There has always been a certain fascination with rookies. I think many of us are still that way today, but instead of card collecting its collecting prospects in fantasy baseball leagues. In the 90s there was no shortage these type of players. You had Todd Van Poppel, Brien Taylor, Jerome Walton, Kevin Maas, Steve Decker, Sam Horn, Mark Whitten, Bob Hamelin, Jeffery Hammonds, and of course “Big” Ben McDonald.
A collegiate star at Louisiana State University in both basketball and baseball, McDonald, who stands 6’7″, led the 1988 US Olympic Team to a gold medal, winning complete games against host South Korea and Puerto Rico. During his three-year college career at LSU, McDonald twice helped his team reach the College World Series. He gave up a notable walk off grand slam to Stanford’s Paul Carey in the 1987 series. His best collegiate season came in 1989, which he finished with a 14–4 record, a 3.49 ERA, and a Southeastern Conference record 202 strikeouts. That year, he was selected as a member of the All-America team, and he won the Golden Spikes Award.
Back then many kids opted for school over early growing pains in the minors, so when McDonald was drafted in the 27th round in 1986, he decided to further his education and development as a pitcher by attending LSU. As you can tell, most GMs were sporting semis in the June draft, but he didn’t last very long going 1st overall to Baltimore Orioles. He was not only major league ready, but he was suppose to be what Randy Johnson had later become; a towering flame thrower who had an arsenal of pitches to go along with his notorious fastball.
So what the fuck happened, right?
Well he played for 9 seasons, but really only pitched in 8 of them. He did manage to become a 10-game winner 4x. His best season came in ’93 when he went 13-14 sporting a 3.39 ERA and struck-out 171 batters. That was it though. Not many highlights for the rest of the career and certainly nothing close to the hype that surrounded him when starting out. His cards sky-rocketing in 1990. You couldn’t find an UD rookie card for less than $5, sometimes as high as $12. He was gracing the cover of every magazine and was suppose to be the future ace of the O’s, that later Mike Mussina would end up being. Ben McDonald came in 8th in the AL ROY voting. Sandy Alomar won the honors and Kevin Maas, Kevin Appier, John Olerud and Kevin Tapani finished out the top 5. Soon after the ’91 season those same rookie cards kids were trading for were slowly finding their way in the common bins. By the mid 90s he has lost all of the luster and was labeled an official bust.