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Old 09-10-2019, 03:09 PM
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What athlete with the shortest career is considered an all-time great?


I was recently discussing Gale Sayers. Many folk consider him one of the all-time greats, but I believe he had only 5 uninjured seasons, then one strong comeback before his career-ending injury.

Made me wonder which pro athletes - in any sports - might be considered to be "all time greats" (however you define that) based on the shortest careers.
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:15 PM
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Pheidippides?
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:21 PM
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Bo Jackson's gotta be on this list, right?
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Old 09-11-2019, 08:15 AM
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Bo Jackson's gotta be on this list, right?
Bo Jackson WOULD have been a great athlete had he not gotten hurt, but he did. He was a hell of a running back but I don't think many people would say his two season's worth of games make him an all time great, and he wasn't a great baseball player.

Bjorn Borg has to be the winner here, with Ken Dryden a pretty decent runner-up.

Among baseball players, the player with the shortest Hall of Fame career is Amos Rusie, a 19th century pitcher who only barely made the 10-year requirement, but I think there are pretty legitimate questions as to just how great 19th century players were.

The only other baseball Hall of Famer I can think of who only played ten years is Jackie Robinson, who was one hell of a ballplayer.
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Old 09-11-2019, 08:43 AM
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Bo Jackson WOULD have been a great athlete had he not gotten hurt, but he did. He was a hell of a running back but I don't think many people would say his two season's worth of games make him an all time great, and he wasn't a great baseball player.
Agreed. He was a very good baseball player, but the sense I have is that he was doing that largely on his pure talent -- though he'd played baseball in high school and college, he hadn't really focused on the sport, and he played only 53 games in the minors before joining the Royals. I've read that scouts felt he was a promising baseball player despite his relative lack of experience.

As far as football, even setting aside the injury, as already noted, he was only playing half of each season. Despite not participating in the Raiders' training camps, and coming to the Raiders each season immediately after the wear and fatigue of a full MLB season, he was still a dominant running back when he did play, which is hugely impressive.

But, yeah, his body of work, in both sports, was limited, and a key part of his legacy is the imagining of "what might have been" without the injury.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 09-11-2019 at 08:48 AM.
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Old 09-11-2019, 10:44 AM
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The only other baseball Hall of Famer I can think of who only played ten years is Jackie Robinson, who was one hell of a ballplayer.
Dizzy Dean (who I talked about upthread) is listed as having played 12 seasons, but his rookie "year" consisted of one game in September. His last two seasons also showed one game each and were essentially stunts. Dean played six full seasons, parts of three more, and then three seasons of one appearance, each.

Addie Joss actually played only 9 seasons in the major leagues before he fell ill with meningitis during spring training, and died two days after the 1911 season opened. For decades he was blocked from the Hall of Fame on the grounds he hadn't participated in "10 championship seasons." The rule was finally waived for him and he was admitted into the Hall in 1977.
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Old 09-11-2019, 11:18 AM
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Footballer Marco van Basten was forced to retire at 28 through injury - basically played for ten years, and would be considered an all time great centre forward. Indisputably the best centre forward of his era and prob in the conversation for best ever at that position - although as the most high profile position on the pitch (your job is to score the goals) there's obv massive competition there.

Beautifully technical player - really had everything. Could have played any position on the pitch and been good at the minimum.
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Old 09-11-2019, 11:33 AM
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The only other baseball Hall of Famer I can think of who only played ten years is Jackie Robinson, who was one hell of a ballplayer.
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HOF member Ralph Kiner only played 10 years before retiring due to a back injury.
Although Kiner is a HOFer, he wouldn't be considered an "all time great" of the caliber of Robinson, however.
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Old 09-12-2019, 06:44 PM
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The only other baseball Hall of Famer I can think of who only played ten years is Jackie Robinson, who was one hell of a ballplayer.
Robinson was already age 28 by his rookie year in 1947 due to the color-line and WW2 so he cannot be blamed for his relatively short MLB career, of course.
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Old 09-12-2019, 07:49 PM
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Cook


The NFL Network NFL Top Ten series named Cook the #1 One Shot Wonder in NFL history.


His 9.411 yards per pass attempt and 17.5 yard per completion are rookie records that still stand. Cook was UPI's choice for AFL Rookie of the year.
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:24 PM
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Bo Jackson was certainly a popular athlete in both football and baseball and while not considered the greatest, it is amazing how short his careers really were.
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:39 PM
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Bo Jackson was certainly a popular athlete in both football and baseball and while not considered the greatest, it is amazing how short his careers really were.
He was popular not because he excelled at either sport; he was good enough to be an All-Star in both, but not enough to make the Hall of Fame in either. But being a successful professional athlete for two major sports simultaneously meant he had a ton of fans.

