Have you ever sat down at a bar to watch a baseball game and you get into a conversation with the person closest to you about the teams playing? It’s one of the things that makes baseball great and the conversations usually lead to some names being brought up from the franchise’s past that you might have completely forgotten about otherwise. Even hardcore fans can’t keep up with every name that has been on their favorite franchise’s roster.
All of the greats from the past are fondly remembered, especially those that have been elected into the Hall of Fame. Those that only made a couple of All Star Games at the most, though, usually got lost in time. Today, we celebrate those players and give you some names to bring up the next time you’re watching a game over a beer or two.
These are players that started their careers more than a decade ago and no longer play in the league. None of them are in the Hall of Fame, none of them led the league in major statistics or had a moment that has been played over and over again in highlights for years. These are 15 MLB players you probably don’t remember (without this little reminder).
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15 Esteban Loaiza
There was actually a time where Esteban Loaiza was considered to be one of the best starting pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. After never posting a season where he had an ERA of under 4.13, Loaiza dazzled in his only full season with the White Sox in 2003 as he posted a record of 21-9 and an ERA of 2.90, making an All Star Game appearance. The next season, Loaiza would return to the ASG despite having a 9-5 record and 4.86 ERA with the White Sox.
He was traded to the Yankees in the middle of the season where he floundered and joined the Nationals the next season. He would put up a decent year (12-10, 3.77 ERA), but then basically disappeared after that. It was random that a 31 year old became one of the league’s best pitchers overnight and then suddenly vanished into obscurity less than two years later.
14 Jon Lieber
When you think of guys that were able to achieve the rare (by today’s standards) 20-win season as a pitcher, you typically think of players like Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez or Greg Maddux. Almost nobody brings up the fact that even Jon Lieber was a 20 game winner and it happened in this millennium. Lieber had come up with the Pirates, then became a Cub before the 1999 season.
Lieber was mediocre in his first two years as he put up records of 10-11 and 12-11, but in 2001 he had a mark of 20-6 with a 3.80 ERA, making his only All Star Game appearance. Lieber was limited the next year, and never found that type of success again as he played for the Yankees and Phillies for four total seasons, returning to Chicago in 2008 to end his career out of the bullpen, finishing with a career record of 131-124 and ERA of 4.27.
13 Richard Hidalgo
The Astros rosters of the late 1990s and early 2000s had a lot of memorable players that included the Killer B's of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Derek Bell. Perhaps Richard Hidalgo was glanced over since his last name started with an ‘H’, instead. Hidalgo played in more than 108 games for the first time in 2000 and had a breakout year with 44 home runs and 122 runs batted in, while also boasting a .314 batting average.
Hidalgo would be unable to match any of those numbers for the rest of his career, never again reaching 30 home runs or 90 runs batted in. Hidalgo still had some decent years in Houston, but was sent to the Mets in 2004. The next year, Hidalgo would play in his final MLB season with the Rangers, finishing with 171 career home runs and having one of the most overlooked seasons of the new millennium.
12 Xavier Nady
Padres fans couldn’t get enough of Xavier Nady when he played his first full season in 2003, mainly because he had a cool name. Nady wouldn’t breakout to become the star that the team was hoping for after being named the California League MVP and he wound up with the Mets and then Pirates in 2006. Nady would then find a new home once again with the Yankees in 2008, a season in which he combined to hit 25 home runs, 97 RBIs and had a batting average of .305.
At 29 years old, it looked like Nady finally hit his prime, but played in just seven games for the Yankees the next year thanks to an elbow injury. Nady was never the same as his numbers dropped sharply with the Cubs in 2010 and he would finally hang it up after the 2014 season. After the injury, Nady hit a combined 17 home runs and missed significant time, making us wonder what could have been.
11 Richie Sexson
In 2016, Mark Trumbo led the league in home runs with 47. Back in 2001, things were a bit different as that only would have been good enough for an eighth place tie with Rafael Palmeiro. Thanks to 73 home runs from Barry Bonds, 64 from Sammy Sosa and both Luis Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez going over the 50 mark, Richie Sexson was supremely overlooked. The lanky power hitter mashed 45 that year and would do it again in 2003.
Sexson spent his All Star years in Milwaukee, where it was easy to be overlooked in a small market, but would end up playing for the Diamondbacks and Mariners over the next few years. Sexson’s numbers would decline by the time he was finally able to make it to the big market of New York, where he played in just 22 games and hit one home run. Despite having 306 home runs, not many remember Sexson as one of the best power hitters for a brief time.
10 Jorge Cantu
Tampa Bay is known for developing a lot of young and exciting talent that either signs elsewhere or flames out before they can make it big. Jorge Cantu unfortunately fell into the latter category, as he burst out of the gate with 28 home runs and 117 RBIs in his first full season back in 2005. Cantu would struggle with injuries the next year, playing in just 107 games and hitting a paltry .249 at the plate.
Cantu was shipped to Cincinnati after becoming angry at management, before signing with the Marlins for the 2008 season. Cantu had a nice resurgence as he posted 195 RBIs and 45 home runs in his two full seasons, and then was traded to the Rangers in 2010. Cantu struggled and then signed with the Padres for 2011, but was cut after batting just .194 and hasn’t played an MLB game since. The former slugger now plays professional baseball in Tijuana and is still just 34 years old.
9 Morgan Ensberg
In 2005, the Houston Astros were able to reach their first World Series appearance in franchise history and a lot of it had to do with Morgan Ensberg, who mashed 36 home runs and 101 RBIs, posting a .283 average. Ensberg had shown flashes of being a solid power hitter in the previous two seasons, but nobody was expecting that kind of breakthrough. Sadly, that would be the last great season for his career.
