Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Most Hated Opponents -- Players

In the midst of another what-the-hell-is-going-on-here Yankees-Red Sox game -- can somebody tell me how you score 11 runs and lose by 5? -- I've given some thought as to who my all-time most hated opponents are.

I have 1 eligibility rule: Only major-league athletes are considered. I'll put the managers, coaches and owners in a separate category when I feel like doing it, and I’m not going to hold some high school punk or some college twat responsible for something he did when he was 17 or even 21 years old.

So you're off the hook, Rob Stanavitch. So are you, Glenn Foley. (If you don’t know who they are, don't worry about it. Let's just say they both played high school football in New Jersey, and one played college ball elsewhere and came back here to play pro ball, although not well.)

I've limited it to 15, although there’s quite a few Dishonorable Mentions.

15. Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. This isn't personal, because I respect him a lot. Which is why I leave him at the bottom (top?) of this list. But he always seemed to step up his game against the Yankees, regardless of the color of his Sox. And, no, as long as Thurman Munson was alive, Fisk was never the best catcher in the American League.

Dishonorable Mention: Some other pain-in-the-ass Red Sox, including Jerry Remy (his playing was enough to get him on this list, but as a broadcaster, he's no Phil Rizzuto), Rick Burleson (man, what a pest, but the kind of guy you want on your team), Rich Gedman, Spike Owen (who sort of redeemed himself on the Yankees' 1993 Pennant-race run), Calvin Schrialdi and Bob Stanley (for allowing the Mets to win their only World Series in my lifetime, along with manager John McNamara but not Bill Buckner), Trot Nixon, Kevin Millar (or, as they pronounced his name in New England, Kevin Millahhhhhhhh), Johnny Damon (definitely redeemed himself, even if, in 2004, he looked a lot more like Charles Manson than Jesus), and now Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Not quite making this list is Bill Lee, who probably hated the Yankees more than any Red Sock ever, but by the time I saw him, he was already damaged goods and didn't hurt the Yankees much -- luckily for me, because until Graig Nettles (or was it Mickey Rivers?) body-slammed him, wrecking his shoulder, in that 1976 brawl, he was one of the top Yankee-Killers ever.

14. Bryan Trottier, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Somebody from the early 1980s Isles dynasty had to be on this list, and I never hated Denis Potvin like those dopey Ranger fans still do, and it was hard to hate Mike Bossy. But also playing for the early 1990s Pens' near-dynasty also puts this pain in the ass on the list.

Dishonorable Mention: From the early 1980s Isles, "Battle Ax" Billy Smith and Clark Gillies; from the early 1990s Pens, and the mid-2000s Rangers, Jaromir Jagr.

13. Rod Brind'Amour, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes. There had to be at least 1 Flyer on this list, but it's not one of their thugs. This guy has been a thorn in the Devils' side for 20 years, including in the 2002, 2006 and now 2009 Playoffs.

Dishonorable Mention: Flyers Dave Brown, Brian Propp, Ron Hextall and Eric Lindros. And Tie Domi, for his Ranger goonery (not to be confused with fans of Arsenal F.C.), and for his elbow to Scott Niedermayer in the 2001 Playoffs when Domi was with the Toronto Maple Leafs.)

12. Terrell Owens, Dallas Cowboys. Yes, I know, he played for the Philadelphia Eagles, my favorite NFL team, and, for 1 season, very well. And I know he also played for the San Francisco 49ers, and is now with the Buffalo Bills.

But has any player ever summed up why the Cowboys are so hated? Think about it, from the Sixties (Lee Roy Jordan's cheap shots, especially on Eagle runner Timmy Brown), to the Seventies ("America's Team"? More like "America's Most Wanted"), to the Nineties 'Boys, to today. Cheap shots. Egomania. Stupid dances. Drugs: "Dallas sucks! T.O. swallows -- pills!" And, or course, choking in the clutch, as the Cowboys so often do (but not often enough).

As far as I know, the only thing missing from T.O.'s Cowboys checklist is getting arrested. Maybe that's due to the Dallas Police being as negligent as they were when JFK came through town. Maybe the Buffalo police will be better. Come to think of it, I can see him going to Niagara Falls, going to their casinos, and getting in trouble that way. Or maybe he'll try to smuggle something across the Peace Bridge. You never know with T.O.

Dishonorable Mention: Lots of Cowboys, including Jordan, Roger Staubach, Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, Butch "California Quake" Johnson, Michael Irvin, Tony Romo, and the man T.O. succeeded as the epitome of all that was wrong with modern football despite being immensely talented, Deion "Prime Time" Sanders.

