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The List: Ten who would have been great

Grim news for Diamondbacks starter Daniel Hudson. He’s undergone a second Tommy John surgery. The list of pitchers who’ve made successful recoveries from two Tommy Johns is short, and D-backs fans can’t help but wonder if Hudson’s career is over, when not long ago it looked so promising.

Daniel Hudson may have never reached greatness as a Major League pitcher even if he would have stayed healthy. But the career cut short due to injury is a sad story we’ve heard told too many times in sports.

It got me thinking… What are the ten best careers fans were deprived of seeing due to injury or tragedy or circumstance? Who are the athletes we never got to see at their best, and thus we’re left to wonder what might have been? Here’s my list.

10. BRIEN TAYLOR – The 1991 number one overall draft pick of the New York Yankees threw a 100 MPH fastball as a high schooler. Tabbed the greatest high school pitching prospect of all-time, he signed for a then-unheard of $1.55 million out of high school. The Yankees believed he’d be in the majors before his 20th birthday. He never made it at all. A gruesome shoulder injury suffered during a bar fight cost him his fastball and his career.

9. RALPH SAMPSON – I know Sampson was good as a professional. After all he was a four-time All-Star with the Houston Rockets. But Sampson’s knee injuries cost us the chance to see how great he could have been. Sampson won three National Player of the Year Awards while at Virginia. Michael Jordan was a distant second to Sampson when they were both playing in the ACC. 7’4″ and as agile as a two-guard, he should have been unstoppable at every level.

8. VLADISLAV TRETIAK – The first Russian to join the NHL was Sergei Priakin in 1989. A year later Sergei Fedorov, at age 21, slipped out of his team’s hotel room and hopped aboard a plane for America where he joined the Detroit Red Wings, who had drafted him the previous year. For years prior to Fedorov the Red Wings, the Soviets dominated international hockey tournaments. Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak won 10 World Hockey Championships and two Olympic gold medals for his country. He is considered, hands-down, the greatest Russian hockey player of all-time.

7. KI-JANA CARTER – Former NFL scout Sid Hill said of Carter, “I’ve watched them all. Payton, Simpson, Barry Sanders. Those guys were great. Ki-Jana Carter was better than great.” Carter was the first overall pick of the 1995 NFL draft. On his third carry of his first preseason game with the Cincinnati Bengals, he blew out his knee and never recovered. Top-end speed, power, and his phenomenal ability to cut gave him all the ingredients to be great.

6. ROY MUNSON – What might have been? In a bid for a little supplemental income, the young golden-haired 1979 national bowling champion lost his right hand and his dreams. Sure, years later he rallied to finish second at a tournament in Reno using a rubber hand placed over a hook, but let’s face it he was never the same roller again.

5. ARVYDAS SABONIS – I called my brother, who is a former NBA scout, to find out where I should put Arvydas Sabonis on this list. Without hesitation, he said #1. We didn’t get to see the Lithuanian big man play in the NBA until he was 30 years old and already broken down by leg injuries, but Bill Walton once called him “a 7’3″ Larry Bird.” And former Celtic forward Dino Radja claimed, “When (Sabonis) was 22, he was the best center in the world, better than Ewing, Olajuwon, David Robinson, anyone.”

4. LEN BIAS – Mike Krzyzewski has coached the Duke Blue Devils since 1980, and he claims to this day that the two players who really stood out to him were Michael Jordan and Len Bias. The former Maryland star was Jordan-like, powerful but graceful, a combo of supreme athleticism and supreme skill. He should have been the #1 pick in the 1986 NBA Draft. He went #2. He should have been one of the all-time greats, but he never played a game. Len Bias died of a drug overdose two days after the Boston Celtics drafted him.

3. BILL WALTON – Bill Walton didn’t spend a single healthy day in the NBA. He played 35 games as a rookie. He played in only 65 games the year he won the league’s MVP award and an NBA title. Many will tell you Walton was the best college basketball player of all-time, but we never got to see how great he could be in the pros.

2. BO JACKSON – Bo Jackson is this high on the list because we were deprived of seeing how great he could have ultimately been in two sports. As a football player, I think Jackson came close to showing us his sheer dominance. We just didn’t get to see it for a long enough period of time. But as a baseball player, Bo was just warming up. I think he was on his way toward 50-home run seasons for the Royals.

And #1. SATCHEL PAIGE/JOSH GIBSON – It’s a mystery that will haunt the sport of baseball forever. Just how good were Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson? The Negro League stars don’t come up when baseball fans discuss the greatest players of all-time, because we don’t have the statistical data to compare them to Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson and all the others. I was once asked that if I had a golden ticket to go to any game or sporting event in history, where would I go? My answer: To those all-star games between the Major Leaguers and Negro Leaguers that were never officially registered. Therefore, there are no official accounts of just how well the stars stacked up against each other.