Ten Great Baseball Call-Ups Followed by…Well, Nothing
Brought up from the minor leagues, these ten players wowed with great performances—but they were never able to duplicate their initial successes for the long term.
Every year, as the baseball season heads into the home stretch, major league teams expand their rosters and call up numerous prospects from the minors to see what they’ve got. While most of these players clearly show that they’re not yet ready for the big time, others give us a glimpse of coming greatness. We’ve seen it with Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Ernie Banks, Fred Lynn, Fernando Valenzuela and David Price, instant stars who immediately impressed and continued to do so in the years to follow.
But we’ve also seen it from players who never followed up on their grand cameos. What happened? Where did they go? Why didn’t it all work out? Here’s ten players who have left a lot of people puzzled.
Cisco Carlos, 1967
A native of the Los Angeles bedroom community of Monrovia, the 6’3, 205-pound Cisco had labored for so long in the minors—almost all of it spent below the Triple-A level—that he considered quitting the game. But seven years after being signed on by the Chicago White Sox, Cisco finally got the call from the parent team and was thrust into the thick of the wild, four-team American League pennant race in 1967. To say he didn’t disappoint was an immense understatement.
Cisco debuted by no-hitting the Boston Red Sox into the fifth inning. In his next start, he faced the Red Sox again—and kept them hitless into the seventh. Proving that it wasn’t just Boston, Cisco two weeks later took the mound on three days’ rest and threw a 10-inning shutout of the Cleveland Indians. The White Sox failed to win the pennant, but they believed a star was born with Cisco, who started seven games, relieved in another, and produced a 2-0 record with a sparkling 0.86 earned run average. The 1968 preseason buzz on Cisco was vibrant; he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as one of baseball’s five top rookies—along with Johnny Bench and Mike Torrez—for the coming season.
Though the 1968 campaign would be well remembered as the Year of the Pitcher, Cisco threw like he was stuck in the live ball era. His 3.90 ERA was a full run over the league average and he won only four of 18 decisions. As baseball made it easier for hitters the following year, they made it tougher on Cisco, whose ERA shot up to 5.37 before being dealt to the lowly Washington Senators. For the next four seasons, Cisco found himself stuck in the minors, appearing in only five more big league games before hanging it up in 1973.
Craig Wilson, 1998
Taken in the 13th round by his hometown White Sox in 1992, Wilson rode an unassuming career in the minors until 1998 when he peaked above the .300 level with mild power for the Sox’ Triple-A affiliate at Calgary. Called up to Chicago as September rosters were allowed to expand, Wilson had a whopping debut when he collected two doubles and a home run against the mighty (114-48) Yankees; multi-hit games would became rule over exception for the 28-year-old infielder, and he saved his best for a September 14 game in which he clubbed two homers, knocked in five and scored four in the Sox’ 17-16, 12-inning win over Detroit. Wilson passed the audition with flying colors, hitting .468 in 47 at-bats with three homers and ten RBIs.
Given a part-time role at Chicago for 1999, Wilson struggled with a .238 average; a year later, he was off to a solid start—hitting .311 in early June—before a nagging back injury landed him on the disabled list. He hit an impressive .370 during a prolonged rehab stint at Triple-A, but fizzled upon his return to the White Sox late in the year. In 2001, he was back in the minors, never to return; by 2004, 34 years old and demoted to Double-A, Wilson saw the writing on the wall and left the game—but he departed knowing that no other major leaguer hit for as high an average in a single season with as many hits as he.
Dwayne Hosey, 1995
Throughout the final three decades of the 20th Century, the Boston Red Sox were saturated with great call-up performances: Fred Lynn (1974), Ted Cox (1977), Mike Greenwell (1986), Sam Horn (1987) and Phil Plantier (1991), just to name more than a few. But no young Red Sox player left a greater first impression than the Pennsylvania-born Hosey, whose small sample of production represented the total package.
