Every major professional sport has seen its share of polarizing players through the course of history, and Major League Baseball is certainly not immune.
Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and many others have evoked a wide range of emotions from fans for a wide variety of reasons—from antics on the field to questionable actions taken outside of the game as well.
With another MLB season set to begin, we will present a list of current players who could easily be described as polarizing.
Through their attitudes, actions and/or fan sentiment, each of these 12 current MLB stars have conjured up a wide range of emotions from fans and pundits alike.
Let's take a look.
From punching out his girlfriend's father to complaining about his role in the middle of a pennant race, free-agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez has definitely earned a reputation as a polarizing player.
Rodriguez did himself no favors in that department when he attacked the father of his girlfriend in a fit of rage following a game in August 2010.
Just over a year later, Rodriguez came off as extremely selfish when he complained about his role in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen smack in the middle of a pennant race.
"I'm not fine," Rodriguez said at the time. "They told me I'd have the opportunity to close some games, and we've had 20-some save opportunities since then and I haven't even had one."
Is it pure coincidence that Rodriguez still finds himself unsigned at this point?
We'll let you be the judge of that.
Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has become one of those players that you either love or hate—there's no in-between.
His own boss said as much last May.
"He's a polarizing figure," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "When he is on your team, you love him. When he is playing against you, you hate him...and you don't even know him."
Baseball came easy to Harper at a very young age, and for some reason that simply irks some people. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010 appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16, and three years later, he was playing in his first major-league game.
Harper created a few bumps along the way as well. Blowing a kiss at an opposing pitcher in a minor-league game didn't help his reputation.
He was polarizing to other major-league players as well.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels thought nothing of drilling Harper with a pitch and freely admitting it after the game.
Everyone has their opinion about Harper, and it's clearly one that continues to add to his polarizing reputation.
As the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 MLB draft, Josh Hamilton seemed destined for a career filled with promise and glory.
He would have to wait a few years for the success to finally come.
Along the way, Hamilton was derailed by years of substance abuse. He became a poster child for star athletes gone bad.
He picked himself up, got sober and finally found that fame and glory. But not without a few missteps along the way.
Hamilton garnered much attention just last year when he went through a major slump in June and July. The slump coincided with Hamilton's decision to quit chewing tobacco, a decision that angered Texas Rangers owner Nolan Ryan.
"His timing on quitting smokeless tobacco couldn’t have been worse. You would’ve liked to have thought that if he was going to do that that he would’ve done it in the offseason or waited until this offseason to do it. So the drastic effect that it had on him and the year that he was having up to that point in time when he did quit, you’d have liked that he would’ve taken a different approach to that. So those issues that are created that caused unrest, and it’s unfortunate that it happened and the timing was such as it was."
When Hamilton made the decision to bolt Texas for a long-term contract with the Los Angeles Angels, he caused further anguish. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was "disappointed" that Hamilton didn't circle back to the team after he received the offer from the Angels.
And finally, Hamilton created some waves with recent comments about his former home.
This from the Dallas Morning News:
“It’s one of those things where Texas, especially Dallas, has always been a football town,” Hamilton said. “So the good with the bad is they’re supportive, but they also got a little spoiled, at the same time, pretty quickly. You can understand like a really true, true baseball town—and there are true baseball fans in Texas— but it’s not a true baseball town.”
Wow. Hamilton's return to Texas in early April ought to be a blast.
When promising right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer burst onto the scene in 2011 after being selected with the third overall pick in the MLB draft, his pre-game workout routine quickly became a must-see item on YouTube.
Word of Bauer's routine quickly spread. Word also spread that Bauer and Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero weren't on the same page following Bauer's call-up last year.
Montero spoke about his relationship with Bauer in a recent interview.
"Since day one in Spring Training, I caught him and he killed me because he threw about 100 pitches the first day," Montero said, adding he told Bauer he should take it a bit slower and work on locating his fastball first before working on his breaking pitches.
"And he said 'yes,' and the next time he threw, I saw him doing the same thing," Montero said. "He never wanted to listen."
Bauer might draw even more ire after releasing a rap song titled "You Don't Know Me." In the lyrics, Bauer referred to people "hiding behind a mask."
Bauer would later say the song was intended for Twitter haters and not Montero.
Now that outfielder Justin Upton is with the Atlanta Braves, he won't be so much a center of attention any more.
For the past two-plus years, Upton was the subject of various trade rumors, and it was plain to see that Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers was keen on getting Upton out of town one way or another.
Upton has never been one to embrace the spotlight. While the Diamondbacks famously named right field "Uptown," Upton never enjoyed a close relationship with his fans, often appearing churlish and aloof.
Upton became especially polarizing last season after getting off to a slow start following a career year. Maybe now in Atlanta, Upton can actually get back to the business of playing baseball without all of the side drama.
Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano has become well-known for displaying a temper that can quickly get out of control. More than one teammate has been caught in the middle of his famous tirades and rants.
Zambrano had clashes with Michael Barrett and Derrek Lee, and he was suspended for six games in 2009 following an outburst on the field during a game with the San Diego Padres.
In August 2011, Zambrano decided to "retire" after a particularly bad outing against the Atlanta Braves, a game in which he was also ejected.
The Cubs then placed Zambrano on the disqualified list, never to pitch another game for the Cubs.
Now, after a year in South Florida with the Miami Marlins, Zambrano could be taking his act overseas.
