Examples of athletes who suddenly became outstanding later in their career

No, he was amazing. He was an all-star and rookie of the year his first year and in his third year he scored 37 points a game, which is more than anyone else who was not named Wilt Chamberlain. That was the first of seven years in a row he won the scoring championship. If you’re suggesting he was disappointing at first you’re just wrong.

You’re wrong Bryant, who is a ballhog but is also an eight-time all NBA first defensive teamer, and about Jordan. It’s true that Jordan learned to share the ball after Pippen arrived, but he was defensive player of the year in his fourth season, which was before Phil Jackson was hired. (He was the league MVP that year.) He was on the all-NBA defensive team his fourth season, so he was committed to defense before Phil Jackson came along. And he stayed first team all-defense every year until his first retirement, and then during his second stint.

Right, but that late career resurgence was that much better from what Bonds had in his career, and he was already really good to start off with. So, he’s an outlier for where he wasn’t mediocre and get really good, he was already really good and got great.

The first person I thought of was Mark McGwire. For years he played second fiddle for the Bash Brothers in Oakland. His average dropped to .201 in 1991, hit just 9 home runs in 1993 and again in 1994. Then, thanks to the miracle of steroids, hit 70 tainted HRs in 1998.

Brady Anderson was always good defensively and on the base path, but in 1996, his ninth in MLB, he had a break through season with 50 home runs, 29 more than any other season. And it wasn’t like McGwire or Bonds in that his HRs dried up as almost as quickly as they came. The next year, his contract year, he hit 18. The most he would hit in any subsequent year was 24.

Un, no. Though Ryan did relieve for the Mets, he was primarily a starter (he started 74 of 105 games for them). It happened that he was in the bullpen in the 1969 series because he was the team’s worst starter at the time (after Seaver, Koosman, Gary Gentry, and even Don Cardwell)

But overall he just wasn’t all that good and was traded because in 1971 he was absolutely terrible in the second half of the season. It wasn’t until he went to California that he learned how to pitch.

I’m looking for athletes who seemingly plateau at one level then suddenly, later in their career, become elite. So I wouldn’t count promising athletes who are steadily developing throughout their career but are (as is often the case in a lot of sports) just not as good when they first arrive on the scene.

So I’m not sure if I can get behind Jordan and Armstrong. Sure, they were better later in their career but they were both rising stars with a ton of potential early on. And the rookie of the year is supposed to be great later on.

He set the rookie record for home runs, though. So he didn’t suddenly become outstanding. In fact I think injuries were a big part of the problem, at least in '93 and '94. He returned to the levels seen in his rookie year and surpassed them, partly because he got health and partly because of steroids (which I think he was using even during his bad years).

Hal, you’re wrong about Eckersley too. Before becoming a full-time reliever at the very worst Eckersley was a better than average starting pitcher. His w/l record for Cleve/Bost/ChiC was 155-129, before LaRussa made him a reliever.

McGwire played in just 27 games in 1993 and 47 in 1994. One might reasonably expect his production to fall off.

The racehorse Cigar did not race at 2, then began his career winning only 2 of his first 9 races, mostly on turf. On October 28th of his 4 year old season, they tried him again on dirt in an allowance race. He won that race by 8 lengths, and also won his next 15 races, including the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

If horses count, the first example might have to be Seabiscuit, who was unexceptional as a 2 and 3 year old, until being sold and getting a new trainer who made him a star.

Yep. Stymie, too.

Vijay Singh was a journeyman golfer until about age 30, winning some small international tournaments. At Age 30, he won the Buick Open on the PGATour and went on on to win three majors and a total of 34 PGATour wins. Interestingly, this week, at age 47 he fell out the top 50 ranked golfers after being there since August 1992.

Ryan left the Mets when he was just 24 and before he turned 30 had been in three All-Star games and set the major league record for strikeouts in a season. It’d be hard to argue that he didn’t become outstanding until “late in his career.”

And steroids or not, Clemens in his third season went 24-4 and won the MVP Award, so he took didn’t wait until late in his career to become awesome.

Watch a lot of Lakers games, do you?

Melvin Mora, Dan Uggla, Luis Gonzalez, and Raul Ibanez all had better 2nd acts than first.

What about guys like Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke, both of whom were top prospects that made it to the majors, had initially promising starts, and then bombed so badly (in Greinke’s case, mostly due to a crippling anxiety disorder) that they were sent back down to the minors. Both came back to become two of the best pitchers in baseball, Greinke winning a Cy Young last year and Halladay an early favorite to win it this year.

Chi Chi Rodriguez was a good but not great golfer on the pro tour, never winning a major and winning only eight tournaments in 16 years. When he turned 50, he joined the Senior Tour and won 22 tournaments in only eight years.

Tiki Barber is a more extreme example, with lower lows and higher highs. (In terms of yards/ranks by season.)

Though I think the aforementioned Rich Gannon may be the best example form the NFL. Guy was mediocre for most of his career until he landed in Oakland, where flourished under the West Coast Offense.

Actually, come to think of it what about Jim Plunkett?

Police Acamedy, only good at number 5.

Sorry poor joke but we have a guy James Podsiadly playing AFL at 28, he had been playing in the lower leagues and was one of their leading players but had pretty much given up ever getting drafted although last year he said stuff it and here is now playing for last years premiers and kicking 17 goals in his first 5 games.

This is a pretty cool cinderalla story [gotta love caddyshack].