Over the past week, we have explored the athletes in the NBA and NFL whose injuries most affected their careers. In the final installment of the series, we turn to the baseball diamond to list our top five players.
The list of awards on Sandy Koufax’s resume is so impressive, it’s hard to believe that his career could have been any better. He is a seven time All-Star, a three time Cy Young winner, a four time World Series champion, has two World Series MVPs, and is one of only 23 pitchers in history to throw a perfect game. While his accomplishments were more than enough to send him to Cooperstown, Koufax suffered from chronic arthritis in his pitching arm, and pitched through the last two years of his career in pain. He was forced to retire after twelve seasons in the majors that saw him compile 165 wins and 2,396 strikeouts. If Tommy John surgery had been around at the time, it’s unfathomable how much more he could have accomplished.
It’s every batter’s worst nightmare. Standing at the plate, ready for the pitch, then watching that pitch come straight at his face. In 1967, this happened to Tony Conigliaro. Prior to the injury, Conigliaro was one of the most promising hitters of his time. He is the second youngest player to reach 100 home runs for his career and holds the record for most home runs by a teenager. When he took the pitch to his face, he suffered a severely damaged retina and had trouble seeing the ball after that. He did make his return to baseball two seasons later and had one of his best seasons in 1970, but eventually his eyesight deteriorated and he was forced to retire.
Back in the early 2000s, there was a duo of pitchers for the Chicago Cubs who were an incredible 1-2 pitching punch for the team. One half of the pair was Mark Prior. Prior was one of the top pitching prospects who finished third in Cy Young voting in just his second year in the majors. In that 2003 season where the Cubs went to the playoffs, he was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts. He also continually racked up high pitch counts in his appearances that year, eventually causing him to struggle with shoulder and elbow issues that plagued him for the rest of his career. Prior only pitched for five seasons, and has not pitched in the majors since 2006.
The other half of the “Chicago Heat” duo was Kerry Wood, who made his first start for the club in 1998. That year, he had one of his most memorable performances where he struck out 20 batters in a nine inning game and later was the National League Rookie of the Year. In his rookie year, he was overused and pitched 166.2 innings that year. The following year, he was sidelined due to undergoing Tommy John surgery. He started with a strong comeback to the majors, but a slew of injuries to his shoulder caused him to be relegated to a bullpen role, then eventually retire last year.
One of the most incredible athletes to ever live, it would have been amazing to see what Bo Jackson could have done had he never suffered a hip injury while playing in the NFL. He was the first athlete to make an All-Star team in two different sports and posted a .250 AVG, 141 HR, and 415 RBI in his major league career. The hip injury forced his retirement from football, but did not stop him from getting back out on the diamond. He played baseball for two more years after the hip surgery, even hitting .279 in his final season. But the injuries he had sustained had taken their toll, and he was forced to retire after just eight full seasons in the majors.