11. Rafael Palmeiro, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. He always seemed to hit well against the Yankees. And while he never seemed to get picked for the All-Star Game, he somehow managed to hit 569 home runs and collect over 3,000 hits. One of only 4 guys to do that, the 1st 3 being Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Palmeiro's former Oriole teammate Eddie Murray. And of all the players with at least 3,000 hits, only Aaron and Mays had more home runs. (Griffey is still active, so he could pass him.)

Late in his career, he did a commercial, where he said, "I take batting practice. I take infield practice. I take Viagra." Gee, Raffy, did it ever occur to you that your impotence -- in the bedroom if not at the plate -- might have something to do with taking steroids?

He was called before Congress to testify at the St. Patrick's Day Massacre, March 17, 2005, and he stuck his finger in the camera, and said, "I have never used steroids. Period." He was lying, and he knew he was lying, and a lot of us were pretty sure he was lying, too.
How do you hit 569 home runs and not get into the Hall of Fame? Well, Mark McGwire has 583, and Sammy Sosa has 609, and Barry Bonds has 762, and they're not getting into the Hall of Fame, either. And for the same reason: Because they cheated, Raffy, and so did you! Exclamation point!

Dishonorable Mention: Collectively, the 1996 and '97 Orioles. They rode steroids to the American League Wild Card in '96 and the A.L. Eastern Division Title in '97, before losing in the A.L. Championship Series both times, partly because Armando Benitez was a lousy relief pitcher in the clutch. (He gave up Derek Jeter's "Jeffrey Maier homer" in '96 and Tony Fernandez's Pennant-clincher in '97.)

Palmeiro used steroids. In all likelihood, so did Brady Anderson, who never hit more than 26 in a season despite playing most of his career at Camden Yards with that 309-foot right-field pole, but hit 50 in '96. I don't know who else among them was on steroids, but they also had Bobby "Make Yo Move, 'Cause I'll Hurt You" Bonilla, and the headhunting, pressure-folding Benitez.

And their manager? Davey Johnson. Just for being on the 1970 Orioles and managing the 1986 Mets, he might want to rehearse Lou Gehrig's farewell address, because he was certainly one of the luckiest men on the face of the Earth. He certainly wasn't one of the best managers on this planet.

10. Larry Bird, Boston Celtics. As much of a dick as Isiah Thomas is, he had a point about the fuss made over the Hick From French Lick: If he were black, he'd have been... Scottie Pippen. He wouldn't have been The Guy on a championship team. But those bastards from Southie and Eastie loved him, even though they never gave Bill Russell his due for all those titles in the Sixties.
Dishonorable Mention: Quite a few Celtics qualify, but I'll limit it to one who tears up the Nets with regularity, Paul Pierce.

9. Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox. It's easy to pick a fight when you’re wearing a helmet, a metal mask and a big catcher's mitt, while your opponent isn't wearing any of that.
Jason Varitek. Obviously, no opposing players were within
50 feet of him when this photograph was taken.

I have a lot of respect for Georgia Tech. It’s a great school, and they produce fine engineers and good athletes. They don't produce cowards. But they produced at least one, and this cunt is it. And he whines, too. And, like so many Sox, he has such stupid hair.

8. John Starks, New York Knicks. It wasn't just that he was a thug. It's that he chose to be a thug at a particular moment. On February 28, 1993, in what might have been the 1st nationally-televised game the New Jersey Nets ever played, the Nets played the Knicks at the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands. Though the Nets won, 102-76, the destiny of a franchise was rewritten. Kenny Anderson, then thought of as a rising star and a good guy, was driving to the basket, and Starks reached up and clotheslined him. Anderson landed hard, breaking his wrist.

He was never the same: He was never fully healthy again, and he became a little brat who whined his way off the Nets. At the time of this game, Derrick Coleman was considered a self-assured power forward who might one day lead the Nets to a title; afterward, he became a lazy, fat schmuck and a clubhouse cancer. At the time of this game, Drazen Petrovic was a fantastic player with a deadly outside shot; and while this can't really be blamed on Starks, even indirectly, he died in a car crash in the following off-season.

The Nets looked like they might be about to become the best team in the New York Tri-State Area, and a serious challenger for the Eastern Conference Title and even the NBA Title; that ended up not happening until 2001, when they traded Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd, won back-to-back Conference Titles, and showed themselves to be far ahead of the disintegrated Knicks. But in between, forget it.

The history of at least one NBA franchise changed at that moment. And it was all because John Starks decided a foul that would have gotten him 5 minutes in hockey, and a straight red card in soccer, was necessary to prevent 2 points in the middle of a basketball game that his team was going to lose by a large margin no matter what he did on the play in question. The play symbolized the classlessness of the Pat Riley era Knicks.
Yes, I called you a thug. Don't look so surprised.

