Given annually to the best newcomer in the MLB, the Rookie of the Year Award was first handed out nationally in 1947 to Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. Robinson, as we should all know, did more than break onto the baseball scene as an impressive freshman. He also broke the color barrier as one of the most important athletes and people in history. In 1987, the award was renamed the Jackie Robinson Award although we still call it the Rookie of the Year for directness and to honor classic 1990s baseball movies co-starring Gary Busey.
Specifically on the field, not all Rookie of the Year recipients were as impactful as Robinson. While it has signaled the beginning of Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Tom Seaver, and many other MLB legends, the award has sometimes been handed out to players who never did get back to that level of superiority.
The same way we can make honor roll during our first year of high school, some MLB players see a sharp decline as their career progress.
This is not a rating based on what players did in their rookie year. This is about what they did afterwards and how incredibly disappointing their careers turned out after winning the award. These are the 10 worst Rookie of the Year Award winners in MLB history.
10 Ron Kittle
The 1983 AL Rookie of the Year went to 25-year-old Ron Kittle who wore a Chicago White Sox uniform that season and for most of his career. An outfielder and future standard DH, Kittle had a fine debut season highlighted by 35 home runs and 100 RBIs. Unfortunately for Kittle things would never be this good, as even with a league leading 150 strikeouts that year, his career went downhill.
Kittle hit 32 more home runs the next season, but saw his batting average drop down to .215. His power numbers steadily declined as did his playing time. Kittle became one of those “all or nothing” batters, who when connecting with a ball went yard often, but also was a threat for a Golden Sombrero. Kittle finished his career with a solid enough 176 home runs, but with a slash line of only .239/.306/.473.
9 9, Angel Berroa
Shortstop Angel Berroa received a small taste of MLB baseball in 2001 and 2002 before his official rookie season in 2003. He had what turned out to be his only noteworthy season, hitting 17 home runs with 73 RBIs, 92 runs scored, and pumping out a slash line of .287/.338/.451. He remained serviceable for two more seasons with the Kansas City Royals, only to fall off the face of the earth by 2006.
At only 28-years-old, the 2003 AL Rookie of the Year had seen his numbers universally disappear. Berroa slashed .234/.259/.333 in 2006 before the rest of his career became a game of ping pong between the majors and Triple-A. Berroa played in only nine games for the 2007 Royals as he clung onto major league life. Berroa’s MLB career eventually came to a close after the 2009 season.
8 Butch Metzger
Relief pitcher Butch Metzger won the 1976 NL Rookie of the Year for the San Diego Padres offering them a league leading 62 games finished in 123.1 innings of work. He was 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA during an era when saves weren’t really a statistic anybody paid much attention to. He looked to have a lot of promise, but the times did not benefit Metzger, who today would have probably gotten another shot after one really bad season out of the bullpen.
That year was with the New York Mets in 1978, as Metzer was 1-3 with a 6.51 ERA. Unfortunately this became his last MLB season. He was only 26 at the time, yet nobody seemed willing to give him a chance in the majors again. He retired after the 1979 season after pitching one year on the farm for the Philadelphia Phillies, never returning to the mound in an MLB game ever again.
7 Mark Fidrych
Everybody’s heard about “The Bird.” I’m talking about Mark Fidrych, who in 1976 won the AL Rookie of the Year and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting. Fidrych had one of the greatest rookie campaigns ever, going 19-9 with a league leading 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games.
Rather than blame Fidrych’s place on this last completely on poor skill, it was an injury in spring training of 1977 that seemed to slow him down, followed up with another injury during the season. Fidrych only made 14 total starts in 1977 and 1978 where he continued to pitch well. However, in 1979, he was 0-3 with a 10.43 ERA in the 4 starts he made. It wasn’t much better in 1980 when he was 2-3 with a 5.68 ERA, which led to an early retirement for a guy who should have been a legend for the Detroit Tigers. Instead, he’s a classic case of “what if?”