Ensberg hit 23 home runs the next year, but was only batting .235. In 2007, Ensberg was traded to the Padres where he seemed to fade quickly into obscurity. Ensberg played in his final season in 2008 with the Yankees, batting just .203 with a lone home run. That would be his final season as attempted to make the Rays roster, but was released before spring training ended. Now, Ensberg is back with the Astros organization as a coach in the minor leagues.
8 Jon Garland
Esteban Loaiza isn’t the only White Sox pitcher that found success in the early 2000s, only to be forgotten about. Most of us remember Mark Buehrle out of that rotation, but Jon Garland had some solid seasons, as well. In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series over the Astros and it happened to be the only All Star selection for pitcher Jon Garland.
Garland posted a record of 18-10 with a 3.50 ERA, and followed it up with an 18-7 record the next year despite an ERA of a full run higher. Garland had been a little below average up until 2005 and then signed with the Angels in 2008 after fading back to normalcy a bit. Garland’s ERA would never be considered great again and he finished his career with a 136-125 record and 4.37 ERA.
7 Fernando Vina
Unless you’re a fan of a National League Central team, you probably forgot all about the pesky Fernando Vina. Vina spent his first two seasons with the Mariners and Mets, but finally got to play full-time in 1995 with the Brewers. Vina made one All Star Game in his five seasons in Milwaukee, batting .286. However, it was his .349 on-base percentage that got him attention thanks to getting hit by pitches over and over.
In his first season with the Cardinals in 2000, Vina would end up getting plunked 28 times and finished his career with 157 hit by pitches. Vina finished his career in 2004 with the Tigers at 35 years old, wrapping up a career of opposing fans groaning every time he took one for the team.
6 Ben Sheets
Ben Sheets was a nationally known name for a brief period of time after helping Team USA win the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Sheets made his anticipated MLB debut with Milwaukee the next year, making the All Star Game mostly on name recognition since he posted an 11-10 record with a 4.76 ERA. Sheets was still a highly touted player and had his best season in 2004 with a 2.70 ERA, again making the All Star game, though he only finished 12-14.
Sheets made two more All Star Games in 2007 and 2008, but missed the 2009 season due to injury. Upon his return, he was playing in Oakland and had a below average season and an injury shelved him once again, as people started to forget about him. Sheets returned for a final season in 2012 with Atlanta, but did not garner much attention.
5 Glenallen Hill
Those of you that have rooted for teams that had Glenallen Hill on the roster probably remember him as one of the greatest power hitters ever. However, Hill would finish his career with just 186 home runs, though they were pretty loud ones. To most casual baseball fans, though, Hill was a journeyman that had a propensity for striking out frequently.
Hill played for seven different teams in his 13 year MLB career, with five of those seasons coming with the Cubs where he blasted a home run onto the rooftops across the street from Wrigley Field. During his time there, Hill was overshadowed by slugger Sammy Sosa. Though he was never an All Star, Hill averaged 26 home runs, 82 RBIs and a .271 batting average over a 162 game span.
4 Jeffrey Hammonds
Just like Glenallen Hill, Jeffrey Hammonds would spend 13 seasons in the Major Leagues and had some pretty memorable home runs of his own. Hammonds would actually make one All Star Game in his career, though, as his 2000 campaign with the Rockies saw him hit 20 home runs and 106 RBIs, which included a batting average of .335. It turned out that it was a product of playing at Coors Field as he was never able to match those numbers again.
Hammonds finished out his career with the Brewers, then the Giants and Nationals, retiring in 2005. Hammonds would play in just 50 or more games one time in those final seasons, but his power and batting average had dropped tremendously. Hammonds finished with 110 career home runs and a batting average of .272.
3 Dave Nilsson
Dave Nilsson spent his entire eight year career with the Brewers in the 1990s and was basically a replacement level player for the first four seasons of his career. That changed in 1996 when Nilsson posted an impressive .331 batting average, which was 53 points higher than his previous career high. Nilsson came back down to earth over the next two seasons, but had another solid season in 1999 when he reached the All Star Game thanks to 21 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .309 batting average.
Nilsson was only 29 years old at the time and decided to leave the MLB so that he could play for Australia in the 2000 Summer Olympics against guys like Ben Sheets. Nilsson would never return to the MLB as he played around the world in countries like Japan and Italy. Nilsson is now working with the Australian MLB Academy as the head coach.
2 Shawn Estes
Shawn Estes made his Major League debut with the Giants in 1995, but would only start 14 games over the span of two seasons. The Giants then put him into the rotation in 1997 when he dazzled with a 19-5 record and 3.18 ERA. The All Star seemed like he was on his way to superstardom, but fell apart the next year with an ERA of over 5.0 and a 7-12 record.
Estes remained with the Giants for three more seasons afterwards, but was never able to recapture the magic from his first season. Estes was then traded to the Mets before the 2002 season, where his struggles led to him being dealt to the Reds. Estes bounced around the league (Cubs, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Padres) over the final few seasons of his career. He would finish with a 101-93 record and 4.71 ERA, turning what seemed to be a potential Hall of Fame career into a forgettable one.
1 Bobby Higginson
From 1995 to 2005, the Detroit Tigers weren’t able to post a single winning season as they finished with as few as 83 losses and as many as 119. For that reason, not many people at all were watching the Tigers, so they probably don’t remember seeing Bobby Higginson. Higginson played for the Tigers in all of those 11 seasons, never suiting up for another Major League team.
Higginson had some solid seasons, but was never selected for an All Star Game. Higginson’s best season came in 2000 when he posted a .300 average, 30 home runs and 102 runs batted in (those seem like All Star numbers to me). Tigers fans definitely remember Higginson, even though some of the younger fans in Detroit that didn’t suffer through the pre-2006 years probably have only heard the name a few times.
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