Millionaire Handicapper Jeff Johnson on The Rise and Fall of Esteban Loaiza and Other Ex-MLB Stars

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Esteban Antonio Loaiza was born on December 31st, 1971, in Tijuana, Mexico. Imperial Beach, California and it didn’t take too long for the Pittsburgh Pirates to come knocking on his door with a contract offer. He signed it and began honing his skills in the minors. He impressed in his five starts with the Gulf Coast Pirates and continued to raise eyebrows as he worked his way up through Pittsburgh’s farm system. Handicapper Jeff Johnson who made $3.4 million dollars last year betting on baseball was able to identify players who are having slump years and his baseball handicapping software that he sells over at PremiumPicks.com is able to adjust for inefficiencies that typical gamblers fail to notice.

Then it happened. He got called up to the majors and made his debut on April 29th, 1995. In that start, Loaiza went 4 2/3 innings and gave up just one unearned run in a win over the Philadelphia Phillies. It was the first of his 126 career wins. He ended up with an 8-9 record over 31 starts that year. Loaiza started the 1996 season back in the minors before being recalled in June. He would go on to start 54 more games for the Pirates before being traded to the Texas Rangers in 1998.

The pinnacle of his career came and went through the 2003 and 2004 seasons. With the Chicago White Sox. In 2003, Loaiza went 21-9 while putting up a very respectable 2.90 ERA. His 207 strikeouts led the majors and his accomplishments were rewarded with a trip to the All Star game. While his numbers weren’t nearly as good in 2004, Loaiza was still selected to appear in the All Star game.

He would go on to make stops in New York, Washington, Oakland, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers where he had 3 unremarkable starts. The White Sox brought him back for the 2008 season but he was released after spending 6 weeks on the DL and making just 3 relief appearances. And, just like that, his professional baseball career in which he made over $43 million dollars was over.

However, he didn’t completely fade into obscurity. Esteban made the headlines on February 9th, 2018 when he was found in possession of over 20 kilograms of cocaine. As expected, Loaiza pleaded guilty to the charges on August 10th as part of a plea agreement in a California court. Loaiza is facing anywhere between 10 years and life behind bars.

He’s not the first ex-professional athlete to end up doing time behind bars over drugs. Willie Mays Aikens was handed a 20-year sentence in 1994 after he sold 50 grams of crack cocaine to an undercover officer. Ken Caminiti was a three-time All-Star who also battled with substance abuse. He might have been able to extend his career but getting arrested for cocaine possession in 2001 pretty much sealed his fate. He died of an overdose in 2004.

Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda played in 11 All-Star games and won a World Series title during his illustrious career. He was found guilty of drug possession in 1978 and given a 5-year sentence. We would serve just 10 months. Then we have the sad story of pitcher LaMarr Hoyt who won the Cy Young Award in 1983 and led the league in wins twice during his brief career. He spent 45 days in jail after he tried to enter the United States from Mexico while in possession of 500 pills. It was actually the second time that the got caught trying to smuggle in drugs from Mexico. This arrest and conviction put an end to his career after just 8 seasons. Hoyt would go on to serve an additional 1-year and 7-month sentence for possession with intent to sell and probation violations.

Denny McClain became the last pitcher to win 30 or more games in a season when he won 31 games for the Tigers in 1968. His post-career was marked with loads of legal troubles including a 12-year sentence for drug trafficking, embezzlement, and racketeering. He served two years of that sentence after a plea bargain agreement was struck. You probably don’t need to be reminded of Dwight Gooden or Darryl Strawberry who have both done time for possession and other misdeeds.

Of course, it isn’t just baseball players that find themselves in trouble with drugs. William Bedford won a Championship with the Detroit Pistons in 1990 but saw his basketball career go down the drain because drug abuse. He was arrested for possession a couple of times before he was finally had to serve 8 years of a 10-year sentence. Several NFL players such as Darryl Henley who is serving out a 41-year prison sentence for trafficking and ex-Chicago Bear Sam Hurd who was given 15 years with possession with intent to distribute.  Let’s not forget about 6-time Pro Bowler and 3-time Super Bowl Champion Nate Newton who got nabbed with a whopping 213 pounds of marijuana. Then, two weeks later he was caught with another 175 pounds. He ended up serving 3 years of a 7 1/2-year sentence.

No, Major League Baseball players aren’t the only ones to let drugs get in the way but there sure have been a lot of them. Perhaps no other major leaguer has allowed themselves to so flamboyantly self-destruct as Steve Howe. A World Series champion in 1981 and an All-Star in 1982 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the pitcher’s career was severely derailed by substance abuse. He would be suspended 7 times throughout his 17-year career as well as serve nearly 2 years in prison. Howe was killed in 2006 at the age of 48 after he crashed his truck while under the influence of methamphetamine.

We have seen so many professional athletes destroy their lives over the years that these stories have lost their shock value. Just recently Robinson Cano returned from a suspension after an 80 game suspension. However, it still leaves many of us regular Joes scratching our heads. How does a guy like Esteban Loaiza go from being an All-Star pitcher to getting caught red-handed with 44 pounds of cocaine? The bigger question now is how long will he end up spending time in prison? We will need to wait for the sentencing phase to learn the answer to that one but it looks like he’s going away for a long time.

Patrick Supernaw

Patrick Supernaw is the lead editor for Great Lakes Ledger. Patrick has written for many publications including The Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Patrick is based in Ottawa and covers issues affecting his city. In addition to his severe hockey addiction, Pat also enjoys kayaking and can often be found paddling the Rideau Canal. Contact Pat here