Monday, September 10, 2007


You know how newspapers and TV stations will have an obituary piece in the can, sometimes for weeks, when a famous person is about to die? It might have been good planning to have a Top 5 Worst Comebacks ready to go just in case Britney Spears' performance at some awards show last night went, well, pretty much the way anyone who doesn't work in the music industry would have expected. 50 Cent's jaw-agape reaction at around the 2:50 mark brings it home. It was like the worst stripper you ever saw, minus 90% of the energy, 99% of the eroticism and 100% of the frontal nudity.

Anyway, off the top of the head, five bad sports comebacks. Here's the challenge, though: Do it without mentioning boxing (too obvious), Diego Maradona or Ben Johnson (too cruel), Guy Lafleur as a Quebec Nordique (he was just having fun) or Michael Jordan playing with the Washington Wizards (never happened).

  1. Tennis: Bjorn Borg, early '90s. Seven years after walking away from the game at age 26, Borg made a comeback using wood rackets -- which by that time, with the power-baseliners taking over tennis, was the equivalent of trying to take on Bill Gates with a Coleco. Borg lost every match he played for the next two years.
  2. Baseball: Pedro Borbon, spring 1995. Fifteen years after last pitching to major-league hitters, the 48-year-old former reliever scabbed by joining the Cincinnati Reds as a replacement player while the real ballplayers were on strike. Maybe he was hard up for money, maybe he wanted to match ex-Big Red Machine teammate Ken Griffey Sr.'s feat of playing with his son (Pedro Borbon Jr., then a lefty reliever with Atlanta). What is known is that Borbon, after huffing and puffing through a lap around the field, wheezed to manager Davey Johnson, "They shoot horses, don't they?" Johnson replied, "We wouldn't waste the bullet."

  3. Baseball (again): Jim Palmer, 1991. Everyone should try to have a second life as an athlete -- just not in the same game in which the first one occurred. Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher, tried to come back with the Orioles seven years after retiring. Perhaps he'd just been waiting to make sure that Earl Weaver, the manager with whom he had a love-hate relationship, was safely enconsced in retirement.

    In one of Palmer's first workouts, the pitching coach he was working with, Lazar Collazo, reportedly said, "You'll never make the Hall of Fame with those mechanics." Palmer replied: "I'm already in the Hall of Fame." He pitched in one spring training game and retired. The abortive comeback was later spoofed in an episode of Cheers when Sam Malone briefly pitched for a Red Sox farm team.

  4. Hoops: Bob Cousy, 1970. There was a time when basketball teams ran on a shoestring and would do almost anything to put butts in the seats. For the 1969-70 Cincinnati Royals, it meant having their 41-year-old coach, seven years removed from a matchless career as a Hall of Fame point guard, play in seven late-season games. Cousy the coach was well-justified in not giving significant minutes to Cousy the player: He averaged 0.7 points in seven games, but Royals attendance jumped 77%.

  5. Olympic sports: Mark Spitz, 1991ish. The swimming sensation of the 1972 Munich Games -- seven races, seven golds, seven records -- made a comeback at age 41 -- because documentary filmmaker Bud Greenspan offered him a million dollars to try and qualify for the '92 Olympics. Say this for Spitz -- his times were close to what he swam a generation earlier, but in this case, it wasn't even close to going to Barcelona.

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to


Dennis Prouse said...

I'll nominate Deion Sanders. His brief cameo with the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 and 2005 was embarrassing. He had a few brief shining moments in 2004, but he was on the injured list more than he played, and by '05 he was hurt virtually the whole year.

sager said...

Thought about Deion, but then again, he played DB in the NFL at 37 years old in 2004 after a three-year absence. He reaffirmed just how good he was that first year.

Dennis Prouse said...

Maybe there should be a special Sanders/Lemieux category of, "had a good run during the early stages of the comeback, but faded badly towards the end." Mario, of course, was terrific early in his comeback, but almost right away the injury bug came back. You could see in Salt Lake City that the erosion of his skills had begun. (Remember him ringing one off the post with an open net to shoot at in the gold medal game?) By the time the 2004 World Cup of Hockey rolled around, Mario was just a shadow of his former self.

Here's a recent CFL one for you -- Sean Millington as a Toronto Argo. Millie retired after the '02 season in BC, but wanted to come back in '05. Wally Buono, who is about as heartless as they come when it comes to veterans, said no, which left Millie going to Toronto. He only played a few games before rupturing his Achilles, ending it for him again. To me, it was sad to see a guy who I respected so much as a player ending it like that.

There is a comeback related story I heard that might amuse you. A few years back, then-Congressman J.C. Watts was a guest of Dan Snyder at Redskins camp. The boys were running sprints at the end and Watts, who kept himself in very good shape for a 40-something Congressman, decided to join in. Not such a great idea -- he blew out his Achilles tendon, and was on crutches for months.

Pete Toms said...

How about Sanders' baseball comeback? I remember seeing him play here against the Lynx ( with Syracuse? ), what year was that? I think he and Canseco were the 2 most famous players I saw here.