Today I felt like covering a failed prospect, and Shawn Abner sure fits the bill. I’m sure the story of Abner being 1984’s #1 overall draft choice is old news at this point, so I thought I’d look more into what led to his callup with the Padres and his time in 1988. I think the most amusing thing that I’ve found so far is an article about Abner being a cartoon character:
“All I know is, I would never room with Shawn,” said catcher Mark Parent, Abner’s teammate this summer at Triple-A Las Vegas. “There’s guys who were the team jokester. He was the team joke.”
“He has one ferret that’s trained, great ferret,” said [Shane Mack], Abner’s Las Vegas teammate earlier this year. “But you have to watch out for the one who’s not trained. One time the thing circled me and then leaped, and next thing I know, it’s hanging from my arm with its teeth in me. Tiny little teeth, but they hurt. Good thing I had my tetanus shot.”
So, Shawn Abner. One of the greatest baseball busts of all time. The overall #1 pick who ended up with a 65 OPS+. It sure sounds like he was in the doghouse with the Padres from the very beginning, as digging through news archives on the guy, there are all sorts of mentions of his encounters with Larry Bowa and what an odd guy he was. From the LA Times:
Remember rookie outfielder Shawn Abner? Remember how he came to the big leagues from Class AAA last September with three stripes cut into the side of his head, and a wisp of hair hanging down in back like a tail? Wednesday, he showed up with most of that hair gone.
It’s interesting to watch his trajectory in 1988. He made the team out of Spring Training based on his 1987 performance, beating out Shane Mack, got handed a full-time job on May 4, and then, on May 20:
There will be one new face in the Padres’ starting lineup today, a face accompanied by an amazing stat. Marvell Wynne will replace Shawn Abner in right field after Wynne’s ninth- inning pinch-hit homer Thursday gave him four for the season. That leads the team, incredible in itself, but even more so when you consider that Wynne has batted only 47 times. That’s fewer at-bats than any position player who has been with the team all season. [Keith Moreland], in 119 at-bats, has two homers. John Kruk, in 92 at-bats, has three homers. “Marvell has to get in some at-bats,” Manager [Larry Bowa] said. “He’s been hitting the ball with more power than anyone.” Abner, on the other hand, is in an 0-for-10 slump that has dropped his average to .205. Since he became an everyday player May 4, Abner has gone 10 for 47 (.213) with one homer and two RBIs.
Abner pretty much disappeared from the news until August and October after that. He only played in four games after Wynne replaced him, and he was sent down. Abner was only 22 at the time, so I do wonder if his pace of getting to the majors ruined him. After hitting .301 with a .485 SLG in 1985, it seems he was rushed along. In 1987 it looked like he’d found his legs and made it to the majors, but it’s very possible that he just wasn’t ready and being in the doghouse in San Diego messed with him mentally – he already seemed a little unstable. Hard to say.
Wikipedia’s little coda to his career is probably the saddest:
He currently works for a beer distributor in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He is married and has two sons. His oldest son, Jordan, was a starting quarterback for Cumberland Valley High School while his youngest son, Seth in 9th grade, plays football and baseball.
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!” – John Greenleaf Whittier