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5/07/2007 11:42:00 AM

Saddest Comebacks in Sports

Molly Sims
Jim Palmer's comeback in 1991 didn't last past spring training.
John Iacono/SI
By Mike McAllister, SI.com

Roger Clemens made it official Sunday -- he's coming back for another season, this time with the Yankees. While the Rocket's return has become an annual event following his first "retirement" from baseball in 2003, he has shown an ability to remain competitive despite his advanced age.

But other athletes haven't been as fortunate after deciding to return to their sport after a lengthy absence. With plenty of candidates to choose from, here are five of the saddest comebacks in recent memory:

1. Jim Palmer ... Retiring in 1984 after winning 268 games with the Orioles, Palmer was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990. A year later, at age 45, he tried to come back as a non-roster invitee with the Orioles but quickly realized it was a foolish idea. Kind of like that underwear ad.

2. Michael Jordan ... We've got no problems with his comeback from his first retirement (after all, he did lead the Bulls to three more titles following his foray into baseball). But about that second retirement -- so what if he averaged better than 20 points during those two seasons in Washington. It was difficult to watch Jordan become mortal.

3. Jose Canseco ... In between admitting to steroids abuse, testifying before Congress and writing a controversial book, Canseco also has spent time trying to revive his career. It hasn't been pretty. Last summer, he signed on with the Golden Baseball League, and was traded from San Diego to Long Beach after one game. But hey, he did win the league's Home Run Derby.

4. Ricky Williams ... With rumors flying about a third failed drug test, the Dolphins running back retired just before the 2004 season. He returned a year later, and even had a couple of 100-yard days. But he eventually tested positive again for drugs and was suspended, eventually spending the 2006 season playing in Canada. He's currently awaiting word on his reinstatement to the NFL.

5. Boxers ... There have been so many ill-fated comebacks from supposed retirements in the fight profession that choosing just one doesn't do it justice. But I'm partial to Mike Tyson, who was more circus freak than legendary boxer after returning to the ring after serving three years on a rape charge.

OK, so who makes your list of the saddest comebacks in sports?

posted by SI.com | View comments |

Comments:

Posted: May 7, 2007 12:40 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I don't know if Dave Dravecky ever officially retired when he was diagnosed with cancer in his pitching arm. But when he attempted to come back from a procedure on his arm that ended up weakening his humorous bone, the result was pretty hard to forget. He missed a lot of time and was presumably cleared to start pitching again, only to have his humorous bone snap in half as he released a pitch. His career instantly ended and his pitching arm ended up having to be amputated at the shoulder when the cancer returned.
Posted: May 7, 2007 12:50 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I think Rickey Henderson is still trying to come back, very sad
Posted: May 7, 2007 1:14 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
My father performed the cancer treatment on Mr. Dravecky's arm and I got to speak with him about it. It was sad but also inspiring to hear him insist that he would pitch again, but as has been pointed out, his body could not handle the stress of pitching. Sad to be sure but great to see someone never give up.
Posted: May 7, 2007 1:33 PM   by Anonymous big ghi
John Daly at the Wachovia on Friday (49 on the back 9)
Posted: May 7, 2007 2:33 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Evander Holyfield, George Forman, Ali, Sugar Ray ..., see a pattern
Posted: May 7, 2007 2:48 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Mark Spitz
Posted: May 7, 2007 2:52 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Cleveland Browns
Posted: May 7, 2007 3:08 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I don't know whether or not this list is limited to athletes who come back solely from retiremement or injury as well. If it includes athletes that come back from a potentially career threatening injury, I'd have to add Bobby Hurley. We never got to see what kind of NBA career he would have had after he was seriously injured in a car accident prior to his rookie season. He played very briefly for The Kings, but was just a shadow of the player her once was when he starred at DUKE pre car accident. The same could be said for Jay Williams, who attempted a comeback with The Nets earlier this season.
Posted: May 7, 2007 3:19 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Magic Johnson would be on top of Jordan if I had to pick. He really had no business making a comeback.Aside from the fact that people were still ignorant about the whole HIV thing(I doubt some players gave it 100% against Magic), he was also extremely out of shape and over weight during his attempted come back. This was sad to watch….
Posted: May 7, 2007 3:20 PM   by Blogger Rob
Dennis Rodman's stint with independent basketball and euro teams.
Posted: May 7, 2007 3:21 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Dennis Rodman's foray into independent and Euro basketball. Always a freak, but pathetic as well
Posted: May 7, 2007 3:54 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Not to be a downer, but Bill Johnson's failed comeback in 2002 has to be the worst. From Wikipedia:
Johnson's personal life suffered as well, when his 13-month-old son drowned in a hot tub in 1992. At age 40, his marriage ended in divorce, and he was bankrupt and living in a mobile home when he mounted an improbable comeback bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The comeback ended abruptly on March 22, 2001, when Johnson crashed horribly during the downhill race of the 2001 U.S. Alpine Championships, held at The Big Mountain near Whitefish, Montana.