According to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, Zambrano might be pitching in Japan or China next year if he fails to secure a contract with a major-league club.
Let's see how that act plays in the Far East.
Delmon Young gained fame in the minor leagues for his work with the bat.
In flinging it, not swinging it.
Young tossed his bat at an umpire in April 2006, earning an immediate 50-game suspension.
Young again found himself in trouble in late April of last year. While his Detroit Tigers were visiting the New York Yankees, Young was arrested and charged with hate-crime harassment after he allegedly assaulted four tourists and hurled anti-Semitic slurs at them.
The tourists were talking to a homeless man on the street who was adorned with the Star of David and wearing a yarmulke.
Young waited most of the winter before finally signing a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for $750K—just a fraction of the $6.75 million Young collected last year from the Tigers.
Young's fresh start will be delayed—he's likely starting the season on the disabled list after undergoing ankle surgery in November.
Philly is the City of Brotherly Love—let's hope that Young finds that love.
Reliever Chris Perez has fashioned a nice career for himself after establishing himself as a quality closer for the Cleveland Indians over the past three seasons.
He's not doing much to win fans or management over with his mouth, however.
Perez found himself facing a firestorm of criticism last year for comments made about fans, management and his former manager.
He left no one group untouched, for sure.
First, Perez directed his ire at Indians fans for not showing up at Progressive Field.
"Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans," said Perez. "We know the weather stinks, but people see that (low attendance). Other players know that.
"You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 like (Carlos) Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland."
Then, Perez chose to take a shot at management.
“Different owners,” Perez said frankly, in reference to Detroit’s Mike Ilitch and Cleveland’s Lawrence J. Dolan. “It comes down to that. They (the Tigers) are spending money. He (Ilitch) wants to win. Even when the economy was down (in Detroit), he spent money. He’s got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don’t. But most of the time you do.
“You can’t miss,” Perez said. “You have to be right. That’s why I say it’s not just ownership. They don’t make the trades. It’s the GMs. It goes hand in hand. The GMs can only spend the money the owners give them, but they pick who they spend it on or who they don’t. They pick. The owners don’t pick.
“Josh Willingham would look great in this lineup. They didn’t want to (pony) up for that last year. … That’s the decision they make, and this is the bed we’re laying in.”
And finally, Perez had some choice parting words for dismissed manager Manny Acta.
"The Manny [reporters] saw and the Manny we saw were different guys," said Perez. "He's not a very confrontational person.
"In this game, we're men. We can handle it. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt. He did it this year, but it was a couple of weeks too late.
"Last year, we didn't get it at all. He only gave us two speeches, one at the start of the season and one at the end and we were playing for first place up until September."
Remarkably, Perez is still in town and will presumably be the closer in Cleveland once again.
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski will be behind the plate for the Texas Rangers this season.
It's quite possible that some of his teammates once voted for him as the most hated player in baseball.
Pierzynski earned that distinction after Men's Journal magazine polled 100 random major-league players. Pierzynski earned a whopping 34 percent of the vote, way ahead of second-place finisher Alex Rodriguez.
Former manager Ozzie Guillen once said of Pierzynski, "If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."
Outfielder Melky Cabrera wasn't just having a career year in 2012 with the San Francisco Giants. He was doing things never seen from him previously.
Cabrera showed signs of life in 2011 with the Kansas City Royals. After years of not fully realizing his potential, Cabrera broke out with the Royals, setting career-highs in batting average (.305), home runs (18), RBI (87), OPS (.809), stolen bases (20) and doubles (44).
Cabrera moved on to the Giants last year, becoming the All-Star Game MVP after a fabulous first half.
By mid-August, Cabrera was hitting .346 with a league-leading 159 hits. He was likely well on his way to a possible batting title and a hits title.
Then, the news came down about his positive test for testosterone and the resulting 50-game suspension.
Talk around the net centered on Cabrera's supremely selfish act and the possibility of his actions derailing the Giants season.
Fortunately, the Giants rose above Cabrera's stupidity, winning the World Series title without him.
Cabrera was then "rewarded" with a two-year, $16 million contract courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cabrera could well go on to prove that his positive test had nothing to do with his offensive resurgence. The Blue Jays certainly believe that. However, he will forever be remembered for that very fact, as it so closely coincided with that resurgence.
When Ryan Braun became the first player in MLB history to successfully appeal a drug-related suspension last February, the talk wasn't so much about his innocence.
Braun's defense was based on chain-of-command regarding the evidence. His attorneys didn't declare vociferously that their client was innocent. Rather, they questioned the way in which his urine specimen was handled.
Braun went on to follow up his MVP season with another spectacular year, finishing second in MVP voting to Buster Posey.
Last month, Braun's name surfaced once again in a PED-related matter, this time being tied to a shuttered South Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly dispensed PEDs to several major league players.
He was linked to further documents as well last week.
None of the documents offer proof that Braun received any illegal drugs from Biogenesis and owner Anthony Bosch.
However, suspicion is certainly the word of the day concerning Braun, and it clearly raises even more doubt following his appeal last year.
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was at the center of the PED controversy that also ensnared Ryan Braun last month.
Rodriguez had previously admitted to taking PEDs from 2001-2003—during his time with the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez will be out for at least half the 2013 season after undergoing hip surgery in January.
Without question the most polarizing figure in baseball today, A-Rod has managed to outdo himself in that regard with the latest allegations.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.