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10 Overhyped Baseball Players Who Fizzled

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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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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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How to Carve a Pumpkin—And Not Injure Yourself in the Process
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Wielding a sharp knife with slippery hands around open flames and nearby children doesn't sound like the best idea—but that's exactly what millions of Halloween celebrations entail. While pumpkin carving is a fun tradition, it can also bring the risk of serious hand injuries. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), some wounds sustained from pumpkin misadventure can result in surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to minimize trauma. Both ASSH and CTV News have compiled safety tips for pumpkin carvers intended to reduce the chances of a trip to the emergency room.

First, it's recommended that carvers tackle their design with knives made specifically for carving. Kitchen knives are sharp and provide a poor grip when trying to puncture tough pumpkin skin: Pumpkin carving knives have slip-resistant handles and aren't quite as sharp, while kitchen knives can get wedged in, requiring force to pull them out.

Carvers should also keep the pumpkin intact while carving, cleaning out the insides later. Why? Once a pumpkin has been gutted, you’re likely to stick your free hand inside to brace it, opening yourself up to an inadvertent stab from your knife hand. When you do open it up, it's better to cut from the bottom: That way, the pumpkin can be lowered over a light source rather than risk a burn dropping one in from the top.

Most importantly, parents would be wise to never let their kids assist in carving without supervision, and should always work in a brightly-lit area. Adults should handle the knife, while children can draw patterns and scoop out innards. According to Consumer Reports, kids ages 10 to 14 tend to suffer the most Halloween-related accidents, so keeping carving duties to ages 14 and above is a safe bet.

If all else fails and your carving has gone awry, have a first aid kit handy and apply pressure to any wound to staunch bleeding. With some common sense, however, it's unlikely your Halloween celebration will turn into a blood sacrifice.

[h/t CTV News]

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