January 27, 2009

The Most Impressively Unimpressive Professional Sports Careers

Athlete: Dick Shiner
Sport: Football

Not everyone can be an all-star, but even the mediocre can usually find their place in the sporting world. Maybe you don’t have the fastball to be the closer, but you can still get plenty of innings in middle relief. Maybe you’re stuck behind Kobe or Lebron, but you can come off the bench when they get into foul trouble or need a rest.

There are a few positions, however, where you’re The Man or you’re nobody, like goalie and placekicker. Chief among these is NFL quarterback. Sure, you were the greatest athlete in the history of your hometown, and you got to bang every cheerleader at your college over the last four years, but that’s Eli Manning out there, son, so get used to holding this clipboard.

Which brings us to Richard E. Shiner, or as he was known throughout his career, Dick Shiner. There have been backup quarterbacks with longer, less distinguished careers, but none who combined them with a name that’s practically synonymous with “masturbator.” Shiner was a college star at Maryland, with Sports Illustrated writing that he “resembles Mickey Mantle, and is regarded with similar awe.”

That was pretty much the high point for Shiner. He was drafted by the Redskins in 1964 (he was actually also picked by the Jets in the AFC draft that year, where he probably would have still been awful but could have hung out with Joe Namath). He spent three years in Washington, suiting up for 29 games, starting one (he lost) and throwing a total of 71 passes. He went to Cleveland for a year, throwing a total of nine passes. At least his arm wasn’t getting tired.

Then the big break every backup waits for. The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired him to be their starting quarterback, a job he would hold for two years. In 1968 and 1969, Shiner started 20 games and went a combined 3-16-1, being benched after an eight-game losing streak. He hung around for five years after that; maybe he was always nice about picking people up at the airport, or he had compromising photos of the Commissioner wearing lingerie. Maybe the NFL just wanted to make things easier for hecklers. In any event, Shiner played a total of 11 seasons with six teams, starting 28 games with a lifetime record of 7-20-1.

Shiner is actually a member of four different regional Halls of Fame, and will soon join a fifth once we open the Hilariously Suggestive Name Hall of Fame, where he will be a charter member with Dick Pole and Rusty Kuntz.

Athlete: Ed Nealy
Sport: Basketball

Longtime coach Phil Jackson once said about Ed Nealy, “It's guys like Ed who make coaching a pleasure. If you give me a reason to put him into a game, he's going to find a way to contribute." Ignoring the fact that Jackson only found 11 reasons to put Nealy into games in his final season, the lesson for our young readers is if you have no discernible talent, then be sure to have a positive attitude. Who knows, you might end up making $800,000 for about five hours worth of on-court time, just like Ed Nealy.

Nealy was drafted in 1982 by the Kansas City Kings, a team that may not have actually existed. Nealy started 61 games for the Kings in his rookie year, almost 80% of the games he would start during his ten-year career. He averaged about 12.6 minutes per game, scoring 2.7 points. To put his 1451 career points in perspective, Kobe Bryant has scored more points than that every single full season since he became a starter.

So yes, cultivate that positive attitude. Sure, Nealy won’t be in the Hall of Fame, but playing alongside Michael Jordan for a few seasons beats about 99.99% of the jobs out there. And a sense of humor wouldn’t hurt either. Nealy once called his Mom to brag that he and Jordan had scored a combined 72 points in a game. Jordan scored 69 of them.

Athlete: Rob Ducey
Sport: Baseball

Every baseball team has a man on the roster who can usually fill in at a few positions, come in as a late defensive replacement, and is the first to be sent to the minors when a spot is needed. Usually, a player will fill this role for a year or two, either moving up to become a regular or heading back to the minors on their way out of the game.

Then there’s Rob Ducey. Ducey played 13 seasons in the majors, not counting a two-year mid-career stint in Japan. This is a fairly impressive number – players become eligible for the Hall of Fame with ten seasons – especially considering that Ducey never once did anything that anybody would possibly remember.

His consistency was impressive, though it’s the same kind of consistency shown by a homeless man who vomits and passes out drunk in the same alley every night. During his first seven years, mostly spent with the Blue Jays, Ducey never had fewer than 48 or more than 85 at bats in a season. He got between 15 and 17 hits for five straight seasons, and six or seven RBI’s for four straight. Usually a player with this kind of record is a defensive specialist or can be used as a pinch runner, but Ducey was an outfielder who didn’t steal more than two bases until his ninth season in the majors.

Ducey was born in Toronto, so maybe the Blue Jays had the same kind of rules as Canadian radio, where a certain percentage of all songs have to be performed by Canadian artists; he also later played for the Montreal Expos. Still, four U.S. teams (plus the Nippon Ham Fighters!) let Ducey hang around with them. He finally rewarded the Phillies in 1999 with his breakout season: A .261 average, 8 home runs and 33 RBIs. In other words, don’t bother searching for Rob Ducey under Steroid Abusers in the Mitchell Report.

Ducey finished his playing career in 2004, playing for the Canadian Olympic team which finished 4th. He was the oldest player in the tournament, which is probably the most impressive line in his career. Well, except for the time he was basically traded for himself.

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