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The ten biggest “can’t miss” prospects that missed

Posted by mandyf on January 5, 2012

When youngster Stephen Strasburg was anointed as the next “can’t miss” prospect in baseball before promptly suffering a year ending arm injury, one can only wonder how can’t miss he is? In all of the major sports, even college football, there have been athletes so hyped, so weighed down with pressure based on the promise of what they might be able to do that they seemingly crumble and fade away to the land of the forgotten or at best mediocre. Whether or not that will happen to Strasburg nobody knows yet. What we do know is that he is already being hailed as the best, the elite of the elite, and the future savior of the Washington Nationals franchise. That is assuming the Nationals will meet the already stated record breaking contract demands for the young man that has never stepped on the field and thrown a single pitch as a professional.

The ten biggest busts in sports share similarities with Strasburg. They were all hyped beyond reasonable expectations to be saviors or the greatest ever before they played a professional game. They shared one of the many curses of Sports Illustrated in some form. They broke the bank on draft day. They had the sports world handed to them on a silver platter and they dropped it. Again, Strasburg hasn’t done this yet, hopefully he won’t, but his entry to the arena of major sports sure does look a lot like a few names from the past.

10. Ron Powlus makes the list as a college football player because he was supposed to be a kid that led Notre Dame to victory and added at least a couple Heisman Trophies to his trophy room before dominating the NFL for a dozen or so years. That was just a bit too much pressure for the 18 year old to handle. It didn’t matter that he was the Parade Magazine Prep Player of the Year, it didn’t matter that Sports Illustrated often referenced him as the greates offensive weapon in college football. What he did instead was have an okay career at Notre Dame although he never won a bowl game. He never even got drafted in the NFL, nor did he ever break a training camp, meaning the “greatest offensive weapon” never even took a single snap in the NFL.

9. Walking down memory lane a bit further some may remember LaRue Martin, a 6’11” center out of Loyola Marymount that was going to take the NBA by storm. While LaRue had good numbers collegiately averaging 18.2 points per game to go along with 15.9 rebounds, his hype was built around having outplayed Bill Walton one time. Just once. For the Trailblazers that was more than enough to make martin the number one pick in the 1972 draft. Portland wasn’t the only team with martin on their radar, a dozen or so GM’s thought he was going to develop into a major force, and media hype didn’t dispute this. What happened to Martin is he played four lackluster years. Most players wouldn’t have lasted that long posting the numbers Martin did (5.3 ppg and 4.6rpg), but Portland was unwilling to admit their mistake and kept hoping the brilliance they believed was there would show. It never did and martin to this day is still considered the biggest bust ever of a number pick in NBA draft history.

8. While many would argue it is too soon to call Freddy Adu a bust at only twenty years old, let’s look at what he was supposed to deliver. At age 14 Bruce Arenas was already calling him the most talented kid he had ever seen. Sports Illustrated had hyped him to a status that mixed Pele with Zeus. He was already getting more six figure contract offers than anyone could keep track of. He signed with DC United, the youngest player in United States professional sports to ever sign a contact, and he went on to underwhelm. In fairness Adu couldn’t live up to the hype placed on him. He has had shown some flashes of what was promised on the field, but he has never risen to being the face of the game, the most recognized player on the planet, the greatest ever, nor the savior of the league nor the man-child that made soccer a major sport in the U.S. Maybe one day he will do it all, but so far, as harsh as it is, he is a bust.

7. Todd Van Poppel was going to be Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, and a hint of Cy Young when Sports Illustrated called him “the premiere high school pitcher in the land. ” In that they may have been correct, but he never rose to even being the premiere pitcher in a rookie ball league. Van Poppel was taken 14th overall by Oakland right out of high school. Atlanta considered him for a moment but decided to go instead with a kid named Chipper Jones. After only 32 starts in the minors the A’s needed Van Poppel in the bigs. Never mind he never dominated or was particularly good, the P.R. machine demanded the crown jewel of the franchise be displayed for all to see.

The problem was their polished diamond was really a cloudy cubic zircon as American League hitters pounded him into submission night after night. To his credit Van Poppel did last 11 years in pro baseball on a constant shuttle between the bigs and minors assuming every role except that of a regular closer possible. He finished his career 40-52 with a 5.58 ERA. He was passably okay, but he was never the called the greatest again after his professional debut.

6. Anyone that gets the tag of the “The next Gretzky” hung around their neck is bound to disappoint, and Alexandre Daigle was no exception. In the Junior League he dominated all comers and looked a lot like Gretzky in many respects. The problem when Ottawa drafted him with the number overall pick in 1993 was they soon found out he was good, but he was no Gretzky by any stretch of the imagination. Daigle showing a bit of the bravado they thought would make him great was quoted as saying that draft day “I’m glad I went number, nobody remembers number two.” As fate would have it number two was Chris Pronger and all hockey fans remember him as a great, they remember Daigle as a great as well, on it is as the greatest bust ever in NHL draft history. Daigle did play several seasons, and he even tried a comeback, the problem was that compared to the pros he played against, he just stunk. he is considered the prime example of the big fish in a small pond that got swallowed whole hole when being transferred to a bigger lake.

