They, Too, Shone On Brightly—For Awhile . . .

With the All-Star Game come and gone, you almost can’t help thinking of more once-upon-a-time comers, All-Stars and others, who didn’t—or couldn’t—quite live up to their earliest promise . . .

They didn’t come more bullheaded than Pistol Pete . . .

Pete Reiser—Pistol Pete (Reiser was hung with that nickname decades before it got hung on basketball legend Pete Maravich) won the National League batting title in his rookie season (1941) and damn near won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in his second season. He was a five-tool switch-hitter who had Brooklyn fans salivating, after Leo Durocher scotched an unscrupulous deal by which the Dodgers’ then-boss Larry MacPhail kept Reiser buried in their farm system before he could be returned to the St. Louis Cardinals, from whom he’d been liberated by commissioner’s edict.

Durocher spoke so highly and so often publicly about this live prospect that demands for his callup to Brooklyn amplified, especially when Reiser’s minor league manager threatened to sell the kid to another major league club unless the Dodgers brought him up—which may explain a bit about Branch Rickey’s later willingness to let Durocher walk to the Giants, after Rickey had left St. Louis to run the Dodgers.

The trouble was that Reiser also became the poster child for what’s wrong with play that crosses the line from hard nosed to bullheaded, just the way Butch Hobson would become three decades later in Boston. Between his bullhead playing style—he crashed a few too many times into the concrete portion of Ebbets Field’s outfield wall trying for catches (he even fractured his skull on one such play and was knocked out so cold on another that legend still has him getting the last rites on the field)—and shoulder injuries suffered in the Army as well as on the field, Reiser returned from the war to finish his career as a part-time player who never hung up the performance papers he might have done.

Reiser went on to become a respected minor league manager (he was named Manager of the Year in 1959) and Dodger coach (he was one of Walter Alston’s brain trust on the 1963 World Series winner) before suffering a heart attack and stepping down as the manager of the Dodgers’ AAA farm. (His successor was also the man who succeeded him in Brooklyn’s center field: Hall of Famer Duke Snider.) He spent some time coaching with Leo Durocher’s Cubs after that, before retiring. He died of respiratory failure in 1981.

Rushed to the Show, he couldn’t live up to the hype he never really believed . . .

Clint HartungArguably the poster child for farm or rookie sensation turned journeyman major leaguer if that much, years before Joe Charboneau and Mark Fidrych would redefine the syndrome. Can you name many players otherwise who’ve been called the next Babe Ruth and the next Christy Mathewson? Hartung was, and the hype may have ruined him before he really got started.

Hartung’s spectacular minor league and Army performances in the World War II era—he was a pitcher with a live arm and a promising hitter; he’d become the first major league since Ruth to hit his first major league bomb as a pitcher while converting to position player afterward—had the Giants and their fans drooling over his prospects. But the 6’5″ Texan proved unable to equal his minor league or spring training performances. (In his first intrasquad game, Hartung inadvertently fueled the hype by hitting a mammoth home run.) He proved a .500 pitcher at best and a modest hitter by the time he moved full-time to the  outfield.

The likely cause of Hartung’s failure, according to most who knew him and the Giants at the time: he may have been rushed to the Show and the glare of New York before he was really ready to handle it, and the Giants perhaps couldn’t decide whether he was better off as a pitcher or an outfielder. About the only glittering moment he would experience in major league baseball was by accident: he was a pinch-runner on third base when Bobby Thomson whacked the Shot Heard ‘Round the World pennant-winning homer to end the 1951 pennant playoff with the Dodgers. (“Hartung, down the line at third, not too much of a lead,” broadcaster Russ Hodges said, moments before Thomson swung.) He also had one somewhat amusing moment: he was on base when Willie Mays drilled a home run so hard the ball lodged in one of the letters of a Schaefer Beer sign in Ebbets Field, leaving Brooklyn right fielder Carl Furillo to wait helplessly for the ball to drop back to the field before either Hartung or Mays could score. (The ball never did drop.)

Back in the minors by 1953, the modest Hartung, who seems to have been well liked by his teammates and team brass, was out of baseball a few years later. He went to work for an oil company in his native Texas, his third marriage proved his happiest, and—remarkably—he lived the rest of his life (he died in 2010, at 87) with no regrets (he kept only one photograph of himself in a Giant uniform as memoribilia) and grateful to have had a chance to play baseball at all.

What the Mets would do to Gooden, a Dodger manager did to Black . . .