Dishonorable Mention: Latrell Sprewell, Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks. As Starks left in 1998, Spree came in. Of course, he fit in on the Knicks: They always choked!

7. Manny Ramirez, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. He was a Yankee-Killer in Cleveland, when he had no hair. But it was in Boston, where he ended up looking like Super Slob, that he did the most damage. "Manny Being Manny" was all he cared about. I know, the Yankees have a "corporate" image that is worthy of some mockery, but, dammit, have some pride in your appearance and behavior.
Mickey Mantle used to say, "When I died, I wanted on my tombstone, 'A Great Teammate.'" Those words are now on Mickey's Monument in Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium. Will anybody, especially after 2008, ever say, "Manny Ramirez, what a great teammate"? I wouldn't bet a penny on that.

6. Josh Beckett, Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox. After the 2003 World Series, I figured I only hated him because he ruined a World Series for the Yankees. Turned out he was hateable on the basis of his personality. A headhunter and an egomaniac. He came by the nickname I gave him, Super Punk, the old-fashioned way: He earrrrned it. Yes, I know he's talented. Yes, I know he's successful. But that doesn't make him "good."
Dishonorable Mention: A slew of other Red Sox headhunters, including Dick Drago (who beaned Munson back in '78), Bronson Arroyo, that preening schmo Jonathan Papelbon, and, of course, Roger Clemens -- who fails to appear in the Top 10 solely because he went on to help the Yankees.

To an extent. I give Jim Lonborg a pass on this because, A, his beaning of Yankee pitcher Thad Tillotson happened back in 1967 before I was born; B, he was merely retaliating for Tillotson beaning Joe Foy; and C, it was one time, and he proved not to be a headhunter.

5. George Brett, Kansas City Royals. Today, I can look back on him and say he was the greatest athlete in Kansas City history; a man with over 3,100 hits; the only man to win batting titles in 3 different decades (1976, 1980 and 1990); and a winner (to this day, the Royals have never reached the postseason without him, but did so 7 times with him, and he always hit well in postseason play, including on the road to the 1980 Pennant and 1985 World Championship). (UPDATE: Now, they have.)

But until October 2003, when Pedro Martinez threw Don Zimmer to the ground, there was no Yankee opponent I hated more while he was playing. I can make "pain in the ass" jokes (though Mike Schmidt admitted in his memoir that he, too, had hemorrhoids during the '80 World Series), but it seemed like this guy always came through for the Royals, from nearly messing up the '76 Pennant (thank you, Chris Chambliss) to hitting 3 homers off Catfish Hunter in Game 3 of the '78 ALCS (thank you, Thurman), to taking Goose Gossage deep to cement the '80 Pennant, to taking the Goose deep again in an '83 regular-season game with a little help (the Pine Tar Incident).
But I respect Brett for this: He admits that he hated the Yankees. Whatever else this bastard is, he's honest, and for that, as well as for his talent, I salute him. But he’s still a bastard.

Dishonorable Mention: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox. Can’t put Big Papi on the Top 10 yet, though with his whining about Joba Chamberlain this week, he seems to want to get on here. Still, has anybody ever messed the Yankees up more? Actually, yes, and you’ll see him at Number 2.

(UPDATE: If I were doing this list again in 2016, Ortiz would, at the very least, be at this place on the list, probably higher.)

4. Collectively, the 1984 to 1990 New York Mets, especially the '86 bunch that won the World Series. It was impossible to pick one, although Keith Hernandez comes close. But Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Roger "Second Spitter" McDowell Wally Backman, Howard Johnson, and of course manager Davey Johnson all got under my skin.
I forgave Darryl and Doc because they became Yankee heroes, and each ended up winning more World Series with the Yankees than they did with the Mets. And, post-playing career, it's hard to hate Carter.

But Hernandez? After seeing what he's like as a Met broadcaster, I can tell you this: When he appeared on Seinfeld and played a self-absorbed, preening schmo of a retired baseball player named Keith Hernandez... he was not acting. At all. At least he finally quit smoking. But Walt Frazier is definitely the star of those "Just For Men" ads.

3. Curt Schilling, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. In a 1997 Interleague game, he struck out a whole slew of Yankees for the Phils at Veterans Stadium. If that had been the end of it, he wouldn't be here.

But in the 2001 World Series, he blew the Yanks away in Game 1. Then, as the Series move to New York, to the original Yankee Stadium, which has so often been said to have had a "mystique," he said, "You know, Mystique and Aura, those are dancers in a nightclub." He pitched Game 4 and nearly won it, until the late heroics of Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter tied up the Series. In Game 5, there was a sign on the upper-deck railing along first base: "MYSTIQUE AND AURA APPEARING NIGHTLY." (That same fan, in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, had an even better sign: "MYSTIQUE DON’T FAIL ME NOW." It didn't, not that night.)