Blessed with power and speed, Hosey had missed out on one previous chance to show his stuff at the top when the Kansas City Royals called him up in August 1994—just as major leaguers voted to go on strike for the rest of the year. There would be no work stoppage a year later, and there would be no stopping Hosey—who hit .338 in 68 at-bats but, more impressively, scored 20 runs, stroked 12 extra-base hits and stole six bases. His dynamic debut earned him a starting outfield job in the postseason to follow, but he went 0-for-12 against the Indians while the Red Sox went 0-for-3 to quickly bow out.
The Red Sox had enough faith in Hosey to make the Opening Day starting lineup in 1996, but he faded after a decent start and, hitting .218, was sent back to the minors in June. Frustrated, Hosey next turned to Japan and the Yakult Swallows, where he thrived with 38 homers, 100 RBIs and 20 steals. But as in Boston, the Japan experience would not be a lasting one as his production tanked the next season; he returned to the minors, but never made it back to the majors.
Ray Jansen, 1910
The mysterious thing about Ray Jansen, like so many other obscure players of baseball’s early days, is that so little is known about him. Which makes his lone major league performance, played late in the 1910 season, all the more intriguing.
A week before the end of a miserable campaign, the St. Louis Browns—on their way to a 47-107 record—brought in Jansen to play his first big league game. What is known is that Jansen was a 21-year-old native of St. Louis; for all we know, someone probably saw him playing at a local park with a bunch of friends, liked what he saw and told him to come to Sportsman’s Park because, what the hell—what else did the Browns have to lose except more games?
Here’s what’s also known about Jansen: In his one and only game, he knocked out four singles in five trips to the plate as the Browns (still) lost and lost badly, managing only a run on 16 hits in a 9-1 loss. Nearly 1,000 players have logged a single game of major league experience, but none of them have more hits than Jansen.
Alas for Jansen, he’s also probably the only player whose career fielding percentage is lower than his batting average. His three errors on the day in ten chances at third base—resulting in a .700 fielding mark—may very well be the reason he never hooked on with the majors for a longer stretch of time. He did play in the minors for much of the 1910s, and some researchers have him trying out for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1912. But beyond that and the fact that he died young at age 45, Jansen’s life and baseball career remains something of an enigma—especially for one who hit .800.
Glenn Williams, 2005
He was the Great Aussie Hope, a 16-year-old third baseman from the Land Down Under so revered in 1993 that the Atlanta Braves won a bidding war and signed him for $825,000—at the time, the highest fee ever shelled out for an international player.
Williams was equitably compared to another hot Atlanta prospect of the times, Chipper Jones—and while Jones emerged as a Hall-of-Fame talent, Williams remained stuck in the minors. For a dozen long years. In 2005, the Minnesota Twins—Williams’ third organization—decided to give him a shot after he finally tipped .300 at Triple-A.
For three weeks, the major league experience became pure bliss for Williams. And not just because he was happy to finally be there. Williams played 13 games and got a hit in every one of them, batting .425 and tying a major league record for the longest hit streak to start a big league career. But his magical debut came to a painful end when he jammed his shoulder sliding into base, resulting in surgery and the end of his season.
After his Walter Mitty moment, Williams returned to the minors and mediocrity; his post-2005 play simply never warranted a second chance with the majors. After 2007, he went back home to play and coach the Australian national squad as well as teams in the fledgling Australian leagues. Williams is not in Cooperstown, but somewhere you’ll find him enshrined in the Baseball Australia Hall of Fame.
Keith McDonald, 2000
Two years after Mark McGwire annihilated the home run season record, another Big Mac threatened to break out in St. Louis. But nobody saw Keith McDonald coming; for seven years, he labored as a part-time minor leaguer with average power at best, never hitting more than seven homers in a season. He only got promoted to the Cardinals in July because the team was short a back-up catcher.
