit hard by the injury bug, Mark Prior is your guy. He pitched for the Cubs from 2002 to 2006, in which he was constantly injured and could not seem to stay healthy.
During his rookie year in 2003, Prior went 18-6 and paired with Kerry Wood (listed above) to form a pitching tandem Sports Illustrated dubbed “Chicago Heat.” Dusty Baker, the Cubs manager at the time, was criticized for letting Prior and Wood throw a crazy amount of pitches during their outings. There had to be some truth there because after the 2003 season, both pitchers had elbow problems and were never the same. Prior’s injury problems started in 2004 and continued through his final two seasons with the Cubs.
He has tried to make several attempts at a comeback, but to no avail. Currently, he works in the Padres’ front office.
7 Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez
When you think of players that have defected from Cuba to fulfill their dream of playing baseball in the big leagues, many names come to mind including those of Orlando and Livan Hernandez. Orlando, known as "El Duque," is first on this list, but Livan is coming. On Christmas day in 1997, he defected from Cuba with the hopes of playing in the big leagues. He signed with the Yankees and in his first three seasons in the big leagues, he was part of the Yankees team who won back to back to back World Series titles.
After two more seasons with the Yankees, he was traded to the Expos (now Nationals) who he never played for due to a rotator cuff injury that forced him to miss the 2003 season, before completely retiring in 2007.
He tried to make a comeback in 2010 and 2011 with the Rangers and Nationals, but it didn't work out. In 2014, El Duque rejoined the Yankees, this time as a minor league pitching instructor. It is a job he still holds today.
6 Mike Piazza
Whatever happened to everybody’s favorite catcher Mike Piazza? The guy made it cool to kneel down and catch a ball throughout a game, as he was aggressive at the plate both offensively and defensively setting himself up for a brilliant career. Mike’s accomplishments included a 2000 World Series appearance and a recent induction into the Baseball Hal of Fame, where he secured 83% of the vote.
Since he retired, Piazza has done it all from doing a bit of acting to even owning a soccer team. Yes, that’s right, Piazza is in fact the proud owner of the Italian team, A.C. Reggiana 1919.
Nowadays, as you can imagine, Piazza’s pretty busy managing all his new ventures including his recent induction in the MLB Hall of Fame as a Met. You can expect to see more of the former MLB player in the upcoming months.
5 Randy Johnson
If you ask any baseball fan who "The Big Unit” is, they will say Randy Johnson. He was a left-handed pitcher who intimidated hitters, not just by the pitches that he threw, but by his height, as he stood at 6'10".
rRandy made his debut with the Expos in 1988, but is more known for his time with the Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2004. During his career, he played with the Expos, Mariners, Astros, Diamondbacks, Yankees, Diamondbacks (again), and Giants before retiring after the 2009 season. He received several awards during his career, including being an All-Star ten times and winning the Cy Young award five times. In 2001, Johnson won the only World Series of his career.
Last year, the Diamondbacks retired his number (51) and he became the second player in franchise history to have his number retired by the team. Since retiring, Johnson has taken up an occupation in a field that he always had an interest in, photography. On top of that, in January of 2015, the Diamondbacks named him as the Special Assistant to the President and CEO of the organization.
4 Albert Belle
If you worked in the news during the time this guy played, you wanted to stay away from him. He was known for giving the media personnel attitude and would occasionally get physical with them with as well during various ridiculous outbursts of rage.
He wasn’t just an intimidating person off the field, but was an intimidating hitter at the plate. During his career, he hit an average of .295 and had 381 HRs to go along with 1,239 RBI. In 1996, the White Sox made Belle the highest paid player in the game with a ridiculous contract at the time.
Nowadays, the contract Belle got is kind of the norm. He officially retired in 2003 and has gotten into some legal trouble that included a DUI and stalking an ex-girlfriend with a GPS. Most recently, he was involved in an ugly custody battle over his daughter and had surgery on his hip. Currently, he lives in Arizona and is staying out of trouble…as far as we know.
3 Larry Walker
When you think of Canadian baseball, you cannot help but think of Larry Walker. Unlike many guys on this list, Walker only played for three teams (Expos, Rockies, Cardinals) during his career and gained most of his popularity during his time with the Rockies.
He was a five-time All Star, seven-time gold glover, three-time silver slugger, and three-time National League batting champion during his career. He was also named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1997 while with the Rockies. During that season, he hit .366 with 49 home runs, 130 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases.
He retired at the end of the 2005 season after the Cardinals lost to the Astros in six games in the NLCS. Walker worked for the Cardinals’ spring training staff while Tony LaRussa was the team’s manager. In 2009, Walker was Team Canada’s hitting coach during the World Baseball Classic and in 2011, he served as the hitting and first base coach for Team Canada, who won the Gold Medal at the Pan Am Games. He's continued to hang around the game, even appearing as a guest instructor for the Rockies during a few summers.
2 Vladimir Guerrero
If you want to know look at the most dangerous hitters in major league history, Vladimir Guerrero has to be somewhere on that list and it would probably be somewhere near the top. A pitcher was never safe pitching away from Guerrero because he could stretch out and launch the ball over the fence, even if the ball was in the dirt.
Vlad played for the Expos, Angels, Rangers, and Orioles during his career while hitting .318 and compiling 2,590 hits, 449 home runs, and driving in 1,496 runs. He signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays in 2012, but never made it back to the big leagues before being released in June of that year.
Vlad played in the Dominican Professional Baseball League later that year and, in 2013, he signed with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, but never played for the team. He retired in 2014 as a member of the Angels.
Nowadays, he is watching his son, Vladimir Jr., pursue a big league career. Junior is only 17, but was signed by the Blue Jays for $3.9 million. This past summer, he made his pro debut for the Blue Jays’ rookie league team and has been terrific there.
1 Manny Ramirez
With David Ortiz retiring this season, that made some of us think “whatever happened to Manny Ramirez?” The last time we saw him, he was fighting to stay in the big leagues, but let his antics ("Manny Being Manny") get in the way.
Ramirez played for the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox, and Rays during his big league career while hitting .312 and compiling 2,574 hits, 555 home runs, and batting in 1,831 runs.
He was a member of the 2004 Red Sox team that squashed the "Curse of the Bambino" and won the World Series for the first time in the franchises' 86 year drought. He was also named the MVP of that World Series.
In 2009, after receiving word that he was facing a 100 game suspension due to his second failed drug test, Ramirez chose to retire than be suspended. In September 2011, he applied for reinstatement and accepted a 50-game suspension. He attempted his comeback with the Athletics, Rangers, and Cubs, but never appeared in a major league game again. Nowadays, Ramirez acts as a hitting consultant for the Chicago Cubs, who recently made the World Series.