Professional athletes often catch a lot of flak for their exorbitant salaries, six-or-seven-figure signing bonuses, and guaranteed contracts - with baseball players getting more heat than most. Let's not forget, young phenom Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal last year, and Zack Greinke could top that this offseason. Heck, even 40-year-old, half-centaur slugger Alex Rodriguez will make $21 million in 2016, with his prime (read: PED) years well behind him.
This isn't exactly a new phenomenon. Some of the MLB's best have drawn the ire of fans and the generally un-rich alike. When Ty Cobb earned $20,000 for the 1916 season, even the Monopoly Man turned over in his fictional, cartoony grave: the salary was 10 times the national average at the time. Less than a decade later, Babe Ruth would be buying his hot dogs and beer with an unheard of $52,000 salary.
Yet even with millions or tens of millions of dollars being thrown into paychecks every year (and a league minimum currently set at $507,500) players are not immune to money woes, especially the ones not making superstar salaries. Some troubles happen early in a career, some happen after the retirement fund didn’t pan out, and some end up costing the individual a lot more than just money.
Whether it was due to mismanagement, bad investments, personal struggles, lavish lifestyles, or making it rain a few too many times, here are 15 former MLB players who went from having it all to losing everything.
15 Bill Buckner
Remembered mainly for miffing Mookie Wilson’s grounder and allowing the winning run to score in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner would probably also want people to forget that an Idaho car dealership he partially owned went belly-up in 2008, forcing him to file for bankruptcy.
Instead, Buckner might want fans to remember that he was an All-Star and batting champion who amassed 2,715 hits, 1,208 RBI, and a .289 average over a 22-year career. He might also want them to remember that the ‘86 World Series had a Game 7.
14 Graig Nettles
Third baseman Graig Nettles accomplished a lot in his 22-season professional career with the Twins, Indians, Yankees, Padres, Braves, and Expos. He was a six-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion and Gold Glove winner, a home run leader, and even captain of the Yanks for three seasons. He ended his career in 1988 with a total of 2,225 hits, 1,314 RBIs, 1,193 runs scored, a .964 fielding percentage... and $1 million in debt.
Nettles dug himself out though, later finding mixed success as a coach for the Yankees and Padres, and as a manager in the minor leagues and the Senior Professional Baseball Association.
13 Rick Wise
Rick Wise never had a shot at making the Hall of Fame, but he still compiled an impressive resume. On top of a 3.69 ERA and 1,647 strikeouts over an 18-year career, Wise tossed a no-hitter (in which he homered twice), was a two-time All-Star and the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series - often referred to as the greatest baseball game in history.
Unwisely, Wise left his finances in the hands of “superagent” LaRue Harcourt, who made a series of questionable investment decisions that left Wise on the hook with the IRS for $1 million. By the time Wise emerged from bankruptcy court in 1990 (eight years after his playing career ended), he had only $11,600 left.
12 Wally Backman
Although Wally Backman was never a superstar, he logged 14 seasons in the bigs, and was a world champion with the 1986 New York Mets, hitting .320 on the season and .333 in the series. He retired in 1993.
Backman returned to baseball as a minor league manager in 2002 and was named manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004. But before Backman could manage his first game, he was fired when The New York Times uncovered that he had received a DUI in 1999, was arrested for an altercation at his home and declared bankruptcy to avoid paying over 20 creditors, including the IRS.
11 Tony Gwynn
Mr. Padre finished his career with 15 All-Star selections, eight batting titles, seven Silver Sluggers, five Gold Gloves, a Hall of Fame induction - but in 1987, his third full season in the majors, Tony Gwynn filed for bankruptcy.
Facing liabilities of over $1.1 million against only $700,000 in assets, Gwynn blamed the lack of funds on poor financial decisions, bad accounting and a lousy attorney. Fortunately, none of this affected Gwynn’s playing, as he slashed .370/.447/.511 with 218 hits that season, and never looked back.
Tony was later billed for more than $400,000 worth of unpaid income taxes on returns in 2003, 2007, and 2009.
10 Gaylord Perry
Hall of Fame pitcher and infamous baseball-doctorer Gaylord Perry pitched a no-hitter, made five All-Star teams, led the majors in wins three times, and was the first player to win a Cy Young Award in both leagues - but all the spit, Vaseline, and rosin in the world couldn’t save him from his financial troubles.
In 1986, three years after retiring, Perry was forced to declare bankruptcy after amassing $1.2 million in debt versus $1.1 million in assets. The cause? His 400-acre peanut, soybean, tobacco, and corn farm in eastern North Carolina had failed to turn a profit.
9 Steve Howe
In his first four seasons in the majors, reliever Steve Howe set a Dodgers record for rookie saves, won Rookie of the Year, earned an All-Star selection, won a World Series ring and capped it all by declaring for bankruptcy in 1983. He had $340,000 in debts against only $267,700 in assets, and also checked himself into rehab for alcohol and cocaine abuse. Relapses and inconsistent pitching performances would cost Howe his entire 1984, 1986, and 1988-1990 seasons, and he was handed a lifetime ban for substance abuse in 1992.
Howe successfully appealed, but managed only one solid year before retiring in 1996. Ten years later, he rolled his pickup truck in California and died at age 46. He had methamphetamine in his system.
