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Professional Baseball's 50 Ugliest Episodes, Part One (Nos. 50-36)

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Professional Baseball's 50 Ugliest Episodes, Part One (Nos. 50-36)

American baseball has enjoyed a long, rich, and storied history, ever since Alexander Cartwright codified the rules of the game of "Base Ball" back in 1845.

But, as in all aspects of life, with the highs come the lows, both with their own legacies of fame (or infamy).

The following is a ranking of the worst of the worst: the bottom 50 aberrations, anomalies, shams, head-scratchers, farces, charlatans, and shenanigans—cringe-inducing, if you will.

These are the types of things that are an embarrassment to professional (that being MLB and minors) baseball—blights on America's game.

Some are sad, some are bad, and some will make you mad—but there's no codified definition as to what is ranked where, other than my own opinion, whatever it's worth.

And now, on with the show.

 

50. Rob Dibble's affinity for hitting people with a baseball

Rob Dibble was probably the truest of the Cincinnati Reds' "Nasty Boys," mainly because, well, he was nasty. But Dibs does not garner this spot for his tendency to hit batsmen, but rather a few unconventional targets that he plunked.

Most baseball aficionados, especially in the Cincinnati area, know that Dibble threw a ball over the outfield fence in anger, and inadvertently conked a fan sitting in her seat.

However, Dibble one-upped himself later that season when he purposely pegged Doug Dascenzo in the back of the leg after Dascenzo laid down a squeeze bunt—that particular lapse in judgment earns him the spot.

 

49. Crazy Crab Mascot Abuse

While Randall Simon's sausage swat is probably the most infamous instance of mascot abuse, the San Francisco Giants' Crazy Crab mascot was the recipient of the most.

After the success of Philadelphia's Phillie Phanatic, baseball's first real team mascot, the Giants trotted out their own mascot in 1984—but this time, fans were encouraged to boo, yell, and throw garbage at the Crab. Occasionally, even the players would get in on the action.

In all honesty, this would be a lot lower (as in further down the list) if it weren't purposely hilarious.

 

48. Orange baseballs

Believe it or not, this ridiculous idea has been advocated two different times in baseball history...Yes, you read that correctly.

The first time the orange spheroids were presented as a solution to early-Astrodome glare produced by the initially translucent roof (the actual solution will make an appearance here later on).

Oakland A's owner (why isn't this a surprise?) Charles O. Finley was the champion of the second campaign to implement the orange ball—only this time, Finley wanted to use it to add a little "pizazz" to the game, as well as to help the spectators see the ball.

Apparently, Mr. Finley believed that the patrons of his team a) were very hard of seeing, or b) had the attention span of gerbils.

Besides the obvious reasons, there were plenty of logistical problems created by the pigmentation of the ball—it was slick, harder to see, etc. This idea was (mercifully) nixed after being tried in one exhibition game.

P.S.—If any sport needs to use an orange ball, it is GOLF. Depending on the weather, it's borderline impossible to see the ball unless you were the one who hit it.

 

47. PETCO Park's short-sighted engineering

San Diego's fairly new stadium is the first (but not the last) poorly designed/intrinsically flawed stadium to make an appearance in these rankings. 

Here's the rub: it's facing the wrong way.

To give the fans a nice, scenic view, San Diego chose to have the stadium point towards the bay—facing north. You might say, "That's not necessarily bad"—at which point I would agree with you.

However, because of the choice to keep the Western Metal Supply Co. building, as well as the gargantuan scoreboard and seating decks, the wind patterns have changed in such a way that all the wind comes in through the gap in center field—blowing back any long fly ball hit in that direction—and the Padres power hitters have paid the price

With the construction cost for the park being to the tune of $450 million, you'd think that Padres management could have hired a few engineers to tell them that there might be a few problems.

 

46. Billy Ripken's 1989 Fleer baseball card

William "Billy" Ripken is known chiefly for three things.
He is:

  • a former Major League Baseball player;
  • Cal Ripken Jr.'s brother/Cal Ripken Sr.'s son;
  • the guy whose bat, and subsequently baseball card, had naughty words on it.

The 1989 Fleer baseball cards are simple: some players have "action shots," and others pose for their picture. Ripken fell into the latter category—and the ensuing result vaulted him into baseball infamy.

