What-ifs add insult to these injuries
The pain of losing - both games and players - is all too familiar to Cincinnati fans
By John Erardi
Enquirer staff writer
The devastating knee injuries to Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and University of Cincinnati forward
Armein Kirkland this past week were unusual in their timing - back-to-back days - but the "what-might-have-been" aspect of the injuries is nothing new to area sports fans.
Such injuries have been a staple on the Cincinnati scene since Red Stockings superstar shortstop George Wright tore up his knee and hobbled through the 1870 season.
The Red Stockings, who were undefeated in 1869 as baseball's first professional team, lost a game in 1870 before Wright was injured, then lost several more after. The Cincinnati fans stopped coming, and the franchise eventually relocated to Boston. Talk about devastating injuries.
We asked the veteran members of the Enquirer sports staff for their nominations on the 20 most notable sports injuries in local sports history. Here are the results, in order of significance:
1. GREG COOK
The rookie quarterback led the Bengals to a 3-0 start in 1969 but hurt his right (throwing) shoulder in a game against Kansas City. He went on to be named American Football League Rookie of the Year, averaging a still-untouched 18 yards per completion, but was never the same and was out of the game within five years. Former NFL coach Bill Walsh, many years later, was quoted as saying Cook, formerly a star at the University of Cincinnati, was the best quarterback talent he had ever seen.
2. KEN GRIFFEY JR.
Pick any of his injuries since he came to Cincinnati in 2000. They have all been devastating, especially the one suffered Aug. 11, 2004, when Junior ripped his right hamstring right off the bone. That same year, he hit his 500th home run and had reconnected with Reds fans.
And don't forget about April 5, 2003, when Griffey dislocated his right shoulder diving for a ball in center field during only the third game at brand-new Great American Ball Park.
"He was finally healthy (and) feeling good," teammate Adam Dunn lamented.
3. TIM KRUMRIE
This one ranks highly because it possibly cost the Bengals a Super Bowl title, and how hard are those to come by? By Jan. 22, 1989, nose tackle Krumrie, a 10th-round pick six years earlier, had developed into one of the franchise's greatest players.
But in Super Bowl XXIII, he made a tackle and heard a sickening pop. The tibia and fibula in his left leg had broken. Krumrie recovered, even if the Bengals didn't. He started the 1989 opener.
4. MAURICE STOKES
This was the biggest what-if of the 1960s-era Cincinnati Royals of the NBA. Stokes was the league's rookie of the year in the 1955-56 season; he led the NBA in rebounds and ranked third in assists the following winter. But on March 12, 1958, in the final regular-season game of the Royals' first season in Cincinnati, he fell and hit his head on the court at Minneapolis and was knocked out.
With inflammation of the brain, he later fell into a coma and wound up paralyzed. He would die at age 36 in 1970.
"We were trying to build a powerhouse, and we got a terrible blow when Maurice got hurt," said teammate Jack Twyman. "Had he remained on the team, they wouldn't have been talking about the Boston Celtics. They'd have been talking about the Cincinnati Royals."
Besides Twyman, those Royals had two other future Hall of Famers in the lineup: Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas.
5. JIM MALONEY
On April 16, 1970, at Crosley Field, the 29-year-old Maloney - a pitcher who threw three no-hitters who is still the Reds' all-time leader in strikeouts - ruptured his left Achilles' tendon in the third inning when he left the batter's box to run out a ground ball.
How much sooner would the Big Red Machine have started winning World Series titles had Maloney stayed healthy and in the rotation? The Reds probably would have come a lot closer in 1970 and might have won it all in 1972, to go with their consecutive titles in 1975 and '76.
6. KENYON MARTIN
This is the biggest what-might-have-been in the storied history of University of Cincinnati basketball. In 2000, Martin went down with a broken right leg early in the Bearcats' Conference USA Tournament quarterfinal game in Memphis, Tenn., against Saint Louis. The injury shattered No. 1 UC's hopes of winning a national championship.
"The only reason he came back (for his senior year) is because he wanted to spend another year with his teammates and win a national championship," then-coach Bob Huggins said. "That was the No. 1 goal in his mind. When I walked out on the floor, that was the first thing he said."
Without the injury to Martin, who was the national player of the year, the Bearcats were a lock for a No. 1 seed and probably a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, they got a No. 2 seed and lost in the second round. Martin went on to become the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and has had a successful NBA career.
7. CARSON PALMER
The setting was perfect. The Bengals were in the playoffs after a 15-year absence and playing the archrival Steelers, quarterbacked by former Miami University star Ben Roethlisberger, in front of a Paul Brown Stadium crowd packed with fans dressed in orange and black.
Then disaster struck. Palmer went down with a knee injury on the Bengals' second offensive play from scrimmage, a 66-yard pass completion. How sweet would it have been to beat Pittsburgh?