I wouldn’t say his career was short. He played in the NFL for 3 years, which is close to the average career length in that sport, and he was a running back which is the most physically punishing position in the sport. He suffered a hip injury in his final year in the NFL, and that kind of thing is hard to bounce back from at such a position.

He played in MLB for 8 years, a couple years longer than the average in that league. So it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
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Old 09-10-2019, 04:15 PM
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Rocky Marciano (8 years)

Jackie Robinson (10 years, unless you include his Negro League days - I would argue that his reputation in the sport does not rest on his performance in those years)

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He played in the NFL for 3 years, which is close to the average career length in that sport, [...] He played in MLB for 8 years, a couple years longer than the average in that league.
You can't compare to the average. The average includes all sorts of on-the-bubble players who get cut early on. The average for great players is much longer. To be an all-time great while playing even close to the average number of years is an accomplishment.
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Old 09-10-2019, 04:40 PM
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How short are we talking? For MLB, Jeff Bagwell and Joe DiMaggio are fairly high on the WAR leaderboards, despite only playing 14 and 13 years respectively. God forbid this were to happen, but if Mike Trout were to die in a plane crash today, he'd win this category handily: Less than 1200 games played over eight years, when most of the others near him in WAR have 1700-2000 and beyond, and he already has 72 WAR/position.

For the NFL, Jim Brown's already been mentioned. If you go by Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value metric (which is nowhere near as well-thought of as WAR), Barry Sanders is a reasonable answer to this question, with 150 AV, and only 9 seasons. AV doesn't think as highly of him as I do, but Calvin Johnson has to be considered too: 731 receptions, 11,619 yds, 84 total TDs.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:01 PM
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He [Bo Jackson] played in the NFL for 3 years, which is close to the average career length in that sport...
3.3 years is the average NFL career length, but that includes a whole lot of players that barely made a team. The NFL says the average is 6 years for those players who make a club's opening day roster in their rookie season. For someone as talented as Bo Jackson I would have expected him play even longer.
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Old 09-10-2019, 08:54 PM
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He played in MLB for 8 years, a couple years longer than the average in that league. So it wasn’t a flash in the pan.
But, bear in mind that the final three of those seasons were after he'd suffered the hip injury. He played in 23 games for the White Sox in 1991, on what was a dying hip joint. He then had his hip replaced in late '91 or early '92, and after a year off to rehab post-surgery, played as a part-time player for the White Sox and Angels for two seasons, playing on an artificial hip.

So, really, he only had four-plus seasons (his time with the Royals; he only played in 25 games in '86) before his injury, which diminished his abilities.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 09-10-2019 at 08:55 PM.
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Old 09-10-2019, 09:27 PM
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But, bear in mind that the final three of those seasons were after he'd suffered the hip injury. He played in 23 games for the White Sox in 1991, on what was a dying hip joint. He then had his hip replaced in late '91 or early '92, and after a year off to rehab post-surgery, played as a part-time player for the White Sox and Angels for two seasons, playing on an artificial hip.

So, really, he only had four-plus seasons (his time with the Royals; he only played in 25 games in '86) before his injury, which diminished his abilities.
Yeah, and note that while he’s the only player to be both in an MLB All-Star game and NFL Pro Bowl game (and amazing because of that), he only made it to one each. It’s hard to judge how “great” he was.
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Old 09-10-2019, 10:17 PM
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It’s hard to judge how “great” he was.
He was a freakishly talented athlete, capable of astonishing feats, even if his stats didn't necessarily reflect that greatness -- though his ridiculous yards-per-carry number in the NFL does suggest it.

So, "all-time great" may not exactly be the right way to describe Jackson -- more accurately, he was one of the (if not *the*) most talented athletes of his generation.
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:25 PM
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Bo Jackson.

It's not entirely within the constraints of the OP (but it's not entirely outside of them either) Stone Cold Steve Austin. Most WWE fans remember him and his feud with the McMahons and all the stuff he did in the attitude era, but his career only lasted about 4-5 years.
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Old 09-10-2019, 07:31 PM
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It's not entirely within the constraints of the OP (but it's not entirely outside of them either) Stone Cold Steve Austin. Most WWE fans remember him and his feud with the McMahons and all the stuff he did in the attitude era, but his career only lasted about 4-5 years.
?
Steve Austin started wrestling in World Class Championship Wrestling out of Texas in 1989 and had his last match with WWE at Wrestlemania 19 on March 30, 2003. That's a 14 year career.

Last edited by dorvann; 09-10-2019 at 07:31 PM.
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Old 09-10-2019, 07:57 PM
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?
Steve Austin started wrestling in World Class Championship Wrestling out of Texas in 1989 and had his last match with WWE at Wrestlemania 19 on March 30, 2003. That's a 14 year career.
True enough.

