I cannot believe that Ben McDonald is celebrating his 42nd birthday. I remember this tall, lanky Cajun as the "can't-miss" prospect who was still trying to put it all together five years after being drafted first overall out of Lousiana State University. He really did seem to turn a corner in his first full season - 1992 - when he went 13-13 with a 4.24 ERA and led the Orioles with 158 strikeouts. When I started tuning into O's games the following year, Ben seemed to be coming into his own. His 13 wins were one off of the team lead, and he posted team bests in ERA (3.39), complete games (seven), strikeouts (171), and WHIP (1.23).
O's fans could be forgiven for their giddiness when he started the 1994 season by winning his first seven starts and pitching into the seventh inning in each of them, compiling a 3.08 ERA in the process. However, he cooled off and went 7-7 with a 4.56 ERA for the duration of the season, and his faint chances of winning 20 games were blunted by the players' strike that wiped out the final seven weeks of the season.
Sadly, McDonald lasted only three more seasons, throwing his final pitch in 1997 with the Brewers at age 29. Rotator cuff surgery the following February proved unsuccessful, and he returned home to Louisiana with 78 career wins. Before you shed any tears for Ben, just remember that he's one of the precious few to have the honor of wrestling Cal Ripken, Jr. in stadium clubhouses around the country. He even lived to tell of it.