In his first big league at-bat, the Japanese native by way of Los Angeles homered. In his second turn at the plate, he did it again—joining Bob Nieman (in 1951) as the only major leaguer to go deep in his first two at-bats. McDonald banged one more homer before being sent back down to the minors; he wasn’t asked to return when the roster expanded in September, and McDonald finished his brief major league debut with three hits—all homers—in seven at-bats with five RBIs and two walks. His second chance would come a year later, but it was even more fleeting than the first; he was hitless in two at-bats.
A third chance never came. With Mike Matheny holding court behind the plate and a young stud named Yadier Molina beginning to make a quick ascension through the minors, there was no hope for McDonald to break through to the parent roster again, while no other team wanted him. But he had this going for him: No player in major league history has a career ledger with multiple homers and no other hits.
John Paciorek, 1963
The last name may be familiar to those who’ve heard of Tom Paciorek, who hung around for 18 years and hit a pesky .282. But there was John, his older brother, whose major league career consisted of a single day.
And what a day it was.
The Houston Colt .45s had high expectations for the confident Michigan native, signing him in 1963 for $45,000 and a promise to pay for a future college education. Despite back issues that led him to hit an underwhelming .219 for Single-A Modesto in his first year, Paciorek was asked to play the final game of the Colt .45’s inaugural season.
In a 13-4 win over the hapless New York Mets, Paciorek emerged as the talk of the town, if only for a day. He reached base all five times, with three singles and two walks. The box score read 3-4-3-2 for the 18-year-old—and that’s the way his career record would read as well.
Fully expecting to make the Houston roster for 1964, Paciorek instead saw his back woes worsen, and he returned to the minors—where he batted only .135. More injuries followed, as would more miserable minor league numbers; he bottomed out in 1967 when he hit .104 with 33 strikeouts in 67 at-bats split between two lower-level teams. Paciorek stabilized and ascended to Double-A by 1969, but that’s as far as he got; he quit and immersed himself into Christian science, leading a content post-ball life that continues today—all with the knowledge that he’s the only major leaguer to record a career 1.000 average with three or more at-bats.
Bob Hazle, 1957
Few people had a more appropriate nickname than Bob “Hurricane” Hazle, who blew through the major league landscape and inflicted major damage on opposing pitching…and then vanished into history.
A solid but not sensational minor league performer, Hazle was given one taste of the majors in 1955 when the Reds briefly brought him up and watched him go an innocuous 3-for-13. Two years later in the Milwaukee farm system, the Braves brought him up at the end of July to replace the injured Bill Bruton, forming an outfielding platoon with veteran Andy Pafko.
No one saw this Hurricane coming. A left-handed batter used almost exclusively against righties, Hazle hit a staggering .500 in his first 22 games before leveling off to .403 with seven homers, 12 doubles and 27 RBIs in 134 total at-bats, helping to lift the Braves to their first Milwaukee pennant. Since Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, Hazle is the only major leaguer to hit over .400 with at least 100 at-bats in a season.
Hazle’s encore, a year later, was forgettable to say the least. He hurt his ankle and twice was hit in the head by pitches. By May, not only was his batting average stuck at .179 but so was his slugging percentage, as he accrued no extra-base hits. Traded to Detroit, Hazle fared only a tad better, and soon he was back in the minors, descending from Triple-A to Double-A to, by 1960, No-A as he became so discouraged that he quit at age 30.
Whereas most retirees turned to coaching, scouting or opening a baseball academy, a bitter Hazle never returned to the game in any capacity; he instead opted for a number of sales jobs in his home state of South Carolina before succumbing to a heart attack at age 62.
Shane Spencer, 1998
Everything went right for the 1998 New York Yankees. They won 114 games and breezed through the postseason, sweeping San Diego in the World Series. David Wells threw a perfect game. George Steinbrenner didn’t bitch, once. And Shane Spencer had a call-up performance for the ages.
After spending nearly a decade in the minors, the 26-year-old had already been summoned three times during the year when he was recalled yet again in early September. Up to that point, Spencer’s prodigious power stroke had been limited to just one contest, a 5-for-5 effort with two doubles and two homers in an August game against Kansas City. But Spencer was just warming up.