I was really referencing his time at the top of the largest company in the world (akin to playing in the MLB or NFL) rather than the stuff he did in the territories or the early days of WCW.
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Old 09-10-2019, 08:32 PM
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Bobby Orr probably deserves a mention - he scores big on the "all-time great" metric.

His career was seriously truncated by injuries - he played in 657 total games. Compare this to 1487 for Wayne Gretzky and 1767 for Gordie Howe, a couple of other guys who qualify as all-time greats.
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Old 09-12-2019, 10:19 PM
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Bobby Orr probably deserves a mention - he scores big on the "all-time great" metric.

His career was seriously truncated by injuries - he played in 657 total games. Compare this to 1487 for Wayne Gretzky and 1767 for Gordie Howe, a couple of other guys who qualify as all-time greats.
Along with Orr, I'd say Mike Bossy, too. 752 games over 10 total seasons, 573 goals, 1126 points.

Last edited by zbuzz; 09-12-2019 at 10:21 PM. Reason: he edits, he scores!
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Old Yesterday, 08:32 AM
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True enough.

I was really referencing his time at the top of the largest company in the world (akin to playing in the MLB or NFL) rather than the stuff he did in the territories or the early days of WCW.
If you are including wrestlers I think you really have to include NWA/WCW/AWA careers. Otherwise you are basically saying guys like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, among others, are nobodies because they didn't do much in the WWF/WWE. Austin put in 4-5 years with WCW in the 90s and I think you have to count that. Other territory stuff and minor promotions, I understand excluding.
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:28 PM
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The problem with Steve Austin is just that he was not a competitive athlete; he was an entertainer.
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Old 09-10-2019, 03:38 PM
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Jim Brown's NFL career was only 9 seasons. Sandy Koufax made it 11 in the majors. Those are both relatively short.
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Old 09-10-2019, 04:31 PM
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Jim Brown's NFL career was only 9 seasons. Sandy Koufax made it 11 in the majors. Those are both relatively short.
"Only" 9 seasons in the NFL is a long time, taking into account all of hits he took. He was great every year.

Koufax is an interesting case. He was in the big leagues for 12 full years, the first six of which he had a nothing special 36-40 W/L record. The next six he earned the nickname "The left arm of God" for excellent reasons. Cite.

Both Brown and Koufax retired suddenly in the mid-1960s seemingly at the height of their careers. Koufax said his arm and shoulder couldn't take the stress of pitching anymore, and Brown because he wanted to make movies in Hollywood with Raquel Welch. Both made good decisions methinks.
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Old Yesterday, 08:39 PM
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Koufax is an interesting case. He was in the big leagues for 12 full years, the first six of which he had a nothing special 36-40 W/L record. The next six he earned the nickname "The left arm of God" for excellent reasons. Cite.
I happened to look at the Baseball Reference "Most Similar By Ages" listing on the Koufax page. Mickey McDermott?

Oliver Perez??
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Old 09-10-2019, 04:44 PM
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Bo Jackson's career stats: 38 G: 515 Rushing attempts, 2,782 yds, 5.4 y/att, 16 TDs. 40 Receptions, 352 yds., 2 TDs. Famous certainly. Ungodly talented. Despite the great yards per attempt, not a great career, though certainly a famous one.
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Old 09-10-2019, 04:50 PM
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Barry Sanders?
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:20 PM
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Bo Jackson's career stats: 38 G: 515 Rushing attempts, 2,782 yds, 5.4 y/att, 16 TDs. 40 Receptions, 352 yds., 2 TDs. Famous certainly. Ungodly talented. Despite the great yards per attempt, not a great career, though certainly a famous one.
You have to take into account that he only played half seasons, because he wouldn't report to football until after the baseballs season ended. So he never played a down in September. If you count college in his appeal to greatness, he's one of the all time great college players.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:09 PM
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These aren't the winners, but a couple of ideas:

LT Tony Boselli had a HOF-worthy career in just 7 seasons. His playing days were ended by a shoulder injury.