This injury would rank higher if the Bengals had a Super Bowl-quality team. Still, the torn anterior cruciate ligament in Palmer's left knee checks in at Cincinnati's Heartbreak Hotel.
8. KI-JANA CARTER
The first pick in the 1995 NFL draft, out of Penn State, was a running back who was supposed to turn around the Bengals. Instead, he suffered a season-ending - and career-altering - injury to his left knee in his first preseason game.
It was the dreaded torn ACL, suffered by a player chosen after the Bengals had traded up to get the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in their history.
Later, Carter also suffered shoulder and wrist injuries. He lasted only five frustrating seasons in Cincinnati.
9. KEN ANDERSON
The Bengals quarterback suffered a broken bone in his right (throwing) hand in his final preseason game in 1978. He missed four games and the Bengals started 0-8, costing head coach Bill Johnson his job after five games. Homer Rice took over, and the Bengals finished 4-12.
10. ICKEY WOODS
The creator of the Ickey Shuffle - which made a return during the 2005 season - suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the second game of the 1989 season and was never the same.
Another Bengals player who suffered a career-altering injury in that era was cornerback Eric Thomas, who tore his ACL in an offseason basketball game. "I thought (he) may have had the best season for a corner we ever had," Bengals president Mike Brown once said. "And (then) he tore (the) ACL."
Thomas was never the same. Injuries such as Woods' and Thomas' helped create the Bengals' lost decade of the 1990s.
11. WAYNE SIMPSON
On July 31, 1970, Simpson - who had won 10 straight games and was 13-1 for this early incarnation of the Big Red Machine - tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder at Riverfront Stadium. He never regained his stuff.
12. JOSE RIJO
As so often happens with pitchers, it isn't just one pitch that ends a career, but rather an accumulation of them. So it was for Rijo, who on July 18, 1995, in San Diego, had to leave the game after only two innings. His sore right elbow derailed a potential Hall of Fame career. He was only 30.
His 106-83 record at age 29 was better than Bob Gibson's 91-69 at the same age. The beautiful thing about Rijo is he gave himself (and fans) a happy ending. On Aug. 17, 2001, he accomplished the seemingly impossible, returning to the major leagues at Cinergy Field after a six-year layoff that included five major surgeries.
13. BOBBY TOLAN
In the winter of 1970-71, Tolan ruptured his Achilles' tendon in a pickup basketball game with the Pete Rose All-Stars in Frankfort, and on Jan. 7, 1971, underwent surgery. Although he went on to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1972, one can only wonder how great Tolan's Reds career would have been without this injury - and how much his speedy presence might have improved the Reds during that dismal 79-83 season in 1971.
14. ERIC DAVIS
On Oct. 20, 1990, in the first inning of the fourth game of the World Series in Oakland, Davis suffered a lacerated kidney while diving for a sinking line drive. Given the stage, this could rank higher, but it didn't invoke any what-might-have-beens.
Now, had the Reds not swept the A's to win that World Series, it would be a different story.
15. ARMEIN KIRKLAND
He blew out the ACL in his left knee in UC's nationally televised game against Big East power Connecticut. Just when it appeared his college career might be launched - he'd been playing his best basketball - his college career was over.
16. DARNAY SCOTT
On Aug. 1, 2000, the Bengals star wide receiver - and the team's only deep threat - broke his left leg in preseason practice in Georgetown, Ky. After the team started its season 0-3, head coach Bruce Coslet resigned and Dick LeBeau finished up the Bengals' 4-12 inaugural season at Paul Brown Stadium.
17. BARRY LARKIN
Larkin's best April in years turned sour on April 21, 2000, when he tore a ligament in his left middle finger diving for a ball.
The injury came just as the Reds finally were playing well. First baseman Sean Casey was back from a broken thumb, and Griffey had begun to emerge from his slump.
Larkin was off to his best start since 1995, his MVP season.
18. RON OESTER
On July 5, 1987, the Reds second baseman tore his left ACL when the New York Mets' Mookie Wilson slid into him. Oester didn't return to action until July 16, 1988.
The fiery Withrow grad was a team leader. Had he been healthy, he might have helped the Reds out of their funk of second-place finishes in 1987 and '88.
19. DARNELL WILLIAMS
Xavier's junior guard had to sit out the 1998-99 season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee in June 1998. He had been the team's leading scorer the previous season and figured to create a heck of a mix with seniors James Posey, Gary Lumpkin and Lenny Brown.
Despite XU's 21-10 record that season, the Muskies were shut out of the NCAA Tournament.
20. CHRIS MACK
On Nov. 11, 1991, the Xavier star blew out his ACL in an exhibition game before his junior year.
Mack was a fine passer and a terrific leader. Without him, XU broke a string of six straight NCAA Tournament appearances.