CLOSE
Original image

10 Overhyped Baseball Players Who Fizzled

Original image

By almost all accounts, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg is a can't-miss prospect who will enjoy a long and prosperous major league career. The amount of Strasburg-related memorabilia available on eBay grows by the day. Before you think about investing in the No. 1 pick of June's amateur draft, consider the following 10 players who went from sizzle to fizzle in no time, leaving fans broken-hearted and prospecting collectors and dealers with an excess of worthless inventory.

1. Bob Hamelin

The Hype: "The Hammer" broke Bo Jackson's Royals record for home runs by a rookie in the strike-shortened 1994 season to capture AL Rookie of the Year honors, the hearts of Kansas City baseball fans, and the confidence of legend George Brett. "I've always been a big Bob Hamelin fan," Brett said of the man who replaced him as the Royals' designated hitter. "Before, when I was a Bob Hamelin fan, I hoped that he would play well, but never well enough to take my job. Now, I'm hoping he stays there for 20 years." By then, the thinking went, Hamelin would have shattered all of Brett's records en route to the Hall of Fame and collectors would consider themselves lucky to own the slugger's first minor league card, which misspelled his name "Hamblin."

The Aftermath: Hamelin hit only 16 home runs over his next two years in Kansas City before being traded to Detroit. While playing with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in 1999, Hamelin walked back to the dugout after grounding out in the sixth inning of a midseason game, told his manager that he was retiring, and headed for the clubhouse. "I told them to put somebody else in and left," Hamelin told the Topeka Capital-Journal several years later. "Even if I was going to get called up at the end of the year, I wasn't looking forward to playing for the Tigers at all. They weren't very good that season." Currently, Hamelin serves as a scout for the Washington Nationals.

2. Todd Van Poppel

van-poppelThe Hype: The A's drafted high school phenom Todd Van Poppel with the No. 14 pick in the 1990 draft and signed him to a $1.2 million contract. While Van Poppel was pitching for Huntsville, Oakland's Double-A affiliate, fans would follow the team bus back to the hotel in hopes of getting his autograph. Many of those fans probably carried Van Poppel's rookie card. "His 1991 Upper Deck baseball cards are selling for as much as $3 a pop, which says something about how much the world is expecting from pitching prospect Todd Van Poppel," one reporter wrote at the time.


The Aftermath: While $3 doesn't sound like much by today's standards "“ most packs now cost at least that much "“ that turned out to be about $2.99 more than what anyone should have paid for a card bearing his image. Van Poppel started one game for the A's in 1991, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings. He missed all of 1992 with arm trouble and returned in 1993 to go 6-6 in 16 starts. He won a career-high seven games in 1994, but also lost 10 games and walked a league-high 89 batters. Van Poppel last pitched in the majors in 2004 and retired with a career record of 40-52 and a 5.54 ERA.

3. Bill Pulsipher

pulsipherThe Hype: The New York Mets selected Pulsipher in the second round of the 1991 MLB draft and the left-hander enjoyed a fast rise through the minor league system. He was part of "Generation K," the nickname given to the Mets' triumvirate of top pitching prospects that also included Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen. Pulsipher made his major league debut in June 1995 and finished his rookie year 5-7 with a respectable 3.98 ERA. His mediocre debut didn't dissuade collectors from forking over $50 for his 1996 Topps rookie card. "He's got the best stuff," Tony Gwynn said of Pulsipher at the time.


The Aftermath: Pulsipher's unusual major league career was derailed by arm and back injuries, as well as depression. Pulsipher pitched for seven teams in four different organizations from 2000 to 2001, and after being released by the Yankees in 2002, he took a job as the groundskeeper at the Mets' minor league complex in St. Lucie, Fla. Pulsipher fought his way back to the major leagues for a brief stint as a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005 before injuries ended his major league career. Since then, Pulsipher has pitched in various Mexican and independent leagues. He spent this past season with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League and hopes to return next year, potentially as a player/pitching coach.