8 Scott Eyre
Scott Eyre might not have the name recognition of the other players on this list, but he actually put together a pretty dependable tenure in the majors. After his first four seasons saw an inflated ERA, a move to the bullpen and a trade away from the team that drafted him, Eyre finished his 13-year career with a 4.23 ERA and a World Series title with the 2008 Phillies.
Unfortunately for Eyre, only a few months after being crowned a world champion, he was completely broke. Eyre fell victim to Allen Stanford’s famous $8 billion Ponzi scheme and had so little left that he was forced to ask the Phillies for an advance on his $2 million 2009 salary.
7 Harmon Killebrew
In 22 seasons, Harmon Killebrew played in 13 All-Star Games, led the AL in homers six times (bashing 573 in total) and RBI three times, and was named the AL MVP in 1969. He landed in the top-15 for MVP voting 10 times. A few years after making the Hall of Fame in his fourth year of eligibility, things started to fall apart for Killebrew financially.
A victim of fraud, inexperience, poor advice, bad decisions, and two failed car-related companies, Killebrew lost his house in 1988 and was $700,000 in debt in 1989 - owing money to four banks, former Twins owner Calvin Griffith and even Reggie Jackson.
Fortunately, Killebrew’s situation eventually improved, and he even founded charities that raised millions of dollars in cancer research.
6 Pete Rose
Baseball’s all-time hit king, Pete Rose, might also be the king of bad decisions. In addition to a 30-day suspension for shoving an umpire in 1988 and a lifetime ban from the MLB for betting on games as a manager, Rose also failed to claim income from selling autographs and memorabilia, earning him two counts of tax evasion in 1990. Rose was only fined $50,000 on top of the $366,041 he owed, but was forced to give up something much more valuable than money: his freedom. On July 19, 1990, Rose was sentenced to five months imprisonment at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.
5 Jack Clark
Jack Clark loved driving pitchers crazy in an 18-year career where he amassed 20-plus homers 11 times, four All-Star selections, and two Silver Sluggers - but he also loved driving expensive cars. Every time Clark was bored with a current vehicle, he would simply buy another, boasting a $700,000 Ferrari, a Rolls Royce and 16 other cars at one point.
Despite being one of the highest-paid players of his time and in the middle of a three-year, $8.7 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, Clark filed for bankruptcy in 1992, claiming $6.7 million in debt. This included his 18 cars, a multi-million dollar California home, $400,000 in back income taxes, and a $55,955 American Express bill.
4 Rollie Fingers
The famously-mustachioed Hall of Fame reliever amassed seven All-Star appearances, three World Series rings, and a Cy Young and MVP award in a career where he led the majors in saves three times - but Rollie Fingers also racked up over $4.5 million in debt, filing for bankruptcy in 1989. His poor investments included two Egyptian Arabian horses, wind turbines, an apartment-flipping scam, and a pistachio farm.
Almost 20 years later, the IRS billed Fingers for $1.4 million in back taxes from his four seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. By 2007 the issue was squared away, but not before baseball’s 13th all-time career saves leader spent some time as Wisconsin’s eighth biggest tax delinquent.
3 Denny McLain
After six wildly successful seasons as a starter for the Detroit Tigers - including a 31-win year, two Cy Youngs and an MVP award - stories surfaced about Denny McLain’s penchant for playing the ponies. One even claimed a 1967 foot injury was caused by a mobster stomping on it over a $46,000 bookmaking debt.
McLain was suspended by the MLB for these activities and struggled to return to form after he was reinstated. He was soon suspended again for dousing two Detroit reporters with buckets of water, followed immediately by another punishment for carrying a gun - which he once brought on a team flight and waived in a Chicago restaurant. Despite making $90,000 that year - the highest in team history - McLain filed for bankruptcy.
He called it quits a few lousy seasons later.
2 Curt Schilling
Although a bloody sock couldn’t stop Curt Schilling’s dominant performances in the 2004 ALCS and World Series, nothing could save his post-career financial woes. Schilling created the video game company 38 Studios in 2006, and even though the company received a $75 million loan from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation in 2010, they defaulted on it in 2012, bounced a $1.2 million missed loan payment check, laid off their entire staff via email and filed for bankruptcy.
Schilling’s money woes haven’t kept him out of the spotlight though. He still finds plenty of time to make offensive comments all over the Internet.
1 Lenny Dykstra
After his 12 seasons with the Mets and Phillies, centerfielder Lenny Dykstra was initially seen as a post-baseball financial success story. He owned so many lucrative stocks, investments, and companies, that Mad Money’s Jim Cramer asked him to write an investment column. However, things started to go wrong when Dykstra failed to flip Wayne Gretzky’s $17 million estate.
Dykstra went from having a net worth of $58 million in 2008 to owing between $10 million and $50 million. By August 2009, he was living out of his car and had sold his World Series ring. Making matters worse, Dykstra was accused of fraud during his bankruptcy hearings, attempting to purchase a stolen car, embezzlement, fencing goods, money laundering, and numerous other offenses both financial and not.
On December 3, 2012, Lenny Dykstra was sentenced to 6.5 months in prison, 500 hours of community service, and ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution. That’s “restitution,” not “prostitution,” something with which Dykstra is also familiar: he famously bounced a $1,000 check given to female escort and adult-entertainment star Monica Foster.