He didn't play nearly long enough to have been considered an "all-time great," but Sean Taylor still casts a large shadow over the safety position in the NFL. He played just 4 seasons before he was murdered.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:14 PM
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Dizzy Dean. He played 5 1/2 seasons, wrecked his arm after an injury, then came back in limited use. Played just over 300 games, won 185 of them, including a 30-7 record one year. Even in 1938, with a ruined arm, he managed to go 7-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 13 games, and still had enough left for a 6-4/3.36 record in 1939.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:18 PM
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Gale Sayers.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:22 PM
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Addie Joss' career lasted 9 season (1902-10) for Cleveland in the American leagues before he died of tuberculous meningitis. His career 1.89 is second all time. The first "all-star" game was played as a benefit for Joss's family in July 1911. They waived the rule requiring a ten year career to elect him to the Hall of Fame.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Addie_Joss
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:37 PM
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Wiki says, of Rookie Of the Year Maurice Stokes:

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During his three seasons in the NBA (1955–58), he grabbed more rebounds than any other player with 3,492 (Bob Pettit was second with 3,417) and also amassed 1,062 assists, which was second in the NBA only to Boston Celtics' point guard Bob Cousy (1,583). Stokes was named an All-Star and All-NBA Second Team for all three seasons of his career. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2004.
Set the single-season rebound record in the process, because of course he did.
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Old 09-10-2019, 05:59 PM
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Ken Dryden needs mentioning.

"Dryden played from 1971 to 1979, with a break during the entire 1973–74 season; he was unhappy with the contract that the Canadiens offered him, which he considered less than his market worth, given that he had won the Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy. He announced on September 14, 1973 that he was joining the Toronto law firm of Osler, Hoskins and Harcourt as a legal clerk for the year, for $135 a week."
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Old 09-10-2019, 06:11 PM
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Bjorn Borg played as a professional for less than ten years, retiring at the age of 26.
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Old 09-10-2019, 06:26 PM
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Rocky Marciano (8 years)
Jackie Robinson (10 years, unless you include his Negro League days - I would argue that his reputation in the sport does not rest on his performance in those years)
He'd be in even without being the color line breaker.
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Old 09-10-2019, 06:42 PM
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HOF member Ralph Kiner only played 10 years before retiring due to a back injury.
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Old 09-10-2019, 07:00 PM
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MLB pitcher Smoky Joe Wood. Up there with Koufax. And came back as a good-hitting outfielder, then retired and coached baseball at Yale for 20 years.

They even named a syndrome after him, which could be the name of this thread.
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Old 09-10-2019, 07:09 PM
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Terrell Davis only played 1995-2001.
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Old 09-10-2019, 09:23 PM
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Terrell Davis only played 1995-2001.
Davis is the guy that popped into my mind at first. A quick glance, and his numbers don't look like too much- 7 seasons 7,607 yards. But the numbers in his first 4 years are just insane - 6,413 yards. Then the injuries took over.
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Old 09-10-2019, 06:44 PM
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Olympic gymnasts of course have very short careers - for Nadia Comaneci, Wikipedia lists her first major championship in 1975 and her last in 1981.
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Old 09-10-2019, 07:14 PM
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Olympic gymnasts of course have very short careers - for Nadia Comaneci, Wikipedia lists her first major championship in 1975 and her last in 1981.
Mary Lou Retton retired in 1985, at 17 IIRC.
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Old 09-10-2019, 07:43 PM
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Does it count if they died? If so, I'm going to nominate Bill Barilko, who died in the prime of his career, right after winning the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs in 1951.

The guy won 4 Stanley Cups with the Leafs, in a 6 year career before dying in a plane crash. That's amazing.
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Old 09-10-2019, 08:32 PM
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How are 9-,10, 13-year careers short by any stretch of imagination? Even 5 years is pushing it.
In Perú, Sandro Baylón played 3 years in the top football league and he is still remembered as a great player. He died in an accident at 22.
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Old 09-11-2019, 04:05 AM
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In soccer Just Fontaine retired pretty early, at 29.
Eric Cantona at 30.
Didier Deschamps at 32.

Is it a French thing?

In cricket Kevin Pietersens internationa career was from 2005 to 2013.
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Old 09-11-2019, 05:54 AM
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In Australian sport great players usually play at a representative level - for their state and in international contests. In 1971 Geoff Starling, after only a few senior games, became the youngest player ever to play for Australia. He continued to play at this level for 3 years and was considered likely to end up one of the greats. In 1974 he contracted a debilitating illness that caused him to lose weight and suffer constant fatigue. Years later, too late to resume his career, a woman reading an article about Starling contacted him to tell him that she thought he had Addison's disease. Tests proved her right.
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Old 09-12-2019, 04:46 AM
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In Australian sport great players usually play at a representative level - for their state and in international contests. In 1971 Geoff Starling, after only a few senior games, became the youngest player ever to play for Australia. He continued to play at this level for 3 years and was considered likely to end up one of the greats. In 1974 he contracted a debilitating illness that caused him to lose weight and suffer constant fatigue. Years later, too late to resume his career, a woman reading an article about Starling contacted him to tell him that she thought he had Addison's disease. Tests proved her right.
The sport he played in would be helpful.
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