In 14 September games, Spencer was utterly ablaze. He clubbed eight home runs—three of them with the bases loaded—and knocked in 21 runs in 38 at-bats. Let us repeat that: 38 at-bats, eight homers, 21 RBIs. Somewhere, Mark McGwire—finishing off his legendary 70-homer season—must have saw those numbers and thought, “Wow.”
For the year in total, Spencer hit .373 with ten homers and 27 RBIs in 67 at-bats; he continued the magic in the postseason, homering in each of his two ALDS starts against Texas and smacking a double in his only World Series start against the Padres.
Nobody expected Spencer to maintain his crazy 1998 pace in the years to follow, but they expected more than what he would ultimately give. Over the next five years, he rated nothing more than a part-time player with standard output on the field, and a part-time (at least) delinquent off it—getting into bar fights, (allegedly) kicking pizza delivery men and drinking, driving and speeding, sometimes all at once.
After bouncing around with four organizations, Spencer’s playing days came to an end in 2004. He coached here and there and remained a folk hero of sorts among Yankee fans who fondly recalled his abbreviated fame; others wonder if his memorable call-up binge was a result of steroid use. An ESPN radio station, in 2013, thought they had it confirmed from Spencer himself during on-air 30-minute phone call, but it turned out the caller was an imposter; the real Spencer later rang up to set the record straight.
Karl Spooner, 1954
Long-time Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully once said that Karl Spooner was “Koufax…before Koufax.” The 23-year-old southpaw surely proved that at the tail end of the 1954 season, briefly setting the baseball world abuzz with a pair of brilliant starts. It was a harbinger of great things that never came.
Like Bob Feller before him, Spooner possessed lightning-quick velocity but lacked discipline of the strike zone. He struck out a ton of batters, but seemed to walk just as many; halfway through the 1954 season at Triple-A, he had already walked 100 batters. Then he hurt his knee playing pepper before a game; the injury forced him to shorten his windup and, voila, the wildness vanished. After wrapping his minor league season with a 21-9 record and 262 strikeouts, he was given an end-of-year promotion to Brooklyn.
In his first start, Spooner said hello to the majors and the World Series-bound New York Giants with a three-hit shutout. That earned him a second start and, facing the Pirates four days later, he threw another blanking, this time on four hits. His catcher, future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella, said of him: “He’s the greatest young pitcher I’ve ever seen.” Ed Sullivan tried to get him on his popular TV show but failed, as Spooner ducked out of the sudden spotlight on a Sunday night.
For Spooner, it wasn’t just the shutouts. It was also the strikeouts—27 of them over his two starts, in a time when the strikeout rate was roughly half what it is today. Dodger fans were beside themselves over the potential of this kid from upstate in Oriskany Falls, 30 miles west of Cooperstown.
The following March, Spooner was rushed into the middle of a spring training game with little time to warm up. Instinctively, he fired away with his usual upper-90s fastball when he felt something pop in his shoulder. The pain became progressively worse and he didn’t pitch again until mid-May, with diminished velocity, diminished success and increasingly diminished hope for the future. There were some good days—he did win eight games, including one by shutout—but mostly bad ones. When the Dodgers reached the World Series, Spooner was given the golden assignment to win Game Six and give Brooklyn its long-sought first championship. He lasted a third of an inning instead, allowing five runs on three hits and two walks.
And that’s the last time Spooner ever pitched in a major league game.
The shoulder and, by extension, Spooner’s long-term outlook, worsened. He found himself back in the minors, earning more demotions than promotions. The Dodgers tried everything to fix Spooner’s shoulder. The only remedy that might have worked—ligament replacement (a.k.a. Tommy John) surgery—wasn’t yet invented. And thus, Karl Spooner’s career came to an end in the D-level of the minors at age 28.
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