10 Overhyped Baseball Players Who Fizzled

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.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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