One of the hottest topics in sports is untimely injuries that may have ruined careers; and it’s huge in baseball, with players such as Kerry Wood, Carl Crawford, Ken Griffey Jr. and most notably Mickey Mantle. But one of the more compelling (and depressing) stories is that of a pitcher by the name of Tony Saunders.
As an inspiration to many, Saunders proved that if you do, in fact, work hard enough, any and every dream you set your mind to can come true; only to realize that it can be yanked from you at the snap of a finger. Going undrafted out of high school, Saunders was told that he wasn’t good enough by every Major League team in 1991. He signed with the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993. Making their Opening Day roster in 1997, he went on to win a World Series after many frustrating seasons in the minor leagues. Saunders would stay up at the Major League level throughout the entire season, before being selected 1st overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1998 expansion draft.
Starting the 3rd game in TB history, the Rays were hoping that the potential that a young kid like Saunders had (think of Chris Archer’s ceiling, with career numbers similar to Archer’s 2016 season) would become what James Shields ended up being for them years later. Saunders ended up being a hot and cold, streaky-like starter in the 1998 season. Posting an abysmal 5.02 ERA in April, a fantastic 2.89 ERA in May, a 7.36 ERA in all of June, a stellar 1.72 ERA in the month July, a 5.08 ERA in August, and a 2.70 ERA in the month of September with 172 Ks on the season, giving the Rays a glimmer of hope following a 99-loss 1998 season.
Fast forward one year, it’s the start of the 1999 season. Saunders starts the season 3-3, when tragedy strikes and Saunders enters his never-ending nightmare. In a start at Tropicana Field in May of 1999 against the Texas Rangers, Saunders went to deliver a 3-2 pitch as the ball went wild out of his hand and all you hear is a simple scream that echoes through the stadium. The stadium is silent from there on out, literally to the point where many say “a pin drop could be heard”.
With an arm completely shattered, Saunders was out for the rest of the 1999 season. In his 5th rehab start in 2000, he had the same exact injury. Saunders announced his retirement from the sport of baseball at the young age of 26, in perhaps one of the most painful press conferences you will ever watch. He attempted a brief comeback with the Orioles in 2005, but ultimately failed without even throwing a single pitch. The Arizona Diamondbacks (1998s other expansion team) won the World Series in 2001, while they Rays battled obscurity until 2008 when they went to their first World Series.
Saunders announces his retirement. (USAToday)
Jameus Mooney, Editor at The Athlete’s Hub
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