HOF-level stars who were derailed by injury

February 1st, 2021

Talent and hard work aren't the only elements of a Hall of Fame career. Longevity is important, too, and it is a factor that unfortunately has eluded many players who were otherwise on track to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Here is a look at some star players whose Hall of Fame cases were derailed by injuries, working backward from the most recent. (Each player's final season is listed in parentheses).

Dustin Pedroia (2019)
Pedroia was well on his way to building a compelling case for Cooperstown when Manny Machado, then of the Orioles, slid into him on a play at second base in April 2017. That incident began a series of knee problems that included a number of surgeries and kept Pedroia out for all but nine games in 2018-19. After missing all of ‘20, Pedroia announced his retirement in February ‘21, with one season left on his contract. It was an unfortunate end to a career that featured an American League Rookie of the Year Award (2007), an AL MVP Award (‘08), four Gold Glove Awards at second, four All-Star selections and three World Series rings (‘07, ‘13, '18). Through his age-32 season in ‘16, Pedroia (49.8 WAR, 1,683 hits, 375 doubles, 133 homers, .811 OPS) had a résumé extremely similar to that of Craig Biggio at the same point in his career (51.1 WAR, 1,680 hits, 333 doubles, 136 homers, .814 OPS). But while Biggio played nine more seasons, cleared 3,000 hits and made the Hall, Pedroia never got the chance.

Troy Tulowitzki (2019)
Physical issues were a near-constant obstacle for Tulowitzki, beginning with multiple stints on the injured list in what would have been his second full season in 2008. For a while, the dynamic shortstop overcame them. With the Rockies from 2007-14, Tulowitzki combined well above-average offense (127 OPS+) with stellar defense at short (for which he won two Gold Gloves) to become one of the game’s most productive players, with 38.2 WAR. Tulo is one of only five shortstops since integration (1947) to have at least six seasons of 5 WAR through age 29, but he played in just 330 games in his 30s as his collection of IL stints stretched into double digits.

David Wright (2018)
Over his first 10 seasons, through 2013, Wright batted .301/.382/.506 (137 OPS+) and averaged 22 homers, 88 RBIs and 18 steals per year. His 47.2 career WAR put him in the top 10 all time for third basemen through their age-30 season -- ahead of the likes of and Chipper Jones. But everything changed when Wright sustained a stress fracture in his back in 2011 and spent about two months on the injured list. While Wright continued to perform at a high level over the following two seasons, he played a total of 77 games since '15, when he was diagnosed with a serious, chronic back condition (spinal stenosis).

Grady Sizemore (2015)
He was still a long way from Cooperstown, but Sizemore's first four full seasons were electric. Following a short debut in 2004, Sizemore quickly became an all-around star for the Indians. From 2005-08, he played strong defense in center field and put together four consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs and 20 steals while batting .281/.372/.496 (128 OPS+). His 24.6 WAR during that time was fourth among all MLB position players, behind only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez. Injuries began to interfere in '09, and only worsened from there, with Sizemore playing only 313 more games from 2010 on, while enduring numerous surgeries, including on both knees.

Johan Santana (2012)
Like Wright, Santana had something of a last hurrah with the Mets, although nobody knew it at the time. On June 1, 2012, the left-hander tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history, against the Cardinals at Citi Field. Only 33 at the time, Santana made 10 more starts that season and has not pitched in the Majors since, despite persistent comeback attempts. Yet, from 2004-08 with the Twins and Mets, Santana put together a Hall of Fame-caliber peak, going 86-39 with a 2.82 ERA (157 ERA+), more than a strikeout per inning and two American League Cy Young Awards.

Nomar Garciaparra (2009)
Boston's answer to Derek Jeter at shortstop, Garciaparra won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1997, when he racked up 209 hits. That was the first of four consecutive seasons in which Garciaparra was worth at least 6.6 WAR, and he earned back-to-back batting titles in '99 and 2000 by slashing an absurd .365/.426/.601 over those two seasons. A wrist problem then cost him most of 2001, accounting for two of his 14 career stints on the injured list. While Garciaparra enjoyed stretches of strong production throughout the next decade with the Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and A's, he last played a full season in 2003.

Brandon Webb (2009)
He wasn't a big strikeout pitcher, but Webb rode his sinker to loads of grounders and great success with the D-backs. The right-hander began his career by producing 87 wins, a 3.24 ERA (143 ERA+) and 33.2 WAR from 2003-08 -- the sixth most WAR for a pitcher in his first six seasons since integration (1947). Webb won the National League Cy Young Award in 2006 and was the runner-up in '07 and '08. But his Opening Day start in 2009 turned out to be the final outing of his career, as Webb subsequently underwent shoulder surgery and never made it back on a Major League mound.

Eric Davis (2001)
Davis did some special things early in his career with the Reds. In one 162-game stretch between 1986-87, he batted .308/.406/.622 with 47 home runs and 98 stolen bases (in 110 attempts). Through his first seven seasons, he had a 140 OPS+, 166 homers, 233 steals and three NL Gold Glove Awards. Yet, injuries suppressed that amazing talent. Though he lasted 17 seasons in the big leagues, Davis never played more than 135 games in a year, averaged only 86 per season after age 28 and missed all of 1995 while fighting colon cancer. He still finished with 282 homers and 349 steals in his career.

Dave Stieb (1998)
Stieb's career WAR of 56.8 is impressive in its own right, but even more so considering that he accrued virtually all of it through his age-32 season. That put the Blue Jays righty on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but shoulder and back injuries struck the next year, and Stieb threw barely more than 200 additional big league innings, including 50 1/3 as a 40-year-old in 1998.

Don Mattingly (1995)
Mattingly was an institution at first base for the Yankees. The six-time All-Star, nine-time Gold Glove Award winner and 1985 AL MVP batted .323/.368/.521 (144 OPS+) from 1982-89, topping a .300 average in each of his first six full seasons. But chronic back issues plagued Mattingly for the rest of his career, which ended prematurely at age 34. Though he won four of his Gold Gloves after 1990 and remained above average at the plate, Mattingly never regained his standing as an elite hitter.

J.R. Richard (1980)
Like another tall, wild pitcher named Randy Johnson, it took the 6-foot-8 Richard a while to shake his wildness and establish himself in the Majors. He first started more than 10 games in a season with the Astros in 1975, at age 26. Late bloomers have an uphill climb to Hall of Fame status, but Richard became one of the toughest pitchers in the Majors, striking out more than 300 batters in both 1978 and '79. Richard had a 1.90 ERA through 17 starts the next year when he had a stroke that led to his career ending at age 30.

Tony Conigliaro (1975)
More than a half-century before Juan Soto debuted, Conigliaro set a record for home runs by a teenager, swatting 24 at age 19 for the Red Sox in 1964. He hit 32 more to lead the AL the next year and still ranks fourth all time in homers through age 22 (104), behind only Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews and Rodriguez. But on Aug. 18, 1967, an errant fastball hit Conigliaro in the face and stopped his promising career in its tracks. While Conigliaro managed returned to the Sox in '69 and smacked 56 more homers over the next two years, the injury damaged his eyesight, and he played only 95 games after the age of 25.