6 Geovany Soto
Catcher Geovony Soto looked to have a promising career ahead of him when he won the 2008 Rookie of the Year as a member of the Chicago Cubs at the age of 25. Soto had a very impressive slash line of .285/.364/.504 along with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs. Considering he did this as a catcher for the Cubs during those bonus day games, we shouldn’t take his performance lightly.
Unfortunately, this was one of only two good seasons Soto would have. He struggled the following season with only a .218 batting average before picking things up in 2010 by hitting .280. However, since 2011, as a member of several teams, Soto is slashing only .222/.300/.396. He has become a backup catcher, offering any team that employs him very little other than memories of a great debut season.
5 Harry Byrd
Back in 1952 when the Athletics were still in Philadelphia, rookie pitcher Harry Byrd was named the Rookie of the Year with a record of 15-15 and 3.31 ERA. Byrd worked as a starter and a reliever in what was generally a pretty weak season for rookies. Let’s not take this away from him because it was still a solid season.
As it turned out, this was already the end. Byrd led the league in losses the following year with 20 of them and saw his ERA jump up to 5.51. The Athletics pitched him often as Byrd logged a career high 236.2 innings despite his struggles. He’d continue his career until 1957 while changing teams frequently. Byrd finished his MLB career at only 32-years-old with a 46-54 record and a 4.35 ERA.
4 4, Bobby Crosby
Here we have another rookie for the Athletics, this time when they were in Oakland, who didn’t even have an impressive Rookie of the Year season but still won the award. Bobby Crosby was not so much a disappointment as much as he just got worse over the years. Crosby’s 2004 Rookie of the Year winning season included a slash line of .239/.319/.426 with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs.
Playing time for Crosby became scarce quickly as it took him until 2008 to play in 100 games again. He only hit above .240 in 2005 and failed to reach double digits in home runs again. His MLB career ended after the 2010 season with a slash line of .236/.304/.372 and only 605 career hits; 130 of which came in 2004.
3 Jerome Walton
The Chicago Cubs had the NL Rookie of the Year on their 1989 roster and his name was Jerome Walton. As a 23-year-old newcomer, Walton hit .293 with 24 stolen bases in a rather light rookie class. His batting average dropped the next season by 30 points and continued to do so throughout his career.
Walton became a part-time player after a really bad 1991 season where he slashed just .219/.275/.330. He played only 30 games and hit .127 in 1992 before playing in only 5 games in 1993 without getting a hit in 3 at-bats for the California Angels. While Walton did have a few decent seasons statistically at the end of his career, it came mostly as a pinch hitter with occasional appearances in the outfield.
2 Pat Listach
What happened to Pat Listach? The 1991 Rookie of the Year winner and former Milwaukee Brewers’ shortstop slashed .290/.352/.349 in his debut season. He hit only 1 home run, but did steal 54 bases and had 168 hits. Listach looked like a light-hitting leadoff man who could use his speed to stay in the MLB.
Well, Listach ended up staying in the MLB for only six seasons. After 1992, he stopped getting on base and saw his stolen base totals drop. He only ever played in more than 100 games again after his rookie season in 1995, when he logged 101. A career .251 hitter, Listach burned out quickly and is almost universally remembered for being one of the worst Rookie of the Year winners in recent history. At least we remember him.
1 Joe Charboneau
Who is the worst player to ever win the Rookie of the Year award? It’s outfielder Joe Charboneau! After a great rookie season in 1980 for the Cleveland Indians, his MLB success was so short-lived that he only ended up playing in 201 games for his entire career.
During his rookie campaign, Charboneau slashed .289/.358/.488 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs. Injuries soon took their toll, along with overall poor play. He only got into 48 games the next season while hitting .210. The following year, he played in only 22 games and hit .214. That was it for Charboneau at the major league level, as his career was over before it seemed to even begin. He would play two more seasons in the minor leagues before making his final appearance in 2000 at the age of 45 for the Canton Crocodiles in the Independent League, where he picked up a single in his lone at-bat. Not the place he intended to end his career, but at least he can say he’s hitting 1.000 somewhere.