Baseball players are some of the most well-paid and adored athletes in all of North American sports, yet even that’s no guarantee that they won’t fall upon hard times after they retire, be it for financial or legal reasons.
Many of the athletes on this list hit rock bottom as a result of drugs or alcohol, while the rest either made poor financial decisions, couldn’t stay out of jail, or a combination of the two. Luckily a number of these former ballplayers have since rebounded and turned their lives around after hitting rock bottom, but, unfortunately, many have not, and still others continue to find new depths to sink to.
Given that the 2016 MLB Draft took place not that long ago, introducing a whole new crop of potential future big leaguers, this list should serve as warning for those players on how not behave. While sudden fame and wealth can seem like a good thing, it has the potential to ruin an athlete’s life if he’s not smart about it.
Here are the top 15 MLB players who hit rock bottom after retiring. Among them are all-stars, record holders, and even a Hall of Famer, but in the end they’re all just guys who made poor decisions.
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15 Lenny Dykstra
Lenny Dykstra’s post-career woes have been well documented in the media. A former World Series Champ with the New York Mets and three-time all-star, his life after baseball has been one long downward slide. He tried his hand in business, managing a stock portfolio and running a number of companies, but by 2009 reports began to suggest that his financial investments were tanking. After an article in GQ alleged that Dykstra had failed to make rental payments, was committing credit card fraud, and was involved in lawsuits, the former Silver Slugger finally filed for bankruptcy in July 2009, with less than $50,000 to his name despite having a net worth of some $58 million just the year before.
To make matters worse, in 2012 Dykstra pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, and money laundering, which landed him a 6 ½ month prison sentence. Believe it or not, that wasn’t even his rock bottom—that came when he was involved in a beating while behind bars, which resulted in him losing all of his teeth.
14 Jose Canseco
It’s easy to forget that Jose Canseco—who played for the Athletics, the Rangers, the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, the Devil Rays, the Yankees, and the White Sox during his seventeen seasons in the big leagues—swatted 462 home runs and won the American League MVP in a season that saw him hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases, because what he did on the field has been largely overshadowed by what he’s done off of it. Forever destined to be the face of the “steroid era” in the MLB, Canseco, a former six-time all-star and four-time Silver Slugger, admitted to using and administering performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career. He claimed to have injected players such as Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, and Rafael Palmeiro, in the process essentially tarnishing their reputations.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Cuban born baseball star has also had his fair share of legal issues. He was sentenced to two years of house arrest and three years of probation after failing to make a custody battle court appearance. Just a few months later he was arrested for breaking the rules of his probation by testing positive for steroids. Canseco also had to file for bankruptcy in 2012, at which point it was discovered that he had just $21,000 in assets compared to nearly $2 million in liabilities.
13 Rollie Fingers
Former Oakland Athletic great Rollie fingers was known just as much for his ability to close out games as he was for his handlebar mustache. With 341 career saves, Fingers is considered by many to be the first modern day closer. His best year came in 1981, when he won the Cy Young Award, the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award, and the American League MVP Award.
He may be one of the most accomplished pitchers in baseball history, but he certainly didn’t win any awards off the field for his financial decisions. In 2007, Sports Illustrated reported that Fingers owed over $1.4 million in taxes dating back to 1981, enough to make him the seventh biggest tax delinquent in the state of Wisconsin. Despite having earned almost $6 million in his time in the majors, Fingers was reportedly broke by the age of 42, just four years removed from the league. He blamed the quick money loss on divorces and bad investments.
12 Jack Clark
Jack "The Ripper" Clark is perhaps one of the most underrated baseball players in the history of the MLB. Named to four all-star teams, Clark, who is best remembered for his time with the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, quietly hit 340 home runs in an 18-year career. A consistent hitter, he hit over 30 home runs only once, yet regularly put up 20+ homer seasons. He also led the league in walks three times, with a career best 136 in 1987 (remember, this was well before the “moneyball” era), which left him with a league best .459 on-base percentage (compared to a .289 batting average).
Unfortunately, Clark’s numbers off the field weren’t as great. Due to expensive tastes—particularly luxury cars, such as a $700k Ferrarri—he was forced to declare bankruptcy and give up his $2.4 million house by 1992, the very year he retired (not a good way to start your retirement).
11 Chuck Knoblauch
A career .289 hitter with a .378 on-base percentage, Chuck Knoblauch, who played for the Twins, the Yankees, and the Kansas City Royals over 12 seasons, was one of the better all-around second basemen in the game in the 1990s. He helped lead the Bronx Bombers to four World Series championships, including a 114-win season in 1998. His career was brought to a premature end, however, when his offensive numbers began to quickly decline and he developed a serious case of the yips on defense, often unable to make even the most routine throws from second base.
