Phenoms of Spring Become Flops of Summer : Baseball: A lot of highly touted players never come close to expectations.
Gary Scott was pegged as the best third baseman to wear a Chicago Cubs uniform since Ron Santo. It turned out he couldn’t even beat out Luis Salazar.
Not that Scott won’t make it big someday. The Cubs still like his future and admit their expectations just might have been a little high. They just got excited after watching him hit .500 in spring training while making all the plays.
Looking at a less optimistic scenario, Scott could also be another name to add to the list of phenom flops. It happens in every profession, really. After all, when was the last time Christopher Cross or Meat Loaf had a hit record? And just what happened to Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, anyway?
Last season, the Houston Astros thought Eric Anthony would be their next Jimmy Wynn. But he hit only 10 home runs and spent 44 games in the minor leagues. Anthony couldn’t get it going this year, either.
“Eric’s problem is that he strikes out too much,” Astros manager Art Howe said. “It’s a problem a lot of young power hitters have, but it’s something they have to cut down on if they want to make it.”
Dave Justice and Sandy Alomar Jr., last season’s rookies of the year, have both been troubled by injuries this year.
“It’s been a big disappointment,” Alomar said. “I wanted to come back with a big year to overcome the sophomore jinx thing. It’s also been a bad year for the club. Very little has gone right for us.”
Barring more injuries, Justice and Alomar seem to still have a bright future. Some phenoms of the past only lasted a few years before fading into minor-league oblivion.
The Indians thought they had a star in the making when Joe Charboneau hit .289 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs in 1980. The next season, he hit .210 and continued a steady decline because of back problems.
There were even songs written in Cleveland about “Super Joe.” But in 1983, Charboneau was released by the Indians’ minor-league affiliate at Buffalo.
Charboneau would sometimes dye his hair strange colors and could open beer bottles with an eye socket muscle.
Another colorful character was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who made the cover of national magazines in 1976 when he won the Rookie of the Year Award by going 19-9 for the Detroit Tigers. Fidrych, who often talked to the baseball, won only 10 more major-league games after that because of arm trouble.
Some phenoms didn’t even make it as far as Fidrych. On opening day 1967, Boston’s Les Rohr made his major-league debut against Whitey Ford at Yankee Stadium. Rohr, 21, was one strike away from a no-hitter when Elston Howard singled to right-center field. Rohr beat the Yankees 6-1 in his next start, but would win only one more game before disappearing into the minor leagues.
It wasn’t the first time Boston saw a phenom flop. In 1945, Boo Ferriss went 21-10 as a rookie and followed that season with a 25-6 record in helping the Red Sox win the AL pennant. He also shut out St. Louis in Game 3 of the World Series.
Ferriss, a good hitter, too, became an instant star and even made Life magazine. It all started to come to an end for the 6-foot-2 right-hander in a game against Cleveland in 1947 while pitching to George Metkovich.
“I tried to break off a real good curve,” Ferriss said. “I tried to get way on top of it. Something happened to my arm. I finished the game, but I knew something had happened. We caught a train to Chicago that night and the next day I couldn’t lift my arm.”
St. Louis Cardinals phenom Von McDaniel didn’t even make it as far as Ferriss. McDaniel, the younger brother of Lindy McDaniel, shut out the Dodgers 2 -0 on a two-hitter in his first major-league start on June 26, 1957. He also pitched a one-hitter against Pittsburgh that season.
But the next year, McDaniel lost his coordination and velocity because of a sore back. He finished with a career record of 7-5 with 89 innings pitched.
“There’s no explanation for it,” Lindy said. “He just lost it.”
It’s easy to lose that special touch that it takes to make it in the major leagues.
What do Sam Jethroe, Harry Byrd, Don Schwall, John Montefusco, and John Castino all have in common? They each won the Rookie of the Year.
Byrd won 15 games for the Philadelphia A’s in 1952, but the next season finished 11-20 to lead the AL in losses.
Some phenoms never really got going in the major leagues. Steve Bilko, for example, had successive 50-plus homer seasons for Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League. In 1956, Bilko hit .360 with 55 homers and 164 RBIs.
In 10 major league seasons with six teams, he totaled 76 homers. He hit 313 homers in the minor leagues.
Steve Dalkowski never even got a chance to pitch in the major leagues, despite having one of the best fastballs ever. Signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 1957, the left-hander’s problem was control.
In his first five seasons of minor-league ball, Dalkowski averaged 17 walks and 15 strikeouts per nine innings, 907 whiffs in 537 innings. Unlike Nolan Ryan, Dalkowski remained forever wild.