For whatever reason (allegedly on accident), Ripken grabbed a particular bat when he was asked to pose for his picture before a game; that was common practice. Except Ripken's bat had a particular socially unacceptable phrase written on the end in big black lettering (hint: it rhymes with duck lace).

The most astounding part of the whole episode is the fact that no one at Fleer even noticed until it was published. Inevitably, that picture had been seen by hundreds of eyes before it was ultimately sent out to the stores—and yet nobody saw it.

Of course, immediately afterwards, Fleer noticed its mistake—and drew more attention to it by quickly rushing out different (not to mention ridiculous) re-prints, each blotting out the obscenity with a varying degree of effectiveness.

If you want to see for yourself, here's the original card and the re-prints (if you are grossly offended by a particular four-letter word, don't click the link).

 

45. Marc Ecko's poll on Bonds' 756th home run

After Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's home run record, the man who caught Bonds' homer put it up for auction—where it was purchased for $752,467 by fashion mogul Marc Ecko (yes, the guy who started ecko unltd).

Rather than keep it as part of a collection, Ecko decided to create a publicity stunt by setting up a website where people could vote what would be done with the ball. Three choices were given:

1) Bestow It (give it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as is);
2) Brand It (brand the baseball with Ecko Unltd.'s trademark asterisk);
3) Blast It (shoot it into space).

Regardless of whether you hate or love Barry Bonds, the simple fact remains that he has hit the most home runs in MLB history. How any actual baseball fan could possibly vote to indelibly brand a part of the game's history with a large, red asterisk is beyond my ken.

Gilbert Arenas, the NBA basketball player, recognized this as well—he offered to purchase the ball from Ecko for $800,000, so Ecko couldn't "mess up history."

Even if you are in favor of the branding (which was the ultimate choice, by the way), stamping a baseball with an asterisk sounds like a wholly inadequate form of revenge—an extremely expensive inadequate form of revenge.

 

44. Seattle Pilots

One season. That was all the American League expansion team could manage—at least in Seattle.

In 1969, the Seattle Pilots came into existence as a Major League baseball team. And, like all expansion teams, they didn't come anywhere near competing for a title in their first season. 

Following the team's sale in bankruptcy court (talk about a good omen!), the new ownership decided to pack it up and move to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, changing the team's name to "Brewers" along the way.

There is quite literally nothing remarkable about the Seattle Pilots—the team has forever become an answer to a trivia question. The two most famous members of the team, Jim Bouton and Lou Piniella, were not known for being fantastic baseball players as much as their other ventures (Bouton wrote an outstanding book, Piniella became a top big-league manager).

In fact, they likely would have shrunk into further obscurity if Bouton hadn't included his experience as a Pilot in his 1970 bestseller Ball Four (which is, as a matter of fact, the best baseball book ever).

Here's to you, Seattle Pilots, for giving baseball trivia lovers a treasure trove of trick questions.

 

43. (New) Yankee Stadium

When the New York Yankees management decided to build a new stadium, their conversation probably went something like this:

Yankee Executive No. 1: Hey, you know what? "The House that Ruth Built" is getting a bit old...Some people have complained about their seats not being wide enough, that they don't have enough leg room, and there's not enough bathrooms/elevators! Something must be done.

Yankee Executive No. 2: My feelings exactly! But we risk alienating our diehard fans by building a new stadium—it could be perceived as disrespectful to just transplant one part of our rich history, such as Monument Park, to a new place. 

We have great attendance, and we're making a lot of money...but I get the feeling that it's just not enough anymore. This is a crisis.

Yankee Executive No. 3: Eureka! Here's the solution to what is ailing us: NEW Yankee Stadium! We'll build it just like our old stadium so that the fans will feel like they're attending a game in old Yankee Stadium, and we'll have plenty more box seats to cater to our rich clientele.

Exec. No. 1: By George Steinbrenner, I think he's got it! But let's not forget comfort—we MUST widen our seats by an inch, and we can't forget about bathrooms and elevators. Pure genius...a stadium that is new AND old at the SAME TIME!

Exec. No. 2: Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! We can construct a carbon copy of our old, but functional, stadium, especially all of the outfield dimensions—after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Exec. No. 3: You know, I bet we can drop $1.5 billion on this thing! It'll happen eventually, so let's be ahead of the curve!