Knoblauch’s on-field yips carried over into a case of off-field yips, as he was arrested multiple times after his career ended. The first arrest came in 2009 when he was charged with a third-degree felony for allegedly choking and hitting his wife. He was charged with domestic assault yet again in 2014, this time with a different wife, prompting the Minnesota Twins to cancel their planned induction of the former all-star second basemen into their Hall of Fame.
10 Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling was one part of perhaps the most dominant pitching duo in baseball history. He and Randy Johnson combined for 43 wins and 665 strikeouts in 2001, and followed it up with 47 wins and 650 strikeouts in 2002. Thanks in part to “The Big Unit,” Schilling never won a Cy Young Award, but he did finish second three times and made six all-star teams, all on the way to winning three World Series.
Well known for his pitching abilities and his humanitarian efforts, Schilling also had his troubles both on and off the field. He claimed to have lost $50 million on 38 Studios, a gaming company that he founded shortly after retiring. He was apparently also hated by teammates in his playing days, with one reporter saying that the former Diamondback pitcher regularly ate alone. Schilling hasn’t made any friends in the game after retiring, either, getting fired by ESPN after he made anti-transgender comments on Facebook.
9 Otis Nixon
Former MLB journeyman Otis Nixon has the bittersweet distinction of having the most career stolen bases for a player who never made an all-star team. Nixon swiped 620 bags in his career, although he never led the league in stolen bases (he did lead in caught stealing in 1995). The definition of a light-hitting outfielder, he hit only 11 home runs in 5,800 career plate appearances.
Things went downhill for Nixon, who famously was the last out for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, after he retired. He appeared on a talk radio show in 2010 to discuss his past struggles with drugs and alcohol, claiming to have overcome his addictions, yet in 2013 he was arrested when, after being pulled over by the police, he was discovered to be carrying a crack rock and a pipe. He was arrested again that year after his house caught on fire following a dispute with a neighbor.
8 Pete Rose
Pete Rose, who has the second most career hits in professional baseball history (that’s right, we’re putting Ichiro ahead of him), hit rock bottom in more ways than one after he left the game. Most famous, of course, is his permanent ban from Major League Baseball, which was enacted just three years after "The Hit Queen" retired as a player, after it was discovered that he had been betting on games—even his own games (although he claimed to have never bet against the Reds).
The trouble didn’t end there for Charlie Hustle. In 1990, he pled guilty to income tax evasion and was sentenced to five months in a medium security prison. In a twist of bitter irony, the prison was located in Marion, Illinois, the hometown of Ray Fosse, who Rose crashed into at home plate during the 1970 All-Star game, effectively ruining Fosse’s career.
In recent years, Rose has served as a windbag—I mean analyst—for Fox Sports, regularly making controversial comments, such as the time he criticized Josh Donaldson for exiting a game early after a nasty collision at second base. Rose essentially called out the AL MVP for not being tough enough, and further said, “I got light-headed how many times in my career. I still went out there and played.” I guess that explains why he is the way he is.
7 Matt Bush
Matt Bush’s long and arduous road to the majors has been well documented this year, as he made his debut in May with the Texas Rangers at the age of 30. This is Bush’s second stint in professional baseball. A former first overall draft pick out of high school in 2004, Bush, who was a position player at the time, played in the Padres farm system until being released in 2009 following an incident at a high school parking lot wherein he beat up two high school lacrosse students while yelling, “I’m Matt f***ing Bush!” He then played in the Blue Jays minor league organization but was quickly released after throwing a baseball at a woman’s head at a party in Dunedin, Florida. His troubles followed him to Tampa Bay, where he was again released after running over a 72-year-old man while driving drunk, which resulted in a four-year prison sentence.
Now a relief pitcher, Bush has been given a second chance by the Rangers, and he’s making the most of it, sporting a 2.59 ERA in 25 appearances.
6 Milton Bradley
Milton Bradley’s off-field troubles should come as no surprise, given his on-field behavior. A talented athlete no doubt, described as a rare five-tool player, Bradley’s 12-year career was hampered by attitude problems and frequent blowups, which often led to entertaining ejections, such as the time he threw a ball bag on the field after being thrown out from a game in Los Angeles for arguing balls and strikes with umpire Terry Craft. His explosive temper didn’t win over hometown fans, however. Who can forget the time a Dodgers fan threw a bottle at Bradley, only to have the switch-hitting outfielder pick the bottle up and throw it back?