5. Brien Taylor was one of the most hyped players in MLB draft history, and why not after being the first MLB draft pick to sign a seven figure deal. He had a fastball that touched 99 mph, in high school he even fanned 213 hitters in only 88 innings. Everyone agreed the Yankees had an ace in the hole with Taylor to anchor their pitching staff well into the future. What happened you wonder? What happened is he got into a fight that to this day is still shrouded in mystery. What isn’t mysterious is he threw a punch with his throwing hand and ended his career. Sure he kicked around in the minors until 1998 but he never made it to the bigs to throw a single pitch. he is only the second player drafted number overall to never make it to bigs in fact, of course that is discounting the fellas just drafted the last couple of years.

4. Who can forget the man that was going to change the NBA, Sebastian Telfair? As fate would have it quite a few people could an did. In fact when he is remembered it is mostly for being one of the most over-hyped biggest busts in NBA history. he was the first high school point guard to go straight to the NBA, he was consistently ranked as either the top overall player or top point guard in the country going all the way by to sixth grade by Hoop Scoop. He was being pushed as the “next big thing” by his relative Stephon Marbury (Who was still relevant then”, the NYC media machine, and every analyst and magazine that wrote a column on the kid. They even filmed a documentary about his senior year called “Through the Fire”, and a book named “Jump.” How could he miss?

He could miss easily and by a huge margin. So far after five seasons in the NBA his career highlight is a 30 point 8 assist display in a game that meant nothing, to anyone but him of course. He’s never been an all-star, he’s never even been on the ballot. He has his defenders that say he is still young, or that with the right coach/team/system/alignment of the stars, he could still be a superstar. The reality is he is lucky to be in the league still, and had so much not been invested in making him into a superstar that was going to revolutionize the game he’d be back home on the playgrounds, or under the best of circumstances maybe in Europe.Yet another SI cover boy gone down the road to nowhere.

3. Getting into the way back machine, in 1947 the New York Giants had a young man named Clint Hartung that was going to do it all. He was being described as half Bob Feller, half Jimmie Foxx. Before he ever played he was so hyped they were already talking about what his plaque in Cooperstown was going to say after he amazed fans with his “Do it all” skills. Hartung was not only being called the next Babe Ruth because he could both pitch and hit, many were saying he was going to be greater than Ruth. So what happened to Hartung?

Judging by the fact it is likely you never heard of him he was a bust of monumental proportions. He certainly never surpassed Ruth, nor did he become half the player of Feller or Foxx. Not even a quarter of them. He finished his 6 year career very quietly going 29-29 as a pitcher with a 5.02 ERA. He was soon found to be a bumbling fool in the outfield that might has well have worn a waffle iron rather than a glove, and he couldn’t hit a lick. he finished his career as a .238 hitter with only 14 home runs. Why Hartung failed nobody can ever be sure but him, but as it ends he was a tremendous bust.

2. Todd Marinovich was a child that was in many regards manufactured by his parents to be the perfect athlete. His meticulously planned diet was the thing SI writers gushed over pointing to him as the perfect specimen of health, the ultimate finely tuned athlete. He was the starting quarterback at powerhouse football factory Mater Dei High School as freshmen, the first ever mind you. By his senior year he was a Parade magazine All-American which made him the twinkle in the eye of USC. SI columnist Douglas S. Looney (How appropriate a name) said he was “Bred to be a superstar.” Actually he was bred to be a bust of mythic proportions.

His all vegetable, no junk food, raw milk diet enforcing father was an idiot. In order to push his son farther and faster to keep up with what was an impossible to maintain workout regimen he developed he also fed his son a steady fiet of drugs. Some were to kill the pain, some were to get bigger. That is alleged of course as he denies that ever happened despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including that of his son and coaches and players that noticed a very visible physical and emotional change. By his sophomore year he was busted for cocaine possession, out of USC, and on to the NFL. Things didn’t go much better there as he was busted for drugs three times again and out of the league.

1. The dubious honor of the biggest bust in sports goes to none other than Tony Mandarich. he was hailed as the human form of the Incredible Hulk, a man that was going to go from being the most dominating offensive lineman in college football history to the same billet in the NFL. How good was he supposed to be? He was drafted ahead of Deion Sanders, Derrick Thomas, and Barry Sanders. When the Dallas Cowboys took Troy Aikman over him they were widely criticized as fools that threw away the future of the franchise, even by their own fans and some of the players on that team. How time proves some people wrong.

After sitting out the entire training camp his rookie year until he got the $4.4 million deal over four years he demanded, he went on to flop. Everyone knew Mandarich was a beast of a man. What they didn’t know was that beast on the cover Sports Illustrated was built on steroids and kept under control by pain killers. He was smart enough to fear the NFL drug testing policy and leave that all behind when he made the jump. The fat however was that without them he was just an average guy on the line that was barely worth his weight. He didn’t even play a snap in his final year with Green Bay, before leaving the league to become a full time junkie. He returned in 1996 with Colts and was regarded as “serviceable” but certainly not a star, or even truly dependable.

There you have the ten biggest busts in major sports history. To agree or disagree is up to you, but it cannot be denied that these athletes never lived up the hype of their potential. For some it was pressure, for others drugs, and in some cases we will never know why they fell short. All we know is that like any other human they did, the glaring difference being thy did it with the world watching.

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