Exec. No. 2: Ha ha! A baseball reference, how witty!

You know, we might be able to drive off our fiercely loyal middle-class fanbase if we charge enough for tickets, especially with this economy! Maybe we won't even sell out opening day!

Exec. No. 3: My thoughts exactly. Heck, with the design of the thing, we might create a bandbox—just like a slo-pitch men's softball league! Let's make a rule where if you hit more than one home run in an inning, it's an out.

Exec. No. 2: I'm liking this more and more. Let's do lunch, then head back to our obscenely expensive lofts.

Exec. No. 1: Hey, wait up! And why haven't I said anything in a while? Also, what is "loft" supposed to mean, or are bare apartments called "lofts" to justify charging tens of thousands of dollars in rent per month?

Are you even listening to me anymore?
(Exeunt)

 

42. Joe Mikulik and his lost marbles

I'm sure some of you reading this are thinking, "Who is that?" Either that or you are googling the name 'Joe Mikulik' so you can figure out why this is important.

Anyways, for this one we take our first trip to the minor leagues. Mikulik is the manager of the minor league team Asheville Tourists, an affiliate of thea Astros. During a game in 2006, Mikulik came out to dispute a call at second base (don't worry, the details are mere semantics), and when he didn't get the desired result, Mikulik raged against the umpire until the arbiter ran him from the game.

And then the fun started. Mikulik proceeded to pull out every stop, use every tantrum tactic in the book, and even added a few of his own twists—such as dumping a bottle of water on home plate to make it muddy (he had already covered it with dirt).

Needless to say, Mikulik, and the organization, got a lot of bad press (emphasis more on "lot" than "bad") after the incident. This is another item on the countdown that would be a ranked far differently if it weren't so much fun to watch his tirade.

(Dis)honorable Mention goes to Braves minor league manager Phil Hellman, who illustrated, amongst other things, a new way to use the rosin bag.

Classy to the end.

 

41. Moises Alou's batting preparations

Without a doubt, this was the worst, most disgusting case of "too much information" in baseball history.

In a 2004 interview with a writer for ESPN.com, Alou decided to share the secret to his success—urine.

Or more specifically, urinating on his hands. Yes, you read that right.

Somewhere along the line, Alou, who is known to eschew batting gloves, figured that, if he peed on his hands, the skin would be harder and it would prevent callouses. Even if it is slightly true that it does actually work, I think I can speak for all baseball fans when I say that we really didn't need to know.

Just imagine being a teammate of Alou's after hearing this...I wouldn't be surprised if there were far more fist bumps than handshakes.

 

40. Connie Mack's "spite fence"

Most people know that, across Waveland Avenue from Wrigley Field, there are a few apartment buildings that stand taller than the left-field bleachers in the Cubs' stadium—creating a perfect place to watch the game if you don't have a ticket (there are now admission costs and the proceeds are split with the Cubs, but that is not the point).

A similar situation existed beyond the right-field wall of Philadelphia's Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia (now Oakland) A's. Obviously, the tenants of the apartment buildings there took full advantage of their situation—watching the games for free.

In the midst of the Great Depression, cash-strapped A's fans could catch a game without having to pay for a ticket—they could get a seat on top of one of the buildings for a much lower price. However, the A's owner/manager/treasurer, Hall of Famer Connie Mack, would have none of that.

In 1935, after Mack lost an extended legal battle with the owners of said buildings, Mack exacted his revenge in the form of adding 21 feet to the right field fence (for a grand total of 33)—a hideous metal monstrosity that blocked the view from across the street; truly, borne of spite.

Mack's spite fence is probably not the only one of his kind (Fenway Park, anyone?), but the Old Tactician made the mistake of making it personal—in the form of a (literal) barrier between his team and its followers.

 

39. Brawl between Dayton Dragons and Peoria Chiefs

Every once in a while, there will be a bench-clearing brawl in baseball—typically, it'll just be a rugby scrum-like affair. Every once in a while though, the fight will be a knock-down, drag-out fracas—and this minor league melee is amongst the worst of the latter.

Undoubtedly, if this occurred between two major league teams, it would be amongst the absolute worst (think, top five) events in baseball history—but it didn't, and so it finds its way here at No. 39.

