Professional Baseball's 50 Ugliest Episodes, Part Two (Nos. 35-21)
Fights, mayhem, violence, and chaos—these are things more typically associated with hockey rather than the "gentlemanly" game of baseball.
However, every once in a while, it seems that the man's baser instincts take over, even inside the hallowed ground of a ball park—as Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Detroit's Rick Porcello demonstrated with their little donnybrook on Tuesday.
Part two of this countdown of baseball's ugly episodes is not solely composed of melees and misbehavior—though a few (but not all) of the more prominent instances find themselves here. These include cases of fans storming the field, players fighting with fans, players fighting with players, and to quote the King of Siam, "et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."
For all of the criteria I used in qualification and consideration of each item, you can see them here—a far better use of your time than if I simply mucked down this section with all of them.
In any event, here's a quick refresher on what has been covered thus far:
50. Rob Dibble hitting people with baseballs
49. Crazy Crab abuse
48. Orange baseballs
47. PETCO Park's poor planning
46. Billy Ripken's baseball card
45. Marc Ecko's 756 ball poll
44. Seattle Pilots
43. New Yankee Stadium
42. Joe Mikulik's tantrum
41. Moises Alou's "preparations"
40. Connie Mack's "spite fence"
39. Dayton Dragons-Peoria Chiefs brawl
38. Pine Tar Incident
37. Jeffrey Maier's catch
36. John Rocker's big mouth
If you're wondering what this means, or why each is ranked where, again, I encourage you to go back and read part one.
Anyways, I'll refrain from wasting more of your time—here are numbers 35 through 21.
35. Ugueth Urbina
Right now, most of you readers are probably thinking, "Oh yeah, what happened to that guy? It's like he dropped off the face of the earth—he wasn't even that old, was he?"
Well, here's a brief answer to that question: prison. And he was in his early 30s.
In 2005, using less-than-stellar discretion, "Oogey," the former NL saves leader, first attacked five workers on his farm in Venezuela with a machete, then poured gasoline on some of the victims—all because he suspected them of gun thievery. Needless to say, his employees weren't thrilled with his method of dispensing justice, and neither were the Venezuelan courts—the two-time All-Star closer/set-up man received a 14 year sentence for attempted murder.
While professional baseball still lags far behind other major sports in the players-committing-violent-crimes category, guys like Urbina do a lot to really cast a great light on the sport.
Fun Fact: Ugueth Urdain Urbina is the only MLB player with the initials 'UU' (also UUU). Even if there is another UU (or UUU), Urbina will be the only one to play baseball, as well as be convicted for attempted murder.
34. Coors Field (especially pre-humidor)
Despite the fact that it is one of the largest parks in the country (347/350 feet down the lines), Coors Field, another of the intrinsically flawed stadii, has been the delight of hitters and bane of pitchers—and it's not just because of the thin air—that was (mercifully) taken into account when the fence distances were set.
Coors finds itself here because of the failure to initially account for the dryness of the air—most likely the chief culprit in the long ball bonanza (lack of humidity = tighter baseball = hit further).
Ultimately, the Rockies implemented the use of a humidor in which to store the baseballs—but only after a sharp-eyed Rockies employee recognized, prior to the 2002 season, that leather contracted in warm, dry weather.
However, the damage had already been done, at least on the home run record books. In the first full year (1996) of its existence, the record for most dingers in one park was shattered as the Rockies and their opponents smacked 271 home runs (a record broken at Coors again in 1999, when 301 were hit).
Sadly, even the humidor has not entirely been able to combat the climate of Colorado's Coors. For those who fancy themselves as sabermetricians, it may be of use to check out the stadium's park factor for 2009—1.297 at this writing, far and away the highest in the majors (in brief, a park factor above 1.00 is a hitter-friendly park, and below 1.00 means it's generally pitcher-friendly).
While Coors Field has undoubtedly aided the careers of many sluggers (Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Larry Walker, Todd Helton), there is no case more blatant than that of pitcher Mike Hampton.