4. Jerome Walton

waltonThe Hype: Walton, a speedster out of Enterprise State Junior College in Alabama, won the starting centerfield job and hit in his first seven games with the Cubs in 1989. Later that year, he compiled a 30-game hit streak en route to winning NL Rookie of the Year honors. The former second-round selection of the 1986 draft finished with five home runs, 46 RBI, and 24 stolen bases for the NL East champion Cubs, an opening act that fans and team officials alike thought was a preview of even greater things to come. "Jerome Walton, he's going to hang for a long time," said Jim Essian, who managed Walton in the minor leagues and compared his attitude to Cubs great Andre Dawson. "He has the opportunity to be a great success." Baseball card collectors thought so, too, as the demand for Walton's cards, particularly in the Chicago area, skyrocketed that season.


The Aftermath: Walton's fall from grace didn't take long. He hit .263 in his sophomore season and .219 the year after that, losing his starting job. Walton eventually became a journeyman, playing for the Angels, Reds, Braves, and Orioles. Walton's last major league stop was in Tampa Bay, where he appeared in 12 games for the Devil Rays in 1998 before being optioned to Triple-A when Wade Boggs came off the disabled list.

5. Gregg Jefferies

jeffriesThe Hype: Jefferies was the Mets' first-round pick in 1985 and a two-time minor league player of the year. When the Mets called him up in 1987, he was the youngest player in the majors, brimming with potential. As a result, the demand for his rookie cards was enormous. In fact, Jefferies' 1989 Fleer card appeared on the baseball card black market, in dealers' showcases, before Fleer released the set to the public. According to newspaper accounts, a Fleer employee stole the cards from the company's factory in Philadelphia and sold them directly to dealers.


The Aftermath: Jefferies wasn't horrible, but he wasn't a huge star, either. As the unanimous favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year in 1989, he was benched in late July and finished the year hitting .258 with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Of the value of Jefferies cards', Norm Cohen of Newsday wrote, "Don't expect Gregg Jefferies to start falling off as his batting average approaches his weight. Investors who have sunk a lot of money into his cards are hoping it's just the sophomore jinx having hit the phenom a season early." The pressure of playing in New York got to Jefferies, and after two more mediocre seasons during which time he fell out of favor with his teammates, the Mets traded him to the Royals for pitcher Bret Saberhagen. Jefferies would make two All-Star game appearances with the Cardinals and later played with the Phillies, Angels, and Tigers.

6. Brien Taylor

brien-taylorThe Hype: The Yankees made Taylor the No. 1 overall pick in the 1991 draft after the left-hander went 8-2 with a 0.86 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 84 innings as a senior at East Cateret High School in North Carolina. Baseball America ranked him as baseball's best prospect, ahead of the likes of Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. The Yankees gave Taylor a record $1.55 million signing bonus, some of which he used to buy his parents a new house and new cars. Collectors invested in Taylor, too, and confidence in the kid only grew after he put together two promising seasons in the minor leagues.


The Aftermath: In December 1993, while attempting to defend his younger brother, Taylor was involved in a fight and injured his shoulder. Taylor's agent, Scott Boras, told reporters that his client's shoulder was bruised, but the diagnosis was much more severe. Taylor had torn his labrum and required surgery, forcing him to miss the entire 1994 season. He returned to the Yankees' rookie league affiliate in 1995, but struggled to regain the velocity and form that had made him one of the game's top prospects only two years earlier. The Yankees released Taylor after the 1998 season, by which point it was clear he would never become the pitcher he was before his surgery.

Taylor appeared in five games for Cleveland's Single-A affiliate in 2000 before retiring, having never reached the majors. When Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News caught up with Taylor in 2006, he was living in his hometown on a street named after him, in the house that he had purchased for his parents.

