The Rise and Fall of Former White Sox Star Esteban Loaiza

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 18: Esteban Loaiza #21 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during the game against the Oakland Athletics at the Network Associates Coliseum on July 18, 2004 in Oakland, California. The Athletics defeated the White Sox 5-3. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - JULY 18: Esteban Loaiza #21 of the Chicago White Sox pitches during the game against the Oakland Athletics at the Network Associates Coliseum on July 18, 2004 in Oakland, California. The Athletics defeated the White Sox 5-3. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) /

Former White Sox pitcher had a remarkable comeback story in 2003 when he nearly won Cy Young Award but his fall from grace is sad

In 2003 and 2004, Esteban Loaiza‘s career seemed to be at a high. The former White Sox pitcher had just made his second All-Star appearance and – when midseason came – he got the opportunity to play on a first-place contender when he was traded to the New York Yankees.

Though New York would infamously blow a 3-0 lead in the best of seven ALCS to lose to the Boston, Loaiza seemed to be riding a tidal wave of success. Now, that tidal wave of a high seems very distant.

Yet, Loaiza’s fall from grace is not so much a tragedy for him. It’s a tragedy for many others, including the fans who grew up with him. The young adults who were once kids are forced once again to remember that heroes don’t always come in uniforms. Yet, like the Joker with his purple cape, bad guys sometimes do.

Loaiza – who started his career in Pittsburgh – came to the White Sox after stops in Texas and Toronto. With the Rangers, he’d been a part of two AL West division championship teams.

In his first year wearing black and white, Loaiza shined. He finished 2003 with career highs in wins (21) and ERA (2.90), finishing 2nd in Cy Young award voting. With the Sox ending the year with an 86-76 record, Loaiza had accounted for nearly one-fourth of the team’s victories.

In his second year, Loaiza was again successful as he earned his second consecutive All-Star game appearance. At the trade deadline, Chicago traded Loaiza to the New York Yankees for struggling starter Jose Contreras and cash (a deal that looked great for New York at the time!).

However, Loaiza’s time in New York was anything but memorable. In 10 appearances, his ERA ballooned to 8.50. In the postseason, though he pitched relatively well, he took the loss in Game 5 of the ALCS – a defeat that gave Boston more momentum en route to their dramatic comeback. After this, his time in New York was over.

Loaiza pitched the next two seasons with the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics, as he was a key member of Oakland’s 2006 squad – the only team to make it to the ALCS under Billy Beane.

Though he pitched well in Game 1 of the ALDS against Minnesota- picking up a no-decision in a game the Athletics eventually won- he took the loss in a pivotal game 2 of the ALCS that gave the Detroit Tigers a 2-0 lead headed back to Detroit. The Tigers would eventually sweep the Athletics in four games when former teammate and White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez hit a dramatic walk-off three-run home run.

After that, Loaiza stuck around for two more seasons but only played 17 games with the Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and – to end his career – White Sox. After 2008, his career in Major League Baseball was over.

At this point, it would seem that Loaiza had any number of options. He could coach, manage, or work in a field other than baseball. With so many good options to choose from, he, unfortunately, made some bad choices.

Loaiza, a native of Tijuana, Mexico, married singer Jenni Rivera – a 22-time Billboard Latin Music Award winner – in 2010. The marriage appears to have been anything but a match made in heaven.

In 2012, Rivera filed for divorce from Loaiza. According to a statement given by Rivera’s reps at the time, the reason for the divorce was “irreconcilable differences on behalf of both parties derived from private circumstances that occurred during the lapse of their two-year marriage.”

Unfortunately, the divorce was never finalized, as Rivera was tragically killed in a plane crash that December. After that, Loaiza disappeared from the public eye…for a while. Then, this last year, he reappeared in a big and very unfortunate way.

Last February, Loaiza was found with approximately 20 kilograms – or 44 pounds – of cocaine in his home. According to ESPN News Services,

"“When they [police] searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband…That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza’s rental home, where they found the packages of drugs.”"

As fans, it’s only human to want to think that the people you grow up watching aren’t the bad guys. As humans, it’s desirable to wish that ugly stories you hear aren’t what they seem. However, neither was the case in this scenario.

In July, Loaiza pleaded guilty to the charges against him. He will not be punished by getting sent back to the minors. Instead, he’s looking at facing a minimum of 10 years in prison, while a maximum penalty would carry a life sentence.

While the latest information predictably shows that Loaiza will be trying to cut off his jail time – his lawyer is trying to reduce his sentence to 18 – 24 months – ABC News’ eyewitness team points out that Loaiza has nevertheless lost just about all.

"“As the I-Team first reported when Loaiza was arrested more than a year ago, he claims to be broke-despite having made $43 million dollars during his 14-year career in major league baseball.”"

Sports, as is well known by not only fans but also many in culture, is filled with too many stories of wealthy athletes who’ve made bad decisions. ESPN even made a 30 for 30 documentary about it – “Broke” – trying to answer what appears at face value to be a rhetorical question: How does someone who gets paid millions to do what they love, end up losing it all?

Unfortunately, sports is also filled with stories of what seems to be good guys gone bad.

In football, Aaron Hernandez and O.J. Simpson were once synonymous with their franchises but are now considered taboo names by their fans.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa so delighted baseball fans in 1998 that fans in return would like to forget about how much joy they had given what they’ve learned since. In the world of wrestling, an organization (WWE) which once went to great lengths to exploit the athletic prowess of Chris Benoit now goes to those same great lengths to remove all mention of him.

In the case of Loaiza, like so many others, an athlete’s indiscretions hit fans in the face in such a way that it not only shocks people but also shocks sports fans in particular as another reminder that all is not what it seems.

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Loaiza, like other athletes who came before and some who will come later, had every opportunity to help himself avoid this situation. He just didn’t take advantage of it.