Joe Black—Rookie of the Year in 1952, winning fifteen and saving fifteen with a nifty 2.15 ERA to boot (he fell eight innings short of the requirement for the league title), and the first black pitcher to win a World Series game. Looked like a Dodger mainstay in the making, even if the pitching-strapped Dodgers wrung him out in the ’52 World Series. (He started Game one and beat Allie Reynolds; he lost Games Four and Seven in close scores).

The following spring: In an eerie telegraph to the Mets’ ruination of Dwight Gooden, Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen decided Black needed “more stuff,” including a curve ball that was physically impossible for him to throw thanks to his finger tendons, essentially telling a dominant pitcher his off-speed repertoire in general and, particularly, his money pitch, a tight, hard slider, weren’t enough. By the middle of 1953, Black’s confidence was shot and, for all intent and purpose, so was his pitching career.

Black finished with 30 lifetime wins—half in his rookie season. When he was finishing futilely with the Washington Senators (the Dodgers traded him to Cincinnati in 1955; the Phillies bought and released him in 1957; the Senators signed him as a free agent later that season and cut him loose after the season), Yankee manager Casey Stengel—remembering the World Series pitcher of 1952, not the Dressen-provoked mess to follow—tried to convince his team not to be fooled by Black’s apparent inability: Don’t let him fool ya, he can throw harder than that.

Black retired to a career as a high school teacher, a Greyhound Corporation executive, and a consulting position out of the baseball commissioner’s offices counseling players on post-baseball career choices, before joining the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks in community relations. Died of prostate cancer in 2002; the Arizona Fall League’s Most Valuable Player award is named in Black’s honour.

The Art of the jinx?

Art MahaffeyLive fastball, maybe the best pickoff move in the National League, did what he could on some terrible Phillies teams between 1961 and 1963. (He had threatened—bravely or brazenly, depending on your point of view—to pick off the first man to reach base against him in the majors . . . then, he picked off the first three.) Two-time All-Star who looked like he’d rehorse in 1964 until a) his strikeout rate collapsed profoundly, and b) he—with everyone else in the park—was stunned by Cincinnati rookie Chico Ruiz’s stealing home in the game that launched the infamous Phillie phold. (Ruiz’s steal was the only run of the game.)

He may or may not have been doghoused by manager Gene Mauch over it. Mahaffey would get only one start during the peak of that fateful losing streak, pitching solidly enough in his loss to cause some teammates to wonder whether the phold could have been blocked if he’d gotten another start during that streak, especially with Mauch barely willing to trust his bullpen. (Infamously, Mauch went to Jim Bunning and Chris Short in seven of the ten games, three each on two days’ rest.)

An arm injury cost Mahaffey his fastball; struggling as a finesse pitcher, he was finished by the end of 1966 and and a non-descript season with the St. Louis Cardinals (to whom Mahaffey was dealt after 1965 in the deal that sent Bill White to Philadelphia); the Cardinals shipped him to the Mets for 1967, but he never showed up in the majors again.  He went into the insurance business after retiring from baseball. If you believe in the so-called Sports Illustrated cover jinx, be advised that the spindly Mahaffey was an April 1963 cover boy.

Later, Mahaffey helped raise money for stricken ex-teammate Chris Short (once upon a time a fine Phillies pitcher in his own right) when the latter was knocked into a coma by a brain aneurysm. Conversely, Mahaffey suffered the death of his teenaged son in a road accident, a bitter divorce, and longtime estrangement from his daughter, though he remarried happily. As strange as this may sound—considering such Phillie strikeout emperors to come as Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, and Curt Schilling—Mahaffey still holds the Phillies’ single-game strikeout record, striking out 17 Cubs in 1961.

Dying young . . .

Ken Hubbs–Sparkplug Rookie of the Year second baseman for the 1962 Cubs. Figured to hold second base for awhile  to come, even if he wasn’t much of a hitter, because with a glove he was spoken of in terms usually reserved for Bill Mazeroski. Broke Bobby Doerr’s record when he played 78 straight games with 418 chances at second base without an error; first rookie to win a Gold Glove. Killed in a small plane crash before the 1964 season when he flew into a snowstorm and fell to Utah Lake; ironically, Hubbs had taken up small-craft flight to conquer his fear of flying.

Posthumously, Hubbs was the inadvertent catalyst for maybe the most embarrassing baseball card in history: his photograph was accidentally used for the 1966 card of hard-luck Cub pitcher Dick Ellsworth.