7. Ben McDonald

ben-macThe Hype: McDonald, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft following a standout career at LSU, was projected to be one of the dominant pitchers of his era. Orioles manager Johnny Oates said that the 6-foot-7 right-hander reminded him of Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Nolan Ryan and Jim Palmer. "This kid has a chance to become the guy you build your whole staff around," Oates said. "Give the 25 other teams a chance to grab him and I guarantee you they'd take him. But we got him." For collectors, "getting" Big Ben in a pack of cards was a big deal, especially his 1990 Upper Deck error card. The original card had the Orioles' logo instead of Upper Deck's generic "rookie" logo on the front, a mistake that Upper Deck corrected for later issues.


The Aftermath: McDonald enjoyed more success than several players on this list, but never became the star that the Orioles had envisioned. McDonald signed with Milwaukee as a free agent after the 1995 season and played two years with the Brewers before shoulder problems ended his career. McDonald retired with a record of 78-70.

8. Ben Grieve

grieveThe Hype: While Kerry Wood attracted the most attention from baseball card collectors in 1998, Oakland A's outfielder Ben Grieve had his fair share of admirers, too. As Grieve's stranglehold on the AL Rookie of the Year award tightened throughout the season, collectors' interest in his rookie cards grew. The son of a major leaguer and the No. 2 pick in the 1994 draft, Grieve finished the season with a .288 average, 18 home runs, and 89 RBI. Investing in Grieve seemed like a sure thing.


The Aftermath: Grieve followed up his solid rookie season with two more good years. In 2000, he hit 27 home runs and had 104 RBI, but the A's traded him to the Devil Rays before the 2001 season and he was never the same. Grieve hit 34 home runs in two-and-a-half seasons in Tampa Bay before moving on to Milwaukee and then Chicago. Jose Canseco would later write that Grieve could have benefited from using steroids: "He had a slow bat, slow feet and average ability"¦I could have taken Grieve and turned him into a stud." If only. Grieve appeared in 23 games for the Cubs in 2005 before disappearing from the major leagues for good.

9. Ricky Jordan

ricky-jordanThe Hype: The Phillies selected Jordan in the first round of the 1983 amateur draft in hopes that he would become the heir apparent to Mike Schmidt when the legendary third baseman retired. While it took Jordan nearly five full seasons to reach the majors, his debut was a smashing success. Jordan became the 31st National League player to homer in his first major league at-bat, connecting off Houston's Bob Knepper in July 1988. "I knew it was out," Jordan said afterward. "And man, was I happy. A home run in my first at-bat!" Baseball card collectors were happy, too, as Jordan appeared in several 1988 update sets and were in high demand.


The Aftermath: Jordan's major league debut was probably the highlight of his otherwise mediocre career. He started 132 games for the Phillies in 1989, finishing with 12 homers and 75 RBI, but would settle into a role as a platoon player and pinch-hitter for the final six years of his career. Jordan missed all of the 1995 season with a shoulder injury and played 15 games with the Seattle Mariners in 1996 before leaving the major leagues for good. He finished his career with 55 home runs and a .281 average.

10. Alex Gordon

topps-gordonThe Hype: The Kansas City Royals made former University of Nebraska star Alex Gordon the second pick of the 2005 draft and it didn't take long for the hype machine to start whirring. Gordon was the 2006 minor league player of the year and drew comparisons to George Brett, but the demand for one of his rookie cards was fueled by something completely unrelated to his potential. Topps mistakenly released a card in its 2006 set depicting Gordon in a Royals uniform, a no-no under the terms of an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players' Association that prohibited Topps from releasing cards depicting players who have not played in the major leagues. Topps pulled the cards from production, but about 100 slipped into circulation. Keith Olbermann purchased a few of the error cards on eBay, including one for $7,500.

The Aftermath: While Gordon could eventually become a solid player, he hasn't lived up to the gaudy expectations that have followed him throughout his brief career. Gordon hit 31 home runs in his first two major league seasons and was expected to break out this year before undergoing hip surgery in April following a slow start. Gordon returned in August, but struggled mightily, and the Royals optioned him to Triple-A.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES