10 Biggest Clubhouse Personalities in MLB History
Having a big personality in the clubhouse does not necessitate exhibiting leadership skills or even talent on the diamond. Rather, larger-than-life players exist independently of the workplace, with predilections so unwieldy that they cannot be subsumed by the team dynamic. With the daily rigors of pro baseball, these 10 players exerted a gravitational force on the clubhouse, even if that wasn't always a positive thing.
NBA star Darryl Dawkins claimed to be from the planet Lovetron. This list identifies precisely such players, ones either so nutty or so self-aggrandizing as to seem otherworldly.
For the purposes of historical assessment, this list concerns itself with baseball's biggest personalities since 1969, when the league lowered the mound and millions of Americans raised their consciousness in a variety of ways, as a dawning counterculture increased the primacy of self-importance.
Wade Boggs ate chicken everyday. Moises Alou urinated on his hands to improve grip. Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while high on LSD. And Kevin Rhomberg had an OCD-like obsession that necessitated he touch anything that had touched him, including opposing players, umpires and even the ball itself—perhaps why he only played 41 career games.
None of those players made the cut, as these 10 eccentric individuals distinguished themselves, for better or worse, as the biggest clubhouse personalities in league history.
Joe Charboneau's star burned too bright for the MLB. To paraphrase Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he was too weird to sustain a career, and too rare to forget. "Super Joe" won AL Rookie of the Year in 1980 with 23 home runs and 87 RBIs, but he only played 70 more games in the big leagues after that.
Charboneau, it was said, used his eye sockets to pry the caps off beer bottles. He also stitched up a stab wound with fishing line. He used pliers to extract one of his teeth and re-set a broken nose. For good measure, the former bare-knuckles boxer reportedly removed an unwanted tattoo with a straight razor.
"I can't change the folklore. A lot of that stuff really happened," Charboneau said, smiling. A song written about him, "Go Joe Charboneau," rose to No. 3 on the chart in Cleveland.
Opening beers with your eye serves as a real road-trip bonus that can quickly endear a rookie to teammates, but injuries derailed the loony young phenom.
Turk Wendell often brushed his teeth between innings, performed grand leaps over the foul line on his way to and from the dugout, and insisted that his annual salary share No. 99 with his uniform number, resulting in his contract paying him only in 9s. He always drew crosses in the dirt on the back of the mound, though only three of them.
Wendell chewed tons of black licorice, to the point of becoming a choking hazard. He also sported a necklace made of teeth and claws from animals that he had hunted and killed. If some pesky raccoons won't stop messing with the trash cans outside, Wendell would be a good guy to call, presumably at 999-9999.
Brian Wilson co-founded the Beach Boys in 1961, so Brian Wilson the baseball pitcher knew he needed something to distinguish himself. Since his outspoken personality did not by itself suffice to vault him to stardom, Wilson grew out a ludicrously bushy, jet-black, mountain-man beard. That, combined with his role as dominant closer for the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, helped make him a fully fledged star.
As ESPN's Doug Williams put it: "'The Beard' speaks his own language and does his own thing, once declaring himself a 'certified ninja,' while another time explaining he had 'too much awesome on my feet' after his orange cleats prompted a fine."
Williams' story came in early 2012 on the occasion of Virgin Airlines unveiling a new design for their Giants-themed Airbus A320, featuring a prominent black beard painted underneath the cockpit.
Unfortunately, Wilson missed that season due to Tommy John surgery, but by that point he had already landed marketing deals with the likes of Taco Bell, where he portrayed himself as a bearded "black ops" agent tasked with making a chalupa disappear. Even while injured, Wilson remained one of the central figures around the team, and his beard now stars in the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen.
Somehow, the fastest man in baseball once became ensnared in a slow-moving mechanical device, thus encapsulating the enigmatic nature of Vince Coleman. In 1985, his rookie season, he suffered an injury after having the automatic rain tarpaulin at his home stadium roll over his leg just hours before the St. Louis Cardinals were to play Game 4 of the NLCS. Apparently, Coleman simply wasn't paying attention.
The New York Times' Ira Berkow expressed it thusly: "How bizarre that it should happen to Coleman, the fastest man on the field. And how odd that such a dramatic occurrence should happen to this most dramatic performer." Coleman missed the remainder of the NLCS and all seven games of the World Series, won by the Kansas City Royals.
Coleman stole 110 bases that season, claiming the Rookie of the Year and finishing 11th in the MVP voting. He would steal 216 more bases over the next two years, but following his 1990 campaign with the Cards, things began to go downhill.
Coleman, once the fastest man in the majors, landed with the New York Mets, where his behavior either devolved or reached a fever pitch, depending on how you view it. One of his most impactful clubhouse moments came in 1993, as Coleman injured Dwight Gooden's arm by swinging a golf club near his locker.
Later that season, Coleman inexplicably tossed a lit firecracker at fans as they waiting for autographs outside Dodger Stadium. The resulting explosion injured numerous people, including children, leading to a disgraced reputation for Coleman, hundreds of hours of judge-ordered community service and a suspension from the team.
He bounced from Kansas City to Seattle to Cincinnati to Detroit, but he never found a landing spot for his blazing speed and careless behavior.
Nyjer Morgan (a.k.a Tony Plush, a.k.a. T-Plush, a.k.a. Tony Gumbo, a.k.a. Tony Hush, the last of which specifically is a.k.a. The Weatherman) seems to exist on an alternate plane of reality.
GQ even had Ward Sutton illustrate Morgan's "many faces." It only seemed appropriate for such a not-of-this-planet kind of character, who has proven a challenging albeit entertaining postgame interview.
The problem, however, is that Morgan's brash personality and litany of alter egos had landed him with three teams in six seasons, and 2013 saw his nicknames sojourn all the way to Yokohama, Japan in search of a roster spot.
Morgan, now 34 years old, seems to have redeemed himself by ascending to the majors once more. He hit Cleveland Indians camp in the spring as a non-roster invitee, but he carved out a spot by muting his brash personality traits.
As he told Fox Sports' Joe Reedy: "I wanted to show who Nyjer Morgan is—a hard-working individual who loves coming to the ballpark and competing and loves being with his boys...Leave the malarkey behind me. Basically show the new me, the new veteran. Not Tony Plush."
Good for Morgan, and at least we'll always have Tony Gumbo and Tony Hush.
The New York Mets of the mid-'80s were a raucous bunch, but their edgy misbehavior combined with on-field talent produced a potent blend that delivered a World Series title in 1986. That season, Roger McDowell won 14 games out of the bullpen, and when he wasn't pitching, he was usually up to some prank or weirdness either in the dugout or bullpen.
McDowell constantly clowned on his fellow Metropolitans, donning masks and wigs, and setting off firecrackers inside the bat rack. He also patented the upside-down baseball uniform, prefiguring the hip-hop duo Kris Kross by several years.
Perhaps his most renowned prank was the "hot foot," a tactic still used in some dugouts today. The ever-subtle hot foot involves a cigarette wrapped in matches and affixed to an unsuspecting teammates' foot by some chewing gum. McDowell even conducted an instructional video on the prank with his "assistant" Howard Johnson. Hojo's department was the chewing gum.
It's no wonder that after years of resentment, Kramer and Newman find out in one JFK-inspired Seinfeld episode that it was not, in fact, Keith Hernandez who spit on them. Hernandez recounted for them: "As I turned around, I saw Roger McDowell behind the bushes over by that gravely road," thereby solving the mystery of the "magic loogie."
Mark Fidrych, known as "The Bird," swooped onto the scene in 1976 with the Detroit Tigers. In 29 starts, he spun 24 complete games and four shutouts, compiling a 19-9 record and a 2.34 ERA. Fidrych earned an All-Star nod and Rookie of the Year honors, and finished behind only Jim Palmer in Cy Young voting, though Palmer has a higher ERA, won only three more games and pitched fewer complete games despite logging 11 more starts than the rookie.
However, Fidrych became more notable for the manner in which he succeeded, far beyond the sheer numbers. His personality swirled and twisted like the locks of hair springing free from underneath his cap, and his hirsute appearance dubbed him a "Bird" since he resembled the blond hairiness of Big Bird from Sesame Street.