Schilling was great again for 7 innings in Game 7 back in Phoenix, but gave up what should have been a title-losing homer to Alfonso Soriano. But then D-backs manager Bob Brenly brought in Randy Johnson, who'd won Games 2 and 6, and... let's not go over this again.

In the 2003-04 offseason, he signed with the Sox, and said, "I guess I hate the Yankees now." Fair enough. Before the 2004 ALCS began, he said, "There’s no better feeling than making 55,000 Yankee Fans shut up." Fair enough. But to then actually do it...

And I wonder, were all his 2004-onward injuries the result of steroids? Because steroids would explain a lot of things with him, although it may not explain his personality. God knows plenty of athletes have twisted personalities and may also be accused of steroid use. (Right, Roger?)

But Schilling isn't just a bad person: He's also a bad teammate. Remember him covering up when Mitch Williams pitched Game 6 of the ’93 World Series? A display of no confidence. (It wasn't the same thing when Andy Pettitte did it to John Wetteland in '96: Pettitte was just nervous. If there's one thing Schill has never been, it's nervous in a ballpark.) Phillies general manager Ed Wade, before even trading him to Arizona, said, "One day out of five, he's a horse; the other four, he's a horse's ass."

And I don't want to hear that he works with the ALS charity: He likes getting his punky mug on TV. And he named his son Gehrig. Not "Louis Gehrig Schilling," or even "Henry Louis Gehrig Schilling," but "Gehrig Schilling." How many times has that kid since been punched or kicked in the schoolyard, hearing, "Did that hurt, Iron Man? You gonna ask out of the lineup tomorrow? What's the matter, why can't you fight back? You paralyzed or something?" Actually, more likely, the kid is going to grow up to be a bully like his father.

Dishonorable Mention: Randy Johnson, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks. For the 1995 Playoffs, the 2001 World Series, and for giving the Yankees the most useless 17-win season any pitcher has ever had, in 2005. And for having the only combination of mullet and hat-hair I've ever seen. If you gotta put Schilling on this list, and you gotta put him on this list, then you gotta at least mention the Big Unit.

Further Dishonorable Mention: Collectively, the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. Matt Williams, who I used to like a lot, was named as a steroid user in the Mitchell Report. We can be pretty sure that Luis Gonzalez used steroids. I wouldn't put it past either Schilling or Johnson. So if any Yankee title from 1996 through the 2004 collapse is suspect, then so is the '01 Snakes' title. So is any title won by a team with Ivan Rodriguez on it, including the 2003 Marlins, and the A.L. West titles won by the Texas Rangers in '96, '98 and '99. (Hello, Juan Gonzalez.)

2. Mark Messier, New York Rangers. Lex Luthor himself. I don’t think I have to explain why he's on this list. And remember: He’s not only the Hair Club Team Captain, he’s also a client!
Dishonorable Mention: Scott Gomez, New York Rangers. He helped the Devils win 2 Cups, and was a wonderful player and a great guy. Now, he's just another piece of Ranger Scum -- and the only reason he's not really on this list is that he hasn't helped the Rangers win anything yet. And he never will, because the RANGERS SUCK!

(UPDATE: Gomez later returned to the Devils, and most Devils fans, myself included, forgave him. Messier? Never.)

That’s quite a sordid collection of characters. Number 1? Drumroll, please...

1. Pedro Martinez. Can there be anyone else? A Dodger, a Red Sock and a Met, which ought to be enough to get him into the Top 100 even if he were a nice guy.

He is not. We have the video evidence of him being guilty of the following crimes: Attempted murder (possibly multiple counts), assault (definitely multiple accounts), threatening to commit assault (and possibly to commit murder), and, of course, cockfighting -- not that we could enforce the last, since it was in another country.
Pedro, Schill and Papi

He’ll make the Hall of Fame, because he has over 3,000 strikeouts, and his winning percentage and earned-run average are very close to being the best of all time. But I tell you this: If O.J. Simpson said that Pedro the Fenway Punk was "the real killer," I might actually believe O.J. Of course, if Pedro ever did commit murder, instead of a Bronco chase, the Massachusetts State Police would have given him an escort to Logan Airport and paid his airfare to Santo Domingo.

By the way, how did that free-agent signing work out for the Mets?

1 comment:

"Nutball Gazette" said...

Great list, I am a Islander fan but I like the way you pick Trots who I loved. If I was a Islander hater it would be Billy Smith, All your other choices were great and I agree with.