What If…………..

I saw a discussion on Twitter yesterday that posed this question: If you could go back and make 1 athlete’s career injury free, whose would it be?  Immediately dozens of players throughout all sports jumped into my mind. I think most of us would have Bo Jackson on that list. When you go back and think of it, it can become heartbreaking. These are guys that worked hard their entire lives to achieve a goal, only to have it taken away by injury.

When we watched Bo Jackson play, we knew we were seeing something truly special. To excel at that level in 2 different sports is almost unheard of. From All-Star games to Pro Bowls, this guy was living out multiple dreams. Just to make it to the NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB was a huge accomplishment. To be considered among the best; a dream come true. To be among the best at 2 of them; insane. We can only dream of the heights that Bo could’ve reached if not for a hip injury.

The more I thought of this, the more intriguing it became. I was coming up with guys that younger people today have no idea existed. And why would they? An injury derailed a career before most of them could become household names. People my age (29 again) surely remember Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych. He pitched for the Tigers in the late 70s, primarily, and burst onto the scene, not just with immense talent, but with a quirkiness that captured the nation. He would take the mound, pick up the ball, and talk to it. You read that correctly. Yasiel Puig talks to, and licks, his bat. Mark Fidrych was doing this 40 years ago. Detroit loved him, all baseball fans loved him. I actually got to see him pitch in Cincinnati in an exhibition game. I was just a kid; I was thoroughly amused by this guy. Unfortunately, injuries cut short what could have been a stellar career.

When I first started following baseball in 1970, I had just started hearing about Tony Conigliaro. The reason he was in the spotlight that year was because he had earned Comeback Player of the Year honors. In the mid 60s, Congiliaro burst onto the scene by becoming the youngest AL HR Champ in history with 32 dingers in the 1965 season. By 1967, he was the youngest to reach 100 career HRs. The world was his, the baseball world was his kingdom. In August of 1967, he took a fastball to the head that shattered his jaw and caused serious damage to his left retina. He was out of baseball for a couple seasons before claiming the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He never became the player he was before the injury though. A few years later he was force to retire. But man…….what if…

Eric Davis had a very good career, easily above average as far as baseball careers go. The reason I’m bringing him up is twofold. He is one of my favorite players ever to don a Reds uniform. Also, despite having already impressive numbers, were it not for injuries, they would have been marginally better. Watching him play was pure joy. 3X Gold Glove winner, power, speed, defense, a veritable cannon, and a game changer. In 1987, he became the first 30/50 player in history. He could very well have exceeded that though. I remember watching the game when he ate the brick wall at Wrigley while making another incredible catch. Unfortunately, this ended his season with 21 games left to play. He finished with 37 HR and 50 steals. He would have easily hit the 40/50, if not 40/60 mark. That season he also set the MLB record with 3 grand slams in 1 month. Over the next decade or so, other injuries came into play, including a bout with colon cancer. He won the 1996 Comeback Player of the Year Award, but his best days were behind him. Again………what if…………

So many more athletes have faced similar dilemmas. What are yours? What players do you wish could have avoided the injury bug? This will vary from fan to fan, of course. It’s a fun topic to discuss because we, as fans, wanted these guys to change the game, to reach new heights, to make our collective jaws hit the floor. How many homers would Conigliaro have hit? 600? 700? 800? How about Cy Young Awards racked up by Fidrych? Would Eric Davis be considered among the greatest to ever play? We’ll never know, but it’s sure as hell fun to dream about.

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