Fidrych would whisper messages to the ball before pitches and would reject certain baseballs on the belief that they "had hits in them." According to Baseball Almanac, he also had a habit of "shaking hands with just about everyone from teammates to groundskeepers to cops during and after games."
He also manicured the mound maniacally, sometimes dropping to his knees and seeming to massage it, and his arsenal of on-field antics vexed batters. He even had fans called "Bird Watchers."
Tragically, Fidrych passed away at the age of 54 in an accident on his farm. His daughter Jessica and widow Ann subsequently paid tribute by manicuring the mound before throwing out the first pitch in Detroit in June of 2009.
Before there were diva wide receivers in the NFL, there were diva base-stealers in the MLB.
When Rickey Henderson signed with the Newark Bears in 2003, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci described the near-mythic status of the veteran speedster:
Rickey Henderson was born on Christmas Day, 1958, in the backseat of a '57 Olds on the way to a hospital in Chicago. He was fast from the very beginning.
There are certain figures in American history who have passed into the realm of cultural mythology, as if reality could no longer contain their stories: Johnny Appleseed. Wild Bill Hickok. Davy Crockett. Rickey Henderson. They exist on the sometimes narrow margin between Fact and Fiction.
Henderson competed in 25 seasons at the major-league level. He swiped 130 bases in 1982, still a record (not counting the steals-crazy season of 1887), and won the 1990 AL MVP. He was also fond of referring to himself in the third person, and once left a voicemail for his former manager, Kevin Towers, stating: "Kevin, this is Rickey. Calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball."
His brash personality made him a polarizing presence anywhere he went, but his unique allure as a powerful leadoff hitter with speed and plate discipline could not be denied. His skills were so seductive, he spent four different stints with the Oakland Athletics, and his longevity helped deliver him into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez delighted fans with his domineering presence at the plate and a preternatural skill for hitting not seen in the city since Ted Williams. However, Ramirez's behavior produced a common refrain around Beantown and Sawx Nation: "That's just Manny being Manny."
Some of Manny's "Manny-ness" came in the form of amusing anecdotes and relatively harmless, quirky behavior. He once made a call from the phone inside Fenway Park's Green Monster, stationed just behind his defensive position. On another occasion, Manny ducked into the Monster to use the restroom during an inning. Uncashed paychecks piled up in his locker.
And then there was the time that Manny cut off center fielder Johnny Damon's throw in right field, helping David Newhan to an inside-the-park home run.
However, there was also an ugly side to Manny's behavior. In 2008, he confronted Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick regarding guest passes and eventually shoved the 64-year-old team employee to the ground. In 2009, he tested positive for a female fertility hormone often used as a masking agent for steroids. He got caught again in 2011.
ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote what seemed to be the epitaph on Ramirez's career: "Now Manny will head off into the horizon to spend the rest of his life on Planet Manny with a whole different legacy: The only knucklehead ever to get caught twice by baseball's PED police force."
However, a Chicago Cubs minor-league affiliate decided it would be a good idea to make Manny a player-coach in 2014. His advice to his junior charges? According to the Associated Press' Luke Meredith: "Do the right thing, bro. Follow the rules. That's it."
In other words, don't be like Manny.
Reggie Jackson's personality swelled to such an extent that he became a walking compendium of boastful quotes.
After George Steinbrenner purchased the New York Yankees in 1973, he wanted to bring in a marquee star as a centerpiece for his team's massive media market. Jackson, a shameless self-promoter, became the logical choice.
His disputed proclamation to journalists that he was "the straw that stirs the drink" rankled Yankees captain Thurman Munson. However, it was hard to argue against Reggie when he clubbed three home runs on three consecutive pitches during the 1977 World Series.
Jackson also delivered one of the most arrogant, self-absorbed and understandable assessments of the Fall Classic, via ESPN: "The only reason I don't like playing in the World Series is I can't watch myself play."
And he surely prompted significant clubhouse debate when he told Esquire in 1978, via Baseball Almanac: "Hitting is better than sex."
Unlike some of the other mercurial individuals on this list, Jackson had Hall of Fame skills, so teams were willing to suffer his tomfoolery, shoddy fielding and shaky baserunning for the sake of the long ball.