2. Tony Kubek
Tony Kubek might’ve been on a Hall of Fame track.
This one’s pure speculation on my end with very little data, but I have a strong feeling Tony Kubek’s career would’ve reached Hall of Fame level if not for one disastrous bounce.
Through 1960, a 24-year-old Kubek had played four full seasons in the bigs as the shortstop of the New York Yankees. He’d racked up Rookie of the Year honors, successive All-Star appearances in 1958 and 1959, and an 11th-place MVP finish and power breakout in ’60, socking 14 homers and hitting .273. The kid hit two homers in a World Series game as a rookie, and was also second in defensive WAR among shortstops in ’59 and ’60.
Then, the unthinkable happened: while trying to get in front of a ground ball during Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the baseball struck a pebble, and took a horrifying hop into Kubek’s throat. He’d make the All-Star Game again the next season (hitting a club-record 38 doubles at SS), and hit .314 in limited duty in 1962, but the injuries cascaded from there.
He lost time while battling assorted neck, shoulder, and arm problems, and eventually retired at the age of 29, felled by what was described as a nerve at the top of the spinal column that had continued to fray. It’s unclear whether his whiplash reaction to the throat injury caused these building side effects, but Kubek was never the same.
There’s a happy ending here, though — Kubek made the Hall’s broadcaster wing in 2009 after a long, fruitful, and hilarious career in the booth.