Like all professional athletes not all pro baseball players know when to call it quits. Some do. Some are fortunate enough to retire as a champion, or have a story book career ending at bat. Some go 0-4 and some get ejected.
There are other unfortunate circumstances to the bad end of a career. A number of the players on this list were held back by injury, trying to gather enough strength for one more season. Other players were the result of even more drastic situations like bans from the game.
Players dream of riding off into the sunset one last championship, as did pro athletes like John Elway, Peyton Manning, Ray Bourque, and Bill Russell. Some legends are on their last legs, but fittingly are carried by a team to one last championship stage.
The most unfortunate would be the untimely death of some players. In this article we will not touch base on the players who were just taken from the game too soon. Rather, we will focus on a couple of injury-riddled players, but mainly people that played wholesome careers, either to have one last shining moment, or to play too long and wish the moment had come earlier.
15 Best - Will Clark
"Will the Thrill" was a lifetime .303 hitter with six all star appearances. He also has a NLCS MVP, 2 Silver Slugger Awards, and a Gold Glove on his resume. Clark played his last regular season game on the MLB on October 1, 2000. In the first inning of that game he ripped a two-run home run into the bleachers. Next time up, he walked on five pitches. In the later innings with the score tied 2-2, Clark brought in the go-ahead run with a single. And in his last at bat he was walked on four pitches.
Clark and the Cardinals would make the playoffs that year. In the NLCS, Clark would post a .412 batting average, and even though the Mets would 3-hit the Cardinals in Clark's last game, one of those hits was a single by "The Thrill".
14 Worst - Mark Prior
A .592 career win percentage, Rookie of the Year, postseason appearance, all-star game, and even some MVP shares. How is this a bad career? It only last five seasons. Prior had all the makings of a staff ace, and future all time great. Injuries just wouldn't subside, and he never had the chance to truly make his mark on the MLB.
In the August of 2006, Prior would be moved to the disabled list for the last time in his Cubs career. He did not give up there however, even if he should have. In 2007, the Padres signed Prior but again due to a shoulder tear during his rehab, he missed his second consecutive season. After the Padres released him in 2009, the Yankees, Rangers, Red Sox, Reds all would give Prior a shot in their minor league systems. To no avail. Prior would finally call it a career in 2013.
13 Best - David Ross
Ross may have the least credentials on the list with a .229 career batting average and just 106 home runs. But the way he made a name for himself during his final run as a player grabbed the attention of baseball fans everywhere. He led a young Cubs team through the playoffs and eventually to a World Series Championship. Ross is actually a two time champion. He won one with the Red Sox in 2013, and one with the Cubs in 2016. His his part in the Cubs first World Series victory since 1908 lands him a spot on our list.
In his final game, which happened to be World Series game 7, Ross hit a home run to center field increasing the Cubs lead to 6-3. The Cubs would go on to win the game. With the homer, Ross became the oldest player to ever record a home run in a World Series game 7. The player his young Cubs' teammates called "Grandpa Rossy" was able to ride off into retirement unlike many have been able to do in the past.
12 Worst - Bo Jackson
"Bo" is mentioned in the category of greatest athlete of all time. He is one of few athletes to go on to play in multiple sport's all star games. In his case it was Major League Baseball and National Football League. While playing football in 1991, Jackson was tackled after a 34 yard run during a playoff game. The tackle would result in a NFL career ending injury. Because of the injury, Bo was also released from his contract with the Kansas City Royals. Bo would go onto to play 3 more seasons in the MLB, but managed to only appear in 183 total games across the years. It would have been nice to see Jackson have a lengthy career in either or both sports.
11 Best - Derek Jeter
Bending the rules a little bit again, we are going to commemorate Jeter's last game at Yankee stadium rather than the last series in which he only batted DH.
Jeter could probably appear higher on this list, but to his own standards I'm sure his ending didn't live up to expectation. In his final campaign the Yankees didn't reach the postseason. Jeter, a 14x All-Star, 5x World Champion, and a World Series MVP, was celebrated in each stop of his farewell season of 2014, often meeting opposing teams' legends at the mound to receive a commemorative gift.
In his last at bat at Yankee stadium, Jeter slapped an RBI single to right field to give the Yankees the win. Only fitting after so many clutch performances and postseason heroics.
10 Worst - Don Mattingly
Not so much about one particular moment, rather than the one moment that never happened. Although Mattingly's career consisted of an MVP, All-Star nods, and ultimately his number being retired in pin stripes, Mattingly never won a World Series which is the ultimate in Yankee careers.
Perhaps the incident most likely for this was in 1987 when Mattingly hurt his back during some clubhouse horseplay incident. After the incident Mattingly still managed to put up good batting averages never finishing below .256 and still averaging .306 for his career, but his power was shot. Mattingly hit only 98 home runs in his last 8 season in the league, compared to the 123 in his first 5. The lack of power would ultimately leave Mattingly unsigned the Yankees following a 1995 playoff run, when Tino Martinez was signed as his replacement. Mattingly officially announced his retirement in 1997, after sitting out the entire 1996 season.
9 Best - Sam Rice
Playing in the early 1900s, Sam Rice batted a career .322 garnering 2987 hits along the way. Rice added a World Series title in 1924 and tallied 351 career stolen bases. His numbers earned him a Hall of Fame nod in 1963, but the final game of his career gave him a spot on the list.