His temper followed him off the field after he retired, and he’s been arrested on several occasions. The most recent, and heinous, charge against him came on June 2013, when he was convicted for attacking his wife, who later died in hospital. Sentenced to 32 months in prison and a year’s worth of domestic violence and anger management classes, Bradley has yet to see any jail time due to ongoing appeals.
5 Darryl Strawberry
One of the best power hitters in the game in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Darryl Strawberry hit 335 career home runs, with most of them coming before the age of 30. A former Rookie of the Year, two-time Silver Slugger, eight-time all-star, and four-time World Series champ, Straw struck fear into the hearts of pitchers with his ability to send the ball out of the park (almost literally in Olympic Stadium) at any given moment.
Unfortunately we will never know what the LA native could have accomplished had he remained clean throughout his career, as a drug problem threatened to put an early end to his playing days. After several subpar and incomplete years in the league, wherein he failed to hit more than five home runs in a season, he rebounded with the Yankees and hit 24 homers in just over 100 games in 1998. However, things went downhill again for him after he retired, as he had frequent run-ins with the law as a result of his drug problems. Thankfully, Strawberry appears to have turned his life around and is now an ordained Christian minister, which he says is his true calling.
4 Willie Aikens
Named after the greatest centerfielder of all-time, Willie Mays Aikens was a pretty good baseball player in his own right. A power hitting first baseman, he hit 110 home runs in his short career of just five full seasons.
Arrested in 1983 for attempting to purchase cocaine, Aikens was sentenced to three months in prison along with three other Kansas City Royals teammates, including former Cy Young Award winner Vida Blue. But that was nothing compared to the prison sentence he would be handed in 1994. A serious cocaine user by the early ‘90s, Aikens was arrested on March 2 1994 on four charges of crack cocaine distribution following a lengthy undercover operation conducted by the Kanas City police. He received a stiff prison sentence of over 20 years, which he served at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta until his release in 2008.
After serving as a public speaker, talking to students and current Royals players about his struggles with drugs, Aikens was named a minor league coach in the Kansas City organization.
3 Brien Taylor
Unless you’re an avid baseball fan, chances are you don’t know who Brien Taylor is. Despite being a first overall draft pick in 1991, equipped with a triple-digit fastball, Taylor never played a game in the big leagues. He bounced around the lower rungs of the Yankees and Indians minor league systems, compiling a career record of 22-30 with an abysmal strikeout to walks ratio, before finally being let go, making him one of only two players in MLB history to be drafted first overall and not make it to the big leagues.
Taylor’s troubles began when he was still a player, effectively sabotaging his own career by injuring his throwing arm in a fight. But that was nothing compared to what would happen to him after he left baseball. Forced to take on regular jobs, such as that of a beer distributor and UPS package handler, Taylor was charged with misdemeanor child abuse in 2005 for leaving four of his young children on their own for an extended period of time. He was arrested again in 2012, this time on the far more serious crime of cocaine trafficked, and sentenced to more than three years in prison.
2 Dwight Gooden
Where Daryl Strawberry brought offensive power to the Mets, Dwight Gooden brought defensive dominance. “Dr. K” or simply “Doc,” as he was often referred to by fans, was a phenom with New York, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and coming in second for the Cy Young in 1984 at the age of 19. He won 17 games that season with a ridiculous 276 strikeouts, and followed it up with an even better season in 1985, winning 24 games with a miniscule 1.53 ERA, good enough for the NL Cy Young.
But with early fame and success came trouble. Gooden, like teammate Daryl Strawberry, saw his numbers quickly decline as he developed an addiction to cocaine. And like Strawberry, we will never know what he could have accomplished had he stayed clean, as most of his 194 career wins came before the age of 25.
After retiring in 2000, Gooden’s life consisted of one arrest after another, almost always related to his cocaine use, as he compiled a rap sheet that was almost as long as his stats sheet.
1 Ken Caminiti
Perhaps no post-retirement story is more tragic than that of former Houston Astro Ken Caminiti. The 1996 NL MVP, who also played for the San Diego Padres and briefly with the Rangers and Braves, made three all-star teams and hit 239 home runs while batting .272 in a career that will forever be marred by substance abuse. Shortly after retiring, he admitted to Sports Illustrated that he had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his playing career, including his 1996 MVP campaign, in which he batted .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs, all by far career highs.
The California born third baseman’s drug and alcohol problems continued after his playing days, until he eventually died from a cocaine and heroin overdose in 2004 at the age of 41, just three years removed from the game.
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