He, too, suffered arm trouble—as did only too many Cincinnati pitchers . . .

Sammy Ellis—Looked like a comer with the mid-1960s Reds; he mixed a swift, riding fastball and a knuckleball into a 10-3/14 save 1964 (he actually finished in the top 20 among MVP vote-getters, since his performance helped keep the Reds in the pennant race as the Phillies came to fold) and, as a starter, a 22-10 1965 and his only All-Star appearance.

He looked like he’d become the no-questions-asked number two man behind Jim Maloney until he developed arm trouble, bounced around to the Angels, White Sox, and Indians, before calling it a career and becoming a long-time, somewhat traveled, respected pitching coach, primarily for the Yankees in the early 1980s.

Virtuosity, injury, dentistry . . .

Jim Lonborg—Took two seasons to warm up, then exploded with the 1967 Cinderella Red Sox, leading the American League in wins and strikeouts, and winning the first American League Cy Young Award for his trouble. Did I mention he also pitched the pennant-winner on the final day? Forced to start Game Seven of the World Series on too-short rest, possibly because manager Dick Williams feared being crucified for not sending his ace to face Bob Gibson despite the short rest, the pitcher known as Gentleman Jim was no match for Gibson.

In the offseason: An avid skiier who partook of the sport to keep in shape, Lonborg tore his knee apart in a skiing accident. He would never again be the same pitcherhe’d been in 1967. Like Herb Score before him following an elbow injury, Gentleman Jim (his polite, cerebral personality earned him the nickname in his Boston years) altered his pitching motion to help ease lingering knee discomfort and created havoc on his rotator cuff (then an injury seemingly immune to treatment) that he’d endure for the rest of his respectable-not-great pitching career, though he’d show periodic signs of his former self. He’d leave Boston in a trade to the Brewers in 1972; he’d go to the Phillies from 1973-79.

The slender righthander ended up reversing Casey Stengel’s career path: Stengel gave up his dental studies for a life of baseball; Lonborg became a dentist after his playing days ended; he still practises in Massachussetts, even though he had to beat prostate cancer at one point. He also made an inadvertent television presence—that’s Lonborg in the image, in pitching motion, depicting Sam Malone’s pitching days in the 1980s comedy hit Cheers. Lonborg’s skiing accident, by the way, proved the catalyst for the long-since-established uniform contract clause in which clubs can restrict certain off-season activities by players under contract.

OK, someone did come more bullheaded than Pistol Pete . . .

Butch Hobson—Arguably, the Pete Reiser of the 1970s. Crossed the line from hard-nosed to bullheaded and probably got even less out of his talent than Reiser did. He emerged as a power-hitting Red Sox third baseman in 1977 . . . while playing every chance in the field like the football player he’d once been under Bear Bryant and making the position and himself such a mess he became legendary for re-arranging the bone chips in both his elbows so he could at least swing the bat. After three respectable seasons at the plate (in the field, his bullheaded style of play made him a liability) and one injury-plagued season of mediocrity, he moved to the Angels (one year) and the Yankees (barely half a year), a shell of what he once looked to become.

Hobson became a manager after his playing days, in the minors and with the Red Sox for a spell, but he became infamous when—managing the Phillies’ Scranton-Wilkes Barre (AAA) farm—he lost his job after his arrest for cocaine possession. He recovered, though, to manage the Nashua Pride (independent Atlantic League) and earn a winning record overall from 2000-2007. He also earned a legend for resolving arguments with umpires uniquely over close baserunning calls: he’d yank the base out of the field and, as he returned to the dugout, hand the base to a young fan in the stands.

Up and down for the Count . . .

John (The Count) Montefusco—Rookie of the Year with the 1975 San Francisco Giants. Thunderbolt arm compromised by degenerative hip condition, the Count laboured through a thirteen-year career that didn’t end up even a third of what his first two seasons (including a stylish no-hitter in 1976) promised.

He left the Giants acrimoniously enough: fuming when then-manager Dave Bristol yanked him early in back to back starts, the second with a lead, Montefusco demanded Bristol call the front office to start a trade and Bristol, foolishly, challenged the Count to a fight . . . which Montefusco won by putting Bristol into a headlock. Bouncing to the Braves and the Padres, he ended up a Yankee, noted for his prankish personality and his 5-0 start in The ‘Stripes before he developed the hip condition that ended his career a shell of its one-time promise.

The Count’s aftermath was somewhere between sad and surrealistically horrible. While labouring to make his way in harness racing and the casino business, he became addicted to painkillers due to his hip condition and a battle with Lyme disease; his baseball fortune dissipated and he lost his home by 1996.

Two years later, he ended up on the wrong side of a nasty divorce: Montefusco swore his wife’s father had a will granting her $1 million—if she divorced her husband; his wife swore he was a drug-addled abuser. It got from bad to worse when the Count went into the clink after—defying a restraining order—he went to her demanding an explanation for assault and sex abuse charges, and he couldn’t raise the million dollar bail slapped upon him. He spent two years behind bars before he was acquitted of the charges (and wasn’t The Count of Monte Cristo himself a wrongly-accused man, come to think of it?); his two daughters remain among his staunchest defenders.

Montefusco returned to baseball as the pitching coach for the Somerset (New Jersey) Patriots, in the independent Atlantic League, from 2000-2005.

Pitching through pain trying to prove he was worth his big money ruined yet redeemed Wayne Garland . . .

Wayne GarlandOne cup of coffee and two rounding-into-shape seasons into his career, Garland had a solid-enough 1976, once he’d perfected his screwball, to achieve two things: a) a 20-win season and an eighth-place Cy Young Award finish with the Baltimore Orioles; and, b) a ten-year, $2.3 million deal with the Cleveland Indians (extremely big money at the time) in the earliest wave following the advent of free agency. (His first reaction was the same as his mother’s: “I don’t deserve it.” Not that they wouldn’t have sent the men in the proverbial white coats after him if he’d refused it.)

Often thought to be a grump, Garland actually showed a sense of humour about the contract—he admitted he was stunned to get that $230,000 a year for ten years—and Cleveland. (For that kind of money, I’d have played in Siberia.) He made the cover of The Sporting News (“Instant Riches” was the headline); he was determined to live up to the deal no matter what. And no matter what came only too swiftly for the grim righthander.

Garland suffered what proved a rotator cuff injury in his first spring training game. Then—pitching stubbornly and, perhaps, foolishly, with the bad arm, desperate to prove he was worth his salary, he lost 19 (winning 13) for the 1977 Indians. (One fan hollered “Hey, Wayne, throw me a buck!” so often during a game that Garland’s then-wife, who was sitting nearby, handed him the dollar and invited him to shut the hell up.) The season line included 38 starts and a whopping 21 complete games, 283 innings work total. Then, following rotator cuff surgery, Garland found himself going 15-29 for the next four years, moving from starting to relieving and developing something of a knuckleball out of desperation, perhaps, to revive his career. But he was out of the Show for keeps by the end of 1981.

The only positive thing to come out of Garland’s repeated comeback bids was the softening of his image in Cleveland. Where fans first thought he was spoiled by the spoils (he didn’t help his own cause by buying a $775,000 mansion with domestic staff houses on the property in an exclusive suburb, then getting into an arduous legal dispute with the property’s former owners), the repeated comeback attempts turned them onto his side, cheering his few good outings and tallying the net result more as a tragedy. In time, Garland became a minor league pitching coach.

Marginal player, pennant-winning manager . . .

Clint Hurdle—1980: A live young Royal outfielder (and eventual multi-position player) with 60 RBI for a pennant winner in his second—and final—season as a regular. Eked out a ten-year playing career before retiring, playing for a time in the Senior Professional Baseball League, and eventually becoming a respected and pennant winning (2007 Rockies) manager. After injuries cost the Rockies a possible return engagement in 2008, a poor 2009 cost Hurdle his head on a plate.

He joined the Rangers as their hitting instructor and helped them reach the 2010 World Series (you could probably field an All-Star team of marginal or modest players who became pennant-winning managers) before signing a three-year deal to manager the Pirates. He had them in first place in the National League Central before the 2011 All-Star break; they may have faded in the second half, but there he is again, with his Pirates leading the division again at this writing.

This was a once-too familiar sight to NL pitchers: HoJo going for the fences . . .

Howard Johnson—He emerged from being a spare part on the Tigers’ 1984 World Series winner (Sparky Anderson had hung him with the no-heart tag, perhaps unfairly) and a hesitant ’86 Met (he happened to be on deck when Mookie Wilson’s grounder skipped through Bill Buckner’s wicket, in fact) and exploded into one of the National League’s most dangerous hitters in 1987. From 1987 through 1991, the switch hitter Met fans nicknamed HoJo (how often did he have to say he had no relation to the motor lodge people?) averaged 31 bombs and 95 runs batted in; in 1991 he led the league in bombs and ribs alike, the 38 bombs breaking his own league record for homers on a season by a switch hitter. (His one-time Met teammate, Todd Hundley, would break that record in due course.)

The Mets, however, never seemed entirely comfortable with Johnson at third base and often shifted him irrationally around the field making one or another accommodation. He was also dogged by trade rumours whenever he hit a slump. These were bound to take a toll on Johnson, a genuinely sensitive man who was never truly secure even at the height of his prowess. Then, in 1992, as the Mets further unloaded what remained of their mid-1980s glory in exchange for high-price, high-maintenance players who sometimes created nightmares for the team and the press (Bob Klapisch and John Harper chronicled this too well in The Worst Team Money Could Buy), Johnson practically fell of the proverbial face of the earth: his batting stroke abandoned him, he was a further mess in the field (’92 Mets manager Jeff Torborg irrationally moved him to center field), and he suffered under the whisperings that his born-again Christianity had throttled his former plate determination.

Becoming a free agent after 1993, Johnson hooked on with the Rockies. He was reduced to pinch-hitting duties when the players’ strike ended the 1994 season prematurely; he signed with the Cubs for 1995 but was an invisible man as his playing time shrank even more; when no other club showed any interest after the season, he retired. Since then, HoJo has made a second career as a minor league coach and manager, and the Mets’ first base and hitting coach for a period; he was ousted as hitting coach in 2011, after the Mets hired Terry Collins as manager.

The next Mickey Mantle could barely be the first Gregg Jefferies, for various reasons . . .

Gregg Jefferies—No questions asked, perhaps the number one prospect of the 1980s. They spoke of the five-tool Jefferies in terms once reserved for Mickey Mantle. He earned Minor League Player of the Year honours twice and shone in two cups of coffee with the Mets, in 1987 and 1988. If ever there was a kid who couldn’t miss, Jefferies was that player. He even earned accolades for his unusual hitting and strength-training regimen, under his father’s guidance, that included swinging a bat while standing in a swimming pool up to his neck.

He missed.

The hype wasn’t Jefferies’ idea but he suffocated under it. He couldn’t accept any coaching except his father’s, which proved problematic when he didn’t hit anywhere near his striking minor league totals. That, plus his propensity to fume whenever a plate appearance didn’t end in a base hit, earned him a clubhouse image as a spoiled brat, an image he never really shook so long as he was a Met. There would be those who believed Jefferies was the inadvertent catalyst for Davey Johnson’s firing as Met manager in May 1990, since Johnson believed against burgeoning evidence that Jefferies in the majors would be as phenomenal as he had been in the minors. (There were also those who believed many of the once-key Mets who’d been shipped out of town during Jefferies’ stay with the team were also sent packing because they weren’t exactly Jefferies fans, at a time when Jefferies was still considered the future of the franchise.)

Jefferies himself sent it from bad to worse with his open letter to fans in 1991, read over New York WFAN. He may have meant to explain himself as a loyal teammate who asked for nothing but similar loyalty in return, but it only made him look worse in public and complicated his standing in the clubhouse even further. Finally, after three straight seasons of not living up to his minor league promise, completely isolated in his own clubhouse, unable to shake his spoiled brat image, the Mets—perhaps mercifully—traded him to the Royals for 1992.

He went from there to forge a respectable if not spectacular career in Kansas City, St. Louis (where he had his best two seasons as a hitter while moving to first base adequately, thriving with patient manager Joe Torre), and Philadelphia, until hamstring and thumb issues issues ended it by 2000. Jefferies today runs a private baseball academy where he teaches would-be players not just how to play the game on the field but how to avoid the errors that pockmarked his life in the Mets’ clubhouse. He speaks candidly of that period, accepting responsibility and admitting the hype he’d been given before making the majors to stay suffocated him.

Trivia: If George Steinbrenner had had his way, Gregg Jefferies would never have been seen in a Met uniform:

Approaching 1988, the Yankees needed an extra shortstop, and the Mets needed to make room for a comer named Kevin Elster. To make room for Elster, the Mets needed to move popular but aging incumbent Rafael Santana. Knowing Santana was once a Yankee prospect and loved New York, and appreciating him as one of the least rambunctious of the infamous ’86 Mets, general manager Joe McIlvane reached across the bridge at the winter meetings. “We’re not looking to hold the Yankees up here,” McIlvane told the Yankees’ then-general manager, Lou Piniella. “We just want to take care of Raffy.”

The two GMs made a deal that would send Santana to the Yankees for three minor leaguers. The only thing that came close to killing the deal was Steinbrenner—the Boss  wanted the Mets to throw in a prospect . . . and he targeted Jefferies specifically. (Steinbrenner misidentified him as “Jefferson.”) Piniella knew the Mets wouldn’t include Jefferies even if the Yankees added Don Mattingly to their side of the deal. Ultimately, Piniella convinced Steinbrenner not to even think about demanding Jefferies.

Elster, for his part, had a somewhat long career, if nowhere near his own early promise. As a Met, he proved to have too much taste for the nightlife and the ladies after his first divorce, and it crashed on him when a) he suffered the first of a few shoulder miseries; and, b) he nearly crashed his car upon hearing Magic Johnson’s public admission that he had contracted the HIV virus. The news terrified Elster, who reportedly spent five days in private hell awaiting the news he was HIV-negative in spite of his hyperactive love life. Once touted as the next Cal Ripken, Jr., Elster’s shoulder miseries left him a journeyman major leaguer at best, retiring after thirteen seasons.

Broken hand and wrist, broken career . . .

Jerome Walton—The 1989 National League Rookie of the Year (and the first Cub to win the award since Ken Hubbs) looked like a textbook leadoff man with the Cubs—hit for average, reached base as if it had his name on it, threat to thieve once he got on base, a 30-game hitting streak for good measure, and helped the Cubs hustle to the National League East title.

The following season: Hung up a better on-base percentage scoring about the same number of runs. 1991: The beginning of the long, painful end. Walton managed to eke out a ten-year career but never again got anywhere within telescope sight of 1989-90. The likely culprit: a broken right hand and wrist.

Pulsipher, Wilson, Isringhausen—From Gen K to Gen D(isabled) . . .

“Generation K”—This trio of Met pitching prospects—Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson—were supposed to be the Seaver-Koosman-Ryan of the mid-1990s Mets. Pitching the moribund Mets back to respectability after the collapse and burial of the Gooden/Strawberry mets. All three of them suffered arm and/or shoulder trouble practically out of the chute; two of the three would barely be able to pitch again on any long-term basis.

Only Isringhausen managed to hang on for a long and respectable career, converting to the bullpen and becoming one of the best closers for most of the Aughts, with several postseason appearances and a World Series ring (with the 2006 Cardinals) on his resume. He eventually made a respectable return to the Mets before signing a minor league deal with the Angels for 2012. At this writing, Isringhausen  has exactly 300 major league saves. What happened to the others?

Pulsipher—Managed to make one comeback with the 1998 Brewers, to whom the Mets traded him at the non-waiver deadline, but a back injury wrecked lingering effectiveness in 1999 and he was dealt back to the Mets. Spent most of the next decade up and down and even in the independent leagues; he was a teammate of Isringhausen’s on the Cardinals for a short period; after a few more years in a similar pattern, Pulsipher turned to private pitching instruction in New York.

Wilson—Traded to Tampa Bay in 2000; ultimately signed with the Reds and mounted something of a comeback in 2004 with 11 wins before shoulder trouble again sidelines him before the Reds finally released him in 2007. Played a year for the independent Reno (Nevada) Silver Sox before retiring for good.

The young gun couldn’t know his armpit would betray him . . .

Steve Avery—They once called him one of Atlanta’s “Young Guns,” in rotation with Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Pete Smith. He’d turned a so-so rookie season into a dynamic sophomore campaign, going 18-8 with a 3.38 ERA and helping the Braves go worst-to-first into their first World Series since 1958 (when they played in Milwaukee), shutting out the Pirates twice in the League Championship Series and pitching well with no decisions in the World Series against the Twins.

In 1992, he pitched well despite a modest won-lost record due to poor run support; in 1993, though he ended with an 18-6 record and a 2.94 ERA (not to mention his only All-Star team), Avery suffered an armpit injury during that season which would dictate his future: he was all but finished despite a few scattered outings (including postseason play) where he resembled the young gun of before. He’d never have a winning season after an injury-marked 1994; a 2003 comeback bid with the Tigers ended after 19 games, all in relief, and a 2-0 record but a 5.19 ERA.

Avery has since lived in his native Michigan with his wife and family. Last fall, he was involved in a bizarre incident in which he was picked in a drawing to try winning a car at a high school homecoming game by throwing a football through a target, but confusion over the rules proved he didn’t.

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