In his last game game, Rice went 3-5 with a double, a run scored, and 2 RBI's. It capped off a 20 year Hall of Fame worthy career for the long time Washington Senator right fielder. Although a bit of a normality in the early days of Major League Baseball, Rice played his last game at the of age 44. Won't see too many 44 year old players put up this kind of career ending game.
8 Worst - Mo Vaughn
Vaughn established a reputation as one of the best power hitters in baseball from 1994-2000. In 1995 her garnered the AL MVP award, hitting .300 39 homer runs, and 126 RBI's. In 96, he followed up his MVP campaign launching 44 home runs, driving in 143 runs, with a .326 batting average. After another huge season in 1998, Vaughn would sign a free agent deal with the Angels. After two seasons of driving in over 100 runs with the team, the Angels would trade Vaughn to the New York Mets. In his last year with the Mets, Vaughn only appeared in 27 games, averaging .190 along the way. Speculation says the main reason for the downfall was Vaughn coming to New York overweight, as well as an ankle injury that continued to hinder his performance.
7 Best - Paul O'Neill
Referred to by many as the heart of the Yankees' 1990s dynasty, O'Neill was a five time World Series Champion. After playing his first eight years in Cincinnati, O'Neill played his last nine season in Yankee pin stripes. There he helped New York win World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
His career ending moment was a home run or embarrassing performance. Instead the Yankees crowd sent him off in tears of joy, with a chant of "Paul O'Neill" in the 9th inning of game 5 in the World Series. He tipped his cap, and exited right field for the last time at Yankees stadium.
6 Worst - Rafael Palmeiro
Unfortunately for Palmeiro, he wont be remembered for being a member of the 500 home run club, but rather waving his finger denying the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs, then shortly after that, testing positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs.
In his last game, Palmeiro went 0-4 with two strike outs. But he lands on this last for his final at bat. The sequence went like this:
-Palmeiro took the first pitch for a called strike.
-Saw the next pitch in for a ball.
-Took the third pitch for strike two.
-And finally, took the final pitch for strike three.
For such a historically great hitter, not even lifting the bat off your shoulder may have been the worst ending imaginable.
5 Best - Cap Anson
Throwing it way back to the 1800s here - before game logs existed. Anson's last MLB day consisted of a double header. There is still speculation whether or not he actually played the second half of the double header. But we are going to pretend he didn't. Because if he was able to end his career after the first, then he deserves his spot on this list. During the game Anson launched two home runs. He came into the game with only one on the season before the farewell. Being home runs were not a regular occurrence back then, this makes the day even more memorable. Anson finished his career with 97 home runs, and a .334 career batting average (including the National Association stats).
4 Worst - Vida Blue
Six time All-Star, three time World Series champion, MVP, and a no-hitter to his name. By the achievements, Vida Blue deserved to go out on top. But the other side to Blue was his antics off the field. He battled cocaine use throughout his career and in 1983, pleaded guilty to attempting to purchase cocaine.
So what did he do in his last game? Got ejected.
Blue began his last game dealing five scoreless innings against the Astros. In the sixth inning, he walked the first batter and voiced his displeasure of the walk with the home plate umpire. Well the ump wasn't having it and tossed Blue from the game. Blue finished his career with a 209-161 record. A talent on the field, it seems like Blue's away from the game antics shined through during his last performance.
3 Best - Tony La Russa
Fun Fact: His spot on the list is actually based on his managerial career. His playing career was nothing stellar. Matter of fact his playing career ended on opening day in 1973. But in that game La Russa scored the game winning run on a walk off walk. Not a bad way to go out ? I guess.
Now on to the one of the greatest managers of all time. La Russa went out like no other manager has ever done. After besting the Texas Rangers in 7 games of the 2011 World Series, La Russa called it a career. This would be his second World Series title for St. Louis and third overall. The former Athletics and Cardinals skipper added four Manager of the Year awards to his resume, and a career .536 winning percentage.
La Russa would come back in 2012 to manager the National League in the all-star game. The National League won 8-0. Also not a bad way to go out.
La Russa was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Cardinals retired his number 10 in 2012.
2 Worst - "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
"Say it ain't so Joe". The greatest controversy in baseball history. While it is known many members of the White Sox turned "Black Sox" were indeed throwing the World Series in 1919, it is still debated to this day whether Jackson was part of that party. Despite a record at the time 12 hits, .375 batting average, and no errors in the series, Jackson was found guilty by baseball of throwing the series for a reported 5,000 dollars. I say by baseball, because Jackson was actually found innocent of any part of the fix.
A career .356 hitter, "Shoeless" Joe was banned from the game at the age of 32. The .356 stands as the third highest batting average in Major League Baseball history but still he remains out of the Hall of Fame. Every year the lobbying continues to see if "Shoeless" Joe finally gets enshrined in Cooperstown.
1 Best - Joe Dimaggio
The most decorated player on this list, maybe off the field as well as his baseball accomplishments . During his time in Major League Baseball, the former husband of Marilyn Monroe, Dimaggio posted a .325 batting average and 361 career home runs. "Joltin'" Joe's numbers resulted in three American League MVPs and 13 All-Star appearances. His most famous stamp on baseball came in 1941 when he hit safely in 56 consecutive games. A record that still stands today. Dimaggio went on to win nine World Series titles with the New York Yankees which came with four in a row from 1936-1939, 1941, 1947, a three peat from 1949-1951.
In 1951 Dimaggio announced his retirement after winning his ninth World Series title with the Yankees. In that year, Dimaggio did hit a career low .263 and cited that his body just couldn't handle the grind of Major League Baseball any further. Even with a down year, a great way for a legend to move on from the game.