Fired Up: Most Intense Players in MLB
Baseball is an intense game.
Plays at the plate.
To deal with these situations, a very intense baseball player by the name of Bob Gibson said that something special is required, per Baseball-Almanac.com: "You've got to have an attitude if you're going to go far in this game."
Honorable Mention: Carlos Zambrano SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Carlos Zambrano is an honorable mention because he is currently playing in the minor leagues. However, while he was playing in the major leagues, he was a man of many meltdowns.
Zambrano was known for barking at batters after strikeouts, showing up teammates after defensive miscues and terrorizing umpires.
And, of course, there's the time he threw what can only be described as a temper tantrum in his own dugout.
Teammates and Gatorade coolers everywhere are hoping Big Z stays in the minor leagues as long as possible.
9. Kevin Gregg RP, Chicago Cubs
Kevin Gregg is wound pretty tight.
The right-handed reliever is now pitching for the Chicago Cubs, but his claim to intensity fame occurred while a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
In the eighth inning of a blowout loss to the Boston Red Sox on July 8, 2011, Gregg was facing Red Sox DH David Ortiz at Fenway Park. Let Gregg explain what happened next, as reported by Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald:
It is 3-0, they are up seven, and I think there are some ethics to this game and guidelines that you have to stay within. Run. You hit a lazy fly ball, you have to run the bases. And apparently, he didn’t like me telling him that stuff and he came out there. If he thinks there’s something wrong with me saying that, then he has other things he has to check out in this game.
Perhaps Gregg needs to loosen the strap on his Rec Specs.
8. Jonny Gomes OF, Boston Red Sox
Jonny Gomes nearly died.
Five times, according to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.
So it's easy to understand why he approaches every at-bat, every inning, every game, with the intensity of someone trying to survive the day.
Gomes brought this intensity with him to the Boston Red Sox this past offseason. However, he was not satisfied with the role of platoon outfielder he was expected to fill, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald (subscription required):
You look at baseball cards, there’s no such thing as a position of a ‘guy that hits lefties’ or a ‘guy that hits righties, You either hit or you don’t. Are they different? They are different, 100 percent, lefty and righty. But I didn’t hit just lefties in the 12-year-old All-Stars. Coming up through the minors, I didn’t have a swing that just hits lefties. I work very hard in the offseason to condition myself to be ready for 162 (games).
Gomes has apparently channeled this everyday intensity into his every-other-day role as a pinch hitter. He recently tied the Red Sox single-season pinch-hit home run record, held by Red Sox legend Bernie Carbo.
The challenging art of pinch hitting is easy compared to what Gomes has been through.
7. A.J. Pierzynski C, Texas Rangers
A.J. Pierzynski takes baseball very seriously. In the process, he rubs people the wrong way.
Last June, Men's Journal (h/t NBC Sports Hardball Talk) discussed how Pierzynski fared in a recent poll of MLB players:
In a Men’s Journal survey of 100 Major League Baseball players, White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was voted “most hated player” with 34% of the votes. “He likes to talk a lot of sh**, and I’ve heard he’s a bad teammate,” one National League pitcher tells Men’s Journal. “He’s been a prick to guys on his own pitching staff. Basically, if you haven’t got five years in the big leagues, he treats you like you’re a peasant. He’s that kind of guy.”
Pierzynski was more succinctly described to Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine by his former manager Ozzie Guillen, another man noted for his intensity: "If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."
The intensity with which other players hate Pierzynski may vary, but the intensity with which Pierzynski plays the game is always the same.
6. Johnny Cueto SP, Cincinnati Reds
Johnny Cueto loves a good brawl.
He tried to start one earlier this season when he threw above the head of David DeJesus of the Chicago Cubs on May 26. DeJesus' teammate, Matt Garza, was none too pleased with the Reds right-hander, telling Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com that “Cueto should learn you don’t go after guys' heads.”
In the end, nothing came of that incident aside from a war of words.
But Cueto kicked up quite a fuss in the massive melee between his Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals on August 10, 2010. Cueto was suspended seven games for trying to kick his way out of the mass of Cardinals players. Mike Florio of NBC Sports Hardball Talk had the gory details:
[Jason] LaRue took the worst of it, suffering a concussion and needing stitches from Cueto kicking him in the head and face with his cleats. He’ll likely end up missing more games than Cueto, who at most could miss one start and may end up simply pushing his next outing back a day if he appeals the suspension.
Cueto was the only player suspended from the intense altercation.
5. Yasiel Puig RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasiel Puig has already done a lot of crazy things in his very, very short time in the major leagues.
He dove to take a catch away from center fielder Andre Ethier on one fly ball and ran into Ethier on another. He even scored from second base on a ground out to first, blowing through the stop sign at third.
Perhaps the best example of Puig's intensity came on June 11 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, in a game that would eventually be marred by a massive bench-clearing brawl.
While batting in the sixth inning, Puig was hit in the face by an Ian Kennedy fastball, somehow not breaking his nose. Instead of taking a Tylenol, he simply took first base.
Perhaps MLB thought a suspension would hurt his 2013 All-Star Game campaign.
4. Jonathan Papelbon RP, Philadelphia Phillies
It would be cliche to call Jonathan Papelbon, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a Ragin' Cajun. But no matter how you say it, he is one fiery dude.
Papelbon becomes animated quite easily on the mound. He regularly enacts demonstrative celebrations after a save, and he's even been known to dance.
But most of his fire comes out when he talks.
The most recent example of this came on July 3, when Papelbon made an appearance on MLB Network Radio (transcript via Mike Oz of Yahoo! Sports Big League Stew) to discuss the possibility of Yasiel Puig making the 2013 All-Star Game:
The guy’s got a month, I don’t even think he’s got a month in the big leagues, and just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the all-star team, that’s a joke to me. It’s just really what happens in baseball when… to me it really does an injustice to the veteran players that have been in the game for eight, nine, ten plus years, and it kind of does them an injustice because they’ve worked so hard to stay there.
I'm not sure why anyone would ever book Papelbon as a radio guest. He never has anything interesting to say.
3. Brett Lawrie 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Brett Lawrie is a fierce competitor who, with every fiber of his being, loathes losing.
The Blue Jays third baseman has been known to unleash his umbrage on umpires, most notably on May 15, 2012, when his helemet struck umpire Bill Miller after a questionable called third strike. Lawrie claimed that he he did not intend to hit Miller.
With his team trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth following an RBI single by J.P. Arencibia that left runners on the corners, Lawrie hit a routine fly ball to right field and Adam Lind, who has less-than-average speed, was held up at third base.
Upset that Lind was not sent home, Lawrie yelled at both Lind and third base coach Luis Rivera as he made his way to the Toronto Blue Jays dugout.
A run by Lind would have meant nothing, but getting tagged at home would have meant everything at that point. The Jays made the correct call.
Once inside the dugout, Lawrie was barked at by manager John Gibbons with Jose Bautista stepping between them to cool things out.
After the game, Lawrie explained the incident in his own words, per Rutsey:
Not so much heated, just kind of caught up in the moment of trying to score runs and come back against those guys was all.
I’m just trying to help my team, that’s all. We won the game. It is what it is.
It’s just part of the game...I didn’t get the job done and (was upset) more or less just at myself in general but we won the game so, it’s good.
If you say so, Lawrie.
2. Matt Garza SP, Chicago Cubs
To say Matt Garza is intense is an understatement.
We already know he yells at opponents after what he said to Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. And that wasn't the first time Garza weighed in on a beanball war.
On July 29, 2009, while with the Tampa Bay Rays, Garza threw at New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira an inning after Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain threw at Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Garza explained his motivation after the game, via Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times
It's about time someone made a statement. I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say, 'You know, we're tired of it.' You can go after our best guy. Well, we'll make some noise, too, and that's what happened.
But Garza doesn't mind yelling at his teammates, either. On July 5, 2009, he did just that to Dioner Navarro, again while with the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay pitching coach Jim Hickey told Bill Chastain of MLB.com what he said to Garza on his visit to the mound during that same inning:
[Garza is] an emotional guy out there on the mound and I was just trying to basically encourage him to channel his emotions more toward the task at hand versus just kind of wasting it out there. And I thought he did a pretty good job after that, because it was a pretty heated situation out there. I believe he retired the next two guys.
Maybe this is why Garza is always on the trading block.
1. Bryce Harper LF, Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper has quickly left an impression on the baseball world for the reckless abandon with which he plays the game.
He's also left an impression on walls, bats and his face.
Harper made a leaping catch into the center-field wall at Dodger Stadium in only the second game of his big league career.
It was deja vu all over again a year later, as he crashed into the outfield wall at Turner Field. This time, he lost the ball over the fence and suffered a contusion in the process.
Harper also broke a bat in anger on home plate after a strikeout on August 5, 2012. He only needed one hand on the bat to shatter it in front of Miami Marlins catcher John Buck. Harper apologized to Buck before his next at-bat, and Buck took the opportunity to loosen up the intense teenager, as he explained to Gabe Lacques of USA Today.
"I told him, 'Don't worry about it. I did the same thing when I was your age. It was a metal bat, and I was in high school,'" he said.
Earlier in his rookie season, Harper had tried to break another bat in anger. In the first incident, he swung his bat against a wall in a dugout tunnel after another disappointing at-bat on May 11, 2012. Needless to say, this bat didn't break. No, it bounced off the wall and hit Harper in the face, requiring 10 stitches.
Harper's quote afterwards to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post was very telling.
"I just got caught up in the moment. I want to do so well. It just got me...It started bleeding. And I was like, ‘Ah, crap.’ Stitched it up as fast as I can and go back out to the outfield," he said.
But Harper is intense off the field as well. For example, don't ask him how he feels about the all-important issue of post-game celebratory beverages.
That would be a clown question, bro.