When Hampton joined the Rockies before the 2001 season, he was a decent, maybe even good, hitter—but in his prior eight seasons, he had never hit a single home run. All of a sudden, Hampton exploded with seven home runs in 2001—this can be attributed to one of two things: 1) Hampton was aided by the thin, dry Colorado air; 2) He ate a LOT of Wheaties. Something tells me that the former is probably the correct answer.
33. Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson
Above is the worst trade in baseball history. I say this in all seriousness.
Now, before you send me angry letters explaining how _____ for _____ is WAY worse, and I am an idiot, let me explain my reasoning.
First off, most of baseball's bad trades involve players before they became great—and prospects are a fickle sort. But Frank Robinson was an established star when Reds G.M. Bill DeWitt dealt him to the Orioles for the aforementioned trio in December of 1965.
All of that does not garner the moniker of "worst trade ever," though; what does fit the bill is DeWitt's justification of the trade—that Robinson was "an old 30."
Pappas was a decent pitcher at the time, but he had a very mediocre career as a Red—just 30-29 overall. Baldschun and Simpson made negligible splashes themselves, and neither of them lasted more than two years with Cincinnati.
The Hall of Fame-bound Robinson, at the ripe old age of 30, went on to win the American League Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles. Not too shabby for a geezer.
32. Pedro Martinez vs. Don Zimmer
Fights in baseball have a tendency to get out of hand—this isn't the first or the last one to show up on the countdown. However, in terms of most painful to watch, or most pitiful, the 2003 ALCS rumble between Boston and New York.
The Bronx/Beantown rivalry was reaching its boiling point by the time October rolled around in the 2003 season—the old hatred was just recently renewed, driven by meaningful competition for AL East pennants. It didn't help that Zimmer, the Yankees bench coach, was the manager of the 1978 BoSox team that crashed and burned down the stretch (Bucky ___ Dent, you catch my drift).
It all came to a head in Game 3 of the ALCS. After a few hit-by-pitches and unnecessarily high strikes by both teams, the benches ultimately cleared. The 72-year-old Zimmer, already ticked at Pedro for prior events, made a beeline for the Red Sox pitcher—at which point Martinez threw the portly bench coach to the ground in undignified fashion.
There was nothing glorious or macho about this fight—both Zimmer and Martinez were obviously in the wrong. If you watch the players' reactions to the incident in the video, you can tell that the brief spat of violence put them at unease as well. All told, it's truly unfortunate that such an abhorrent spectacle had to occur on one of baseball's biggest stages.
31. Juan Marichal clubbing Johnny Roseboro
In part one of the countdown, I mentioned what I believed to be the most violent fight in pro baseball history (the brawl between the Dayton Dragons and Peoria Chiefs). However, it would definitely not be deserving of that title, if one could truly qualify the horrifying display of rage and aggression that Giants pitcher (and Hall of Famer) Juan Marichal unleashed upon Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro as an actual fight.
Marichal's 1965 mauling of Roseboro is probably the most iconic and lasting representation of the animosity between the Giants and Dodgers—but it's not something for Giants fans to be proud of in any way, shape, or form.
Whether or not Roseboro provoked Marichal by intentionally throwing the ball close to his face after the pitch does not matter; there is virtually nothing Roseboro could have done to elicit such a vitriolic response—three vicious swings with his bat, delivered to Roseboro's uncovered head, leaving a two-inch gash in Roseboro's head.
Indeed, were the emotional wound from the incident allowed to fester, this assault could have easily landed in the top 10 of the worst moments in all of baseball history. As it were, Roseboro ended up forgiving Marichal for his misdeed and they became friends. In fact, Roseboro even wrote to the Hall of Fame selection committee asking them not to hold the incident against Marichal in considering him for induction.
Without a doubt, it is Roseboro's class and forgiveness that saves this from extreme ignobility—but even that cannot remove it altogether from our minds.
30. Night Games at Wrigley Field (rather, the lack thereof)
TRADITIIOOOONNNNNN! TRADITION! (