Jackie Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., Mark McGwire, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols...what do all of those guys have in common? They are among the greats that have won the Rookie of the Year Award in Major League Baseball. The list is quite impressive if you look at it, as many of the award winners have gone on to have legendary careers, with quite a few of them reaching the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame.
Then, there are those guys on the list that you might forget and you wonder what happened to them. These are the players that had fantastic rookie seasons and looked to be the future of baseball, only to fall off the map and fade quickly into obscurity.
Today, we remember some of those players by taking a look back at their careers and wondering what might have been. Here are the top 15 MLB players who fell apart after they put up fantastic award winning rookie seasons.
15 Geovany Soto
Geovany Soto had made a few appearances with the Cubs, but didn’t play in his first full season until 2008 when the Cubs had a remarkable regular season and Soto was NL Rookie of the Year. Soto batted .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs and it looked like the Cubs had their catcher of the future. Instead, Soto never improved, as his rookie season saw him reach career highs in homers and runs batted in and his career average now sits at a paltry .245.
14 Angel Berroa
Angel Berroa made his full time debut with the Royals in 2003 and had an AL Rookie of the Year winning season where he batted .287 with 17 home runs, 73 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Berroa also had a 101 OPS+, but just couldn’t get back to those numbers again. Berroa’s season high in home runs after that was just 11 and he never batted over .270 again. After playing his final game in Kansas City in 2007, Berroa was with the Dodgers in 2008 and then spent 2009 with the Mets and Yankees before calling it quits.
13 Chris Coghlan
While most of the players on our list had gotten a taste of the big leagues before their first full season, that was not the case for Chris Coghlan. Coghlan played 128 games in 2009 with the Marlins, batting an incredible .321 while scoring 84 runs and knocking in 47 RBIs. Those have all been career highs, as Coghlan’s career average has since dipped to .267 after his Rookie of the Year season (where he beat out Andrew McCutchen). Coghlan played with the Cubs in 2014-2015 and is now with Oakland.
12 Marty Cordova
Marty Cordova had star written all over him when he came up to the big leagues with the Twins in 1995, even though he was already 25 years old. Cordova set his future career high with 24 home runs and batted .277 while doing it. Cordova won the AL Rookie of the Year award, topping players like Andy Pettitte, Troy Percival and Shawn Green. Cordova was nothing more than a depth player for the remainder of his career and he was out of the league in 2003 at 33 years old.
11 Ron Kittle
The most memorable things about Ron Kittle are his glasses and his 1983 AL Rookie of the Year season where he beat out Julio Franco for the award. Kittle excited White Sox fans in 1983, knocking out 35 home runs and knocking in 100 runs on 132 hits. Kittle would never get have more than 100 hits in a season again, although his power numbers were still impressive in his second season. Kittle bounced around between three other teams after leaving the White Sox, retiring in 1991 after a short return to Chicago.
10 Jason Jennings
Long term success as a Colorado Rockies pitcher is tough and Jason Jennings is living proof of that. Jennings, in his first full season, showed a lot of promise with a 16-8 record and 4.52 ERA as the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year (in what was a very weak class, in retrospect). Jennings never had a winning record again in a season, finishing his career with a mark of 62-74 and an ERA of 4.95. Jennings pitched his final season in 2009 with the Rangers and was done at the age of 30.
9 Walt Dropo
Out of all of the players on our list, Walt Dropo had a career that some would consider a success because of how long it was. In 1950 with the Red Sox, Dropo exploded onto the scene with a .322 average, 34 home runs and 144 RBIs, all of which would prove to be career highs. Dropo won the AL Rookie of the Year award over Whitey Ford, making the All Star Game and a case for the MVP award. Dropo played all the way through 1961, but couldn’t replicate his success from the 1950 season.
8 Bob Hamelin
Jim Edmonds and Manny Ramirez had their rookie season in 1994, but they couldn’t beat out Royals hitter Bob Hamelin. Hamelin had a season that should have been improved on, as he smashed 24 home runs and 65 RBIs with a .282 average in just 101 games. Hamelin would never recover from the shortened season, though, as his career average would drop to .246 and he never hit more than 18 home runs in a season. Hamelin was out of the league after 1998 at the age of 30, when he played his final season with Milwaukee.
7 Jerome Walton
Jerome Walton had such a fine rookie season for the Cubs in 1989 that he even received quite a few MVP votes. Walton, the NL Rookie of the Year, batted .293 in that season with five home runs, 46 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. Walton missed a significant amount of time starting in 1991 and couldn’t get his career back on track. Walton’s career average finished at just .269 and he only had 34 more stolen bases in his last nine seasons in the league, finishing with the Rays in 1998.
6 Bobby Crosby
In 2004, Bobby Crosby didn’t have an impressive batting average (.239) in his AL Rookie of the Year season with the Athletics, but it looked like he would be a future power threat with 22 home runs and 64 RBIs. Crosby won the award over the likes of Zack Greinke that season, but his potential was never reached. Crosby’s career average was somehow lower than his rookie season at just .236. Crosby only finished with 62 total home runs as well and his career was over after 2010 at the age of 30.
5 Pat Listach
Kenny Lofton had a very memorable MLB career, but, in 1992, he finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to Pat Listach. Listach, who debuted with the Brewers at 24 years old, batted .290 in his rookie season with 168 hits and 54 stolen bases. Listach was going to be a solid player at the top of the lineup, but the remainder of his seasons never went as well as that year. Listach never had more than 87 hits or 25 stolen bases in a season after that and his career average finished at just .251. Listach was out of the league after the 1997 season, at just 29 years old.
4 Harry Byrd
In 1952 with the Athletics (who were in Philadelphia at the time), Harry Byrd won the AL Rookie of the Year. Byrd finished his first season with a 15-15 mark and a 3.31 ERA, which gave the A’s a lot of hope. Instead, they only saw one more decent season out of Byrd and a lot of stinkers. Byrd finished with a record of just 46-54 and a 4.35 ERA, retiring after the 1957 season with the Tigers at 32 years old.
3 Joe Black
In the same season that Harry Byrd won the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Joe Black won the NL side with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Black’s rookie season was even more impressive, as he finished with a record of 15-4 and an ERA of just 2.15. Black was so good that he even finished third in the MVP voting that season as well. Black went 15-8 over the rest of his career and his ERA rose to 3.91. Black was already 28 years old during his rookie season and finished in 1957 at the age of 33 with the Senators.
2 Joe Charboneau
The 1980 AL Rookie of the Year voting wasn’t close, as Joe Charboneau of the Indians took home the trophy after a season where he hit .289 to go along with 23 home runs and 87 runs batted in. Charboneau injured his back in spring training the next year and wasn’t the same player, as he was sent down to the minors after the 1981 players strike ended. Charboneau was hitting just .210 at the time and was out of the Major Leagues for good in 1982, hitting just six more home runs in his final two seasons.
1 Mark Fidrych
Mark Fidrych is a guy that lives in Detroit Tigers lore, but also faded fast after his rookie season. Fidrych became a must-see player in 1976. as he finished with an astounding 19-9 record and 2.34 ERA, finishing as an All Star and second in the Cy Young voting. Injuries derailed Fidrych’s promising career, as he went just 10-10 over four more injury filled seasons. Fidrych still had a memorable personality, though, and sadly passed away due to an accident in 2009 at the age of just 54.