Coming Up Short

by Warren Menzer

<!-- Article Starts Here --!> With the frenzy surrounding Alex Rodriguez, much has been made of A-Rod's place in history. Scott Boras has produced a pamphlet (more like a book - it's just as long as The Bridges of Madison County) stating that Rodriguez will hit 772 home runs in his career. He has been called the greatest player in baseball - maybe on course to be the best in history. Today we'll look at three other players who appeared to be on a similar course...and never made the impact everyone thought they'd make.

Number 1: Cesar Cedeno
Cedeno made his debut in 1970 at age 19, hitting .310 in half a season. By age 25 (the age Alex Rodriguez is now), he had won 5 Gold Gloves for his play in center field and had been named to 4 All-Star teams. Leo Durocher described him as "the next Willie Mays." Baseball Digest wrote of "Cesar Cedeno: a New Clemente in the Making".

But that was the peak - there wasn't one moment that you could point to that indicated a collapse, but he slowly drifted away after that point. Looking at his numbers, it's hard to imagine that he could compare to Alex Rodriguez, but you have to remember that he played in a relatively low-scoring era and in a pitcher's park. He never won another Gold Glove, or played in another All-Star game. He had 121 home runs at age 25 (he was hitting 25 home runs a year in the Astrodome, which was almost unheard of), but only hit 78 more over the next 10 seasons.

Number 2: Vern Stephens
Perhaps the most comparable player to Alex Rodriguez was Vern Stephens. At a time when shortstops didn't hit for power, Stephens was a potent offensive weapon - by age 25 he had already led the league in home runs and RBI, and had been elected to four All-Star teams. And his best years were yet to come - at age 26, he was traded from St. Louis to Boston, and there he became an RBI machine, with three consecutive seasons of 137, 159 and 144 RBI. 159 RBI by a shortstop. He was 29 years old, the two-time defending RBI champion, a good defensive shortstop...and that was it. He played well in his next season, 1951, in limited playing time, and was pretty much it. He had injury and drinking problems, and played his last season at age 34.

Number 3: George Sisler
At age 25, George Sisler was just getting started. A college pitching sensation, he was moved to first base because, like Babe Ruth, he was too good of a hitter to only play every fourth day. And like Ruth, he pitched well - he only went 5-6 as a pitcher, but two of his wins were shutouts against Walter Johnson. Still, the Browns were right to move him - he was an excellent fielder, leading the league in assists 7 times. In one season, 1920, he started thirteen 3-6-3 double plays.

But his hitting set him apart - at age 25 he was among the league's best hitters, and he skyrocketed from there. His 1920 season, at age 27, was one of the greatest of all time: while playing every inning of every game, he had a .407 average, with 257 hits (an all-time record). He followed that up by hitting .371 and .420 the next two seasons.

In 1923 he came down with sinusitis, which affected his vision so badly that he missed the entire season. He played well after his return, but he was never the same - his eyes never recovered. He made the Hall of Fame in 1939, but he remains outside the inner echelon of Ruth and Gehrig - the company he might have been in had fate not struck. No one could have predicted Sisler's fate - and it could happen to anybody, A-Rod included. <!-- Article Ends Here --!>

Send Warren your opinions, comments or verbal abuse at warren@JBaseball.

© 2000-2023 JBaseball