The fight was ignited after multiple Dragons were hit by pitches, but what sparked the fight is not really important. Rather, it was the unbridled, reckless aggression exhibited that makes this so horrifying...But that's to be expected when a fan is hospitalized after being hit by a thrown baseball.

If you watch the video of the fight, you'll see the Chiefs starter, Julio Castillo, come running across the screen and throw a baseball really hard.

What you won't see is that Castillo, while attempting to hit a Dragons player at point blank (apparently, Castillo wasn't content with only hitting three people in one inning), hurled the ball into the stands near the dugout—where it hit a fan (Julio Castillo was arrested and convicted of assault as a result).

At which point, the "stuff" really hit the fan. Ten minutes, another head injury, a broken leg, and 15 ejections later, another horrendous chapter was written into baseball history.

 

38. The Pine Tar Incident

As you may have guessed, seeing as how it is the accompanying picture to this article, George Brett's legendary blitz out of the dugout is making an appearance here—breaking through in the 38th spot.

While Brett was certainly justified to be hopping mad, it is nevertheless his rage-filled visage that is the lasting memory from the entire ordeal.

The entirety of the play was a complete shenanigan, from the moment Yankees manager Billy Martin left the dugout following Brett's home run. Inasmuch as this whole sequence of events is full of intricate details, it would be extremely inefficient to try to explain everything about it—so I'll cut to the chase.

There is a bylaw in baseball's rulebook that allows pine tar (a substance used to help grip a bat) to extend no further than 18 inches down the handle; George Brett's bat had a bit too much pine tar, and Martin knew this. 

Showing the bat to home plate umpire Tim McClelland after Brett's go-ahead homer, the Yankee skipper sought to have the home run disallowed (despite the fact that pine tar, in no way, shape, or form, has no bonus effect on a batted ball) and McClelland incorrectly agreed, calling Brett out (he should have simply removed the bat from play, without any consequence).

And then all hell broke loose. All told, after a bizzare appeal process over the course of a few days, and a "make-up inning," the Royals ended up getting a win—rendering the whole incident moot.

However, even though it was ultimately insignificant, the particular play has left an indelible mark on the game of baseball—and it's a lot bigger than 18 inches.

 

37. Jeffrey Maier's catch

Never has there been another play that personified why so many people loathe the New York Yankees. Never. Ever.

That is saying quite a lot—keep in mind, this is a franchise that inspired a (smash-hit) Broadway musical entitled Damn Yankees (this is hilariously ironic, considering Broadway happens to be in New York City).

For those of you who don't know about it, here's a few sentence fragments to get you caught up to speed:

Game One of 1996 ALCS. Yankees vs. Orioles. Baltimore leading 4-3.

Bottom of the eighth, nobody on base. Derek Jeter. Fly ball, deep right field. 

Tony Torasco at the wall. Jeffrey Maier, Leaning over the fence. 

Glove in the way. Home run. Angry Torasco screams at umpire Rich Garcia. 

Game tied. Extra innings. Yankees win, go on to take the series in five games (a coherent version is located here).

However, it was the ensuing media hoopla that makes this an aberration for anyone who isn't a Yankee fan. Since most national news headquarters happen to be in New York City, Maier became an overnight national pseudo-celebrity.

Jeffrey went on talk shows, interviews, the whole nine yards. Rudy Giuliani even gave the kid a key to the city—all because he did something that, in any other ballpark, would have earned him a swift trip out of the stadium.

 

36. John Rocker('s big mouth)

There aren't too many players in baseball who have been more polarizing, controversial, and downright offensive than former closer John Rocker. He was brash and arrogant to begin with, but he truly vaulted himself into infamy, and this list, by making homophobic/racist/sexist remarks...

During an interview...

For an article...

In Sports Illustrated.

Rocker is, without a doubt, not the first (nor the last) person to make nasty remarks of such nature, but he was stupid enough to make them in a massively popular weekly sports periodical. Offensive AND moronic, a lethal combination.

I'd rank this higher, but Rocker doesn't deserve any more attention than he's already received.

 

For those of you who have stayed with this all the way, I thank you for your patience—and with that I'll conclude the first part of the rankings.

(Link to Part Two, #35 thru #21)

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