He sustained serious injury to the left side of his brain, nearly bit off his tongue, and was comatose for three weeks. Johnson remains brain-damaged and in need of constant care, mostly from his mother. He lives on disability and has become slightly more functional, though his speech and memory are permanently impaired.
I can't believe Gordie Howe's "comeback" attempt in 97-98 at the ripe young age of 69 hasn't made this list. Clearly, that was the saddest comeback ever.
I seem to remember Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd was attempting a comeback a few years ago.
Posted: May 7, 2007 4:55 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
George Steinbrenner's lifetime ban and reinstatement. Now he will be remembered as an old man who lets Cashman do the work instead of the guy who hired and fired Billy Martin like 18 times.
Posted: May 7, 2007 5:06 PM   by Anonymous jeff
How about Pete Rose trying to come back to baseball in any capacity?
Posted: May 7, 2007 5:11 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Bjorn Borg:
In the early-1990s, Borg attempted a comeback on the men's professional tennis tour. This time around, however, he was completely unsuccessful. Playing with his old wooden rackets in an attempt to regain his once-indomitable touch, he lost his first comeback match in 1991 to Jordi Arrese at the Monte Carlo Open. A series of first-round losses to lowly-ranked players followed over the next two years. The closest he came to winning a match was in 1993 in Moscow, when he pushed Alexander Volkov to three sets and lost a final-set tie-breaker 9-7. After that match, he retired from the tour for good and confined himself to playing on the senior tour, with modern rackets, where he delighted crowds by renewing his old rivalries with McEnroe, Connors, and Vilas.
Posted: May 7, 2007 6:06 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Kevin Willis signed with the Mavs hoping to provide them with a big man presence in the playoffs. That ended badly for both teams.
Posted: May 7, 2007 6:40 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Ladies Figure Skating has seen some sad comeback attempts, including Katarina Witt and Oksana Baiul.
Posted: May 7, 2007 6:48 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Individual comebacks are one thing, but when an entire team has to make a comeback year after year, you have a living, breathing definition of insanity (trying the same thing time after time and expecting different results).

For me, the worst comeback attempt each year belongs to the Kansas City Royals.
Each year, they attempt to rise from the ashes of the year before, only to end up worse, somehow, than the year before.

I know their pain, I'm a RedSox fan. I've lived through years of constant disappointment. But, somewhere along the line, you have to make a decision. Either move, sell the team, start paying decent money......SOMETHING! Just do something to change the way things are.
Every year brings another losing season, and it seems like the team has a collective retirement party for the failed season. Then, a few months later, we are again treated to what seems like another "comeback".

Anyway, there's my pick. But hey, not all is bad. At least they aren't the Washington Nationals...
Posted: May 8, 2007 12:45 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Two racing names come to mind:

1) Alan Jones. He was F1 world champion in 1980 and retired for the first time in '81 after winning 11 races in a three-year period. He had a one-race stint in '83 and then a two-year stint in '85 and '86. Each time there were moments where he had to stop because he was tired.

2) Nigel Mansell. He was too fat to fit in the MP4/10 and had to sit out two GPs so they could widen the cockpit. A couple of sad-looking drives later and his F1 career ends.
Posted: May 8, 2007 4:24 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I know that we are discussing players but I could not help but think of a few coaches who could make the list. Perhaps we could throw in:
Jimmie Johnson when he coahced the Dolphins, that is a sad shell of the glory days wit Marino. Tough to watch that.
Dennis Green: The Cardinals were just awful. He was great in Minnesota but honestly, did anyone actually think he would win?
Finally Dennis Erickson and all of the success he had at the pro level. First there was Seattle that he could not do anything with. Then he went down to college ball and did great but when he returned to the pro ranks, it was a total flop.
Again, I know this is for the athletes but let's not always blame them. We need to offer a bit of love to the coaches too.
Posted: May 8, 2007 6:51 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How about Juan Gonzalez. Didnt play much for a couple years and got a minor league contract with the Indians. They announce he makes the team after a decent spring training and he goes on the DL the next day for a while. Juan finally has his first game about a month or so later and in the 1st AB of the season messes up his hammy and is out of major league baseball for seemingly good.
Posted: May 8, 2007 10:33 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Are you crazy?? The George Foreman comeback was the best thing to happen in boxing.
Posted: May 8, 2007 11:13 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
im gonna go with scottie pippen trying to come back to play
Posted: May 10, 2007 5:11 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Coach Knight to Texas Tech -- but did he have a choice?
Bjorn Borg coming back with the same wooden racquet he won 8 majors with...couldn't get out of the first round of ANY of the tournaments he entered...can you imagine?
Posted: May 14, 2007 12:46 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Ben Johnson afer being banned for steroid use - not quite as good without the juice, eh Ben?
Posted: May 20, 2007 3:31 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
One of the saddest stories in baseball history was the attempted comeback of Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox, a rising start in the mid 60's. He was beaned in the eye and was never the same after that physically or mentally. He attempted a comeback in the early 70's but it was not successful.
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