It appears Yasiel Puig’s days as a Los Angeles Dodger might be numbered. The 25-year-old has spent the past few weeks with Triple-A Oklahoma City where he’s destroyed pitching to the tune of a .375/.420/.641 slash. The Dodgers have placed him on waivers and might trade him.
But if history is any guide, Puig might not have anything to fear. Here are a few players who got sent down early in their careers.
1. Mickey Mantle, 1951: Here’s maybe the most famous story in baseball history of a great player who almost didn’t make it. Brought up as Joe DiMaggio’s successor in 1951, the Commerce Comet hit .300 through mid-May, but was sent down in mid-July after his batting average dropped to .260. In the minors, Mantle continued to slump, and he soon called his father, Mutt to come home. Mutt arrived, began brusquely packing his bag, and told Mantle, “I thought I raised a son, not a coward.” The rest is history.
2. Willie McCovey, 1960: McCovey won the 1959 National League Rookie of the Year Award hitting .354. The following July, his batting average dipped below .250, and he was farmed out to Triple-A Tacoma. He came back to San Francisco two weeks later, though interestingly, his struggles continued the remainder of the year. McCovey wasn’t a consistent starter or a star until 1963.
3. Sammy Sosa, 1991: Sosa showed the Chicago White Sox in 1990 why they traded Harold Baines for him, hitting 10 triples and stealing 32 bases. When his batting average hit .200 on July 19 of the following year, he was sent back down, spending five weeks with Triple-A Vancouver. He didn’t become a star until after his trade to the crosstown Cubs in 1992.
4. Fernando Valenzuela, 1991-92: Fernandomania ended ingloriously with the Los Angeles Dodgers releasing their one-time ace at the end of spring training in 1991. Following a brief stint in Anaheim with the Angels, Valenzuela embarked on a near two-year sojourn that took him through the minors and Mexico, with him going 10-9 with a 3.86 ERA for Jalisco in 1992. He returned to the majors with the Baltimore Orioles in 1993 and pitched effectively through 1996.
5. Tim Wakefield, 1994: Before Wakefield became Boston’s ageless knuckleballer, he was the hottest rookie on the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates, going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA for them in the regular season and 2-0 in the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the Braves. After Wakefield sputtered the next season to a 6-11 record with a 5.61 ERA, he spent 1994 in the minors before reemerging as a Cy Young candidate with the Red Sox in 1995.
Honorable mention, Ted Williams, 1938: Technically, the Splendid Splinter never played in the majors before 1939. But he went to spring training as a 19-year-old in 1938 where he rankled veterans, called his manager Joe Cronin “Sport,” and announced shortly before having to go to the Minneapolis Millers that he’d make more money playing baseball than the existing Boston Red Sox outfield combined. [He did.]