Teams That Gave Their Fans a Giant Middle Finger
For many of us—hopefully for most of us—being a sports fan is an enjoyable addition to our lives. It doesn't matter if your team is a perennial championship contender, permanently stalled in last place, or somewhere in between—there is usually joy to be had.
Unless there isn't joy to be had. Which is, unfortunately, the case for a few unfortunate fan bases. For some the situation is tragically bleak and sometimes permanent, like when a team is moved. For others it's not necessarily longterm, but the pain is acute.
The pain of these suffering fan bases could easily be soothed if team ownership wasn't all too eager to drive a metaphorical knife in their collective back and twist. Actually…that was a little dark. Let's just stick with the metaphorical middle finger.
Here are 10 teams that have given their fans the finger at one point or another.
10. Chicago Bulls
Bulls fans enjoyed an unprecedented level of success with Michael Jordan for most of the 1990s. Between '91 and '98 Chicago was crowned NBA champion six times. Had he not skipped the 93-94 season for an ill-advised foray into baseball and stuck around another couple of seasons, it could've easy been seven…maybe even eight.
But you know what they say: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. As soon as MJ decided to "retire," Bulls ownership told Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to get to steppin. Oh! And let's not forget the unceremonious dumping of legendary coach Phil Jackson, who was replaced by nobody Tim Floyd.
Floyd, by the way, lasted three dreadful seasons with the Bulls, one dreadful season with the Hornets, and is currently coaching at the University of Texas at El Paso. Not exactly an upgrade. No offense to Tim Floyd.
There was a decade between the end of the Michael Jordan era in Chicago and the start of the Derrick Rose era. The interim was jam-packed with a lot of very terrible basketball—and it didn't really have to be that bad. Of course the team wouldn't have been the same minus His Airness, but did they have to blow the whole damn thing up that fast?
At least things are finally looking up again. Assuming Rose ever returns from that injury it seems like he sustained a decade ago...
9. Houston Astros
It doesn't matter how necessary rebuilding may be, the decision to actually do it is certainly a middle finger to fans of a franchise—at least initially. Rebuilding means shipping off veterans, dumping salary, and sometimes even paying the salary of a veteran who is now playing for another team.
That's exactly what the Astros did in 2013. Their comically low payroll this season was $14 million under the comically low payroll of the lowly Marlins, which was over $20 million less than the Rays ahead of them. Houston's payroll was the third lowest in 2012, but they still managed to slash it by 2/3.
They really committed. In fact, the Astros were so committed to the rebuilding plan that their highest paid player this season was Wandy Rodriguez, who was traded to the Pirates in July…of 2012. They agreed to pay a large portion of the 34-year-old's remaining salary just to get him off the roster.
If the plan was to be bad now in exchange for future success that is build on a stable foundation, it's definitely working. The Astros are, understandably, the worst team in MLB at the moment—they're comically bad. So bad that they're a full 20 games behind the Blue Jays, who are dead last in the AL East and 10 games back from the next team.
Then again…they're only seven games worse than the Marlins, who are probably going to shed even more payroll this offseason, on the assumption that it can't get much worse!
As much as it sucks for fans right now, the Houston sports media seems to be in complete agreement that it will pay off down the road. When done right, rebuilding is simply a very ugly process. And it doesn't get much uglier than the Astros this season!
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
In May 2009 Sports Illustrated asked of the Maple Leafs: "How can the $1.75 billion owners of the most valuable franchise in hockey continue to so mismanage one of the NHL's most storied teams? The Leafs still haven't won a Stanley Cup in 42 years, and the deep pockets of its parent organization have done little to reverse that trend."
Good question. Good point. And good news! In late 2011, the team was finally sold to Rogers Communications and BCE Inc, Canada's two largest telecommunication companies. Which finally put an end to the bumbling reign of Richard Peddie an Larry Tanenbaum, also known as Dumb and Dumber.
Unfortunately, all those years of stunning mismanagement and dysfunction can't be undid in an instant. The Leafs did make the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in a decade. Their run was recently commemorated by CBC Sports with this headline: "Maple Leafs moving past playoff nightmare as camp opens." Which should give you an idea of how it turned out.
Last season they led the league with 44 fighting majors, the antiquated style of violent hockey espoused by the Leafs loathsome head coach Randy Carlyle. But I don't want to be too quick to paint Carlyle with a single brush, he's not just a hockey coach—he's also an amateur scientist/doctor. He's got a pretty interesting theory on concussions:
"When you have a helmet on, there’s a heat issue. Everyone sweats a lot more, the brain swells. The brain is closer to the skull. Think about it. Does it make sense? Common sense? I don’t know if it’s true, but that would be my theory. Heat expands and cold contracts. The brain is like a muscle, it’s pumping, it swells, it’s a lot closer to the outside of the skull."
Yep. Carlyle's expert medical theory is that concussions are caused by heat generated from being forced to wear a helmet. Talk about a middle finger to reason, rationality and responsibility—not to mention to the fans of this once proud franchise. Fans in Toronto might not want to throw away those brown paper bags just yet.
7. Boston Celtics
It's been just over five years since the Celtics won their first NBA championship in over two decades in 2008. Not all that long in the grand scheme of things. Yet if you look at Boston's roster from the 2007-08 season and compare it to the roster for the upcoming 2013-14 season, you'll see just one name appearing on both.
That name being Rajon Rondo. The Celtics ultra talented—not to mention ultra moody—point guard is the only player who survived the explosion, after management's decision to finally blow it up this past offseason. Of course, it seems Rondo is forever on the trading block, so who knows how permanent this arrangement is.
Despite the rapidly advancing age of veterans like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and even Ray Allen before he fled to Miami as a free agent last summer, they had been resisting the urge to purge (the old guys) in Boston for years. It seemed every time they were down long enough to justify it, the Celtics would bounce back in a big way.
They really surprised in the 2012 playoffs, taking the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics even had a chance to win it in six, but Miami battled back to win the final two games. They didn't surprise at all last season—unless you count actually making the playoffs, which was kind of a surprise.
As the season wore on, there was a sense big changes were coming to Boston—even if the media routinely warned against doing anything rash. First is was Ray Allen, then coach Doc Rivers, both of whom departed amid tensions with Rondo. And then it was Garnett and Pierce, who were traded to the Nets for a couple of jabronies they Celtics are already trying to unload.
There's no denying that the basketball situation in Boston is bleak, and will remain so for years to come.
6. New York Mets
The fact that Mets owner Fred Wilpon has asked for patience from Mets fans is absolutely laughable. After five consecutive seasons of abject misery—not to mention a long and sordid history of misery—it's truly a wonder they still manage to lure 26,000 fans to fancy shmancy Citi Field.
The Wilpons continued existence/ownership is a permanent middle finger in the face of every single Mets fan. Every fire sale, every overpaid and underproducing free agent acquisition, and each comically terrible business decision—they all just add insult to injury.
Speaking of comically terrible business decisions! How about the team having to pay Bobby Bonilla, who hasn't played for over a decade, $1.25 million every July 1st from 2011 until 2035. He played for the Mets back in 1999 and agreed to defer $5.9 million for awhile. In return Bonilla will be rewarded with over $31 million for his patience.
Which means 50-year-old Bobby Bonilla makes more than well over a dozen players on the Mets active roster. Yep. That's real.
With that kind of financial management, is it any wonder that COO Jeff Wilpon essentially conceded the entire 2013 season in May? One of the main reasons the Wilpons are said to be strapped for cash is because of the $162 million in restitution they have to pay for their involvement in the notorious Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.
5. New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have been bouncing around greater New York since the team was founded in 1967. They began as the New Jersey Americans in the ABA. The following season their name, and presumably location, changed to the New York Nets.
They were the New York Nets for one season after joining the NBA in '76, becoming the New Jersey Nets in '77. And that they remained until 2012, when they crossed state lines once again to become the Brooklyn Nets.
After their final game in the Garden State, Governor Chris Christie gave them the standard Jersey goodbye, "They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance."
I'm pretty sure they have some version of that statement on every sign as you exit the state. "Oh…so you want to leave and go to Philadelphia? Go f**k yourselves!" and "Delaware! Are you s**ting me? GET BENT!"
But just because things were perennially grim for the New Jersey Nets, that doesn't make their decision to flee across two rivers any less of a middle finger to the 8,300 season-ticket holders. Or any of their other dozens of devoted fans.
Only a fraction of those ticket-holders committed to moving with the team to Brooklyn. I guess that was their middle finger back to the franchise.
4. Montreal Expos
When the 1994 MLB strike went into effect in August of that year, the Expos were in the midst of their best season in franchise history. They were 70-40, which was the best record in baseball at the time. The Expos were considered legit World Series contenders—in what would have been their second postseason appearance ever.
The first time was in 1981, which just so happened to be the year of the last major work stoppage in MLB. Yikes. And, for those of you unawares, I referred to "what would have been" for a very good reason. The strike carried on for 232-days, which forced the cancellation of what remained of the '94 season.
Instead of trying to pick up where they left off in '95, Expos management decided to dump veterans like Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker and John Wettelenad before the season began. Additions like Moises Alou and Pedro Martinez in '96 nearly carried them to the playoffs, making that initial salary dump all the more painful for fans.
And eight years later they moved to Washington—the ultimate middle finger to fans in Montreal.
3. New York Islanders
In 1999 the New York Times noted the Islanders set a record for futility with six straight home losses—something they had never done, "not even in the woeful early days of the franchise." At the time they were in the midst of a seven season playoff drought.
In 2000 the Islanders were bought by Charles Wang, a Chinese billionaire an philanthropist—which explains why he was drawn to the NHL's most desperate charity case. Wang purchased the club for $187.5 million and a decade later it was worth over $30 million…less. Making them one of the very few franchises that has actually depreciated in value.
In 2008 the NY Daily News noted yet another futile milestone when the Islanders lost 10 games in a row, the most recent was to the lowly Thrashers. It was their first double-digit skid in a decade. Since their glory days in the early 80s—when they won four consecutive Stanley Cups—the Islanders milestones have mostly been bad.
That's thanks in large part to the 11-year reign of terror by former GM Mike Milbury, who was mercifully terminated in 2006. If only it had come 10-years earlier fans could have avoided the horror of these Top 10 Worst Trades, Contracts, and Transactions facilitated by Milbury. And trust me, narrowing it down to just 10 couldn't have been an easy task.
When asked about his decision to buy the team by Newsday in 2009, owner Charles Wang replied, "If I had the chance, I wouldn't do it again." Surely the fans appreciated that. Next time he should actually just answer with his middle finger...it would be more respectful than that.
2. Miami Marlins
Ahead of last season the Marlins committed $191 million to three high priced free agents, which nearly doubled their payroll from the previous year—when they finished last place in the NL East with 72 wins.
In 2012 they moved into Marlins Park, which will eventually cost Miami-Dade taxpayers $1.2 billion. That according to a revealing investigation into the loan done by the Miami Herald last January. And what did all that investment buy the team? They finished in last place in the NL East with 69 wins.
Then, of course, came the infamous fire sale last November—something Marlins fans should be used to, considering their crooked ownership does it every few years. They dumped pretty much everyone, knocking them down from the seventh highest payroll in MLB in '12 to second to last this year.
And guess how they're gonna finish this year! Anyone who guessed dead last in the NL East, likely with under 60 wins, gets a gold star.
At least fans relayed the favor. Last season the Marlins were in the middle of the pack in terms of attendance. This year they dropped to second to last—behind only the always sparsely attended Rays in Tampa Bay. You give Marlins fans the finger…they'll give it back.
1. Cleveland Browns
Where to even begin with the beaten down and beleaguered Browns fans in the beaten down and beleaguered city of Cleveland. Running down a list of the many metaphorical middle fingers they've been flipped by the franchise—and even the world at-large—would just be mean.
So I'll just touch on a few.
They've never won a Super Bowl. Since the 80's they've made the playoffs just once per decade. Their stadium sucks—so say their players. Since 1999 they've had 20 starting quarterbacks and, for the most part, they've all been terrible. And over that same period of time they've had seven different head coaches.
Despite that abject futility, Browns fans are actually lucky they can even call themselves Browns fans. In 1995 team owner Art Modell abandoned all plans to refurbish Cleveland Stadium, opting simply to avoid the hassle and set up shop in Baltimore. So the Browns became the Ravens and reemerged as an expansion team three years later.
And we all know the diverging trajectories each of those teams experienced. The Ravens have two Super Bowls and the Browns are now owned by Jimmy Haslam, a two-bit conman currently under investigation by the FBI and IRA. Oh...and did I mention he's a Steelers fan?
Looks like the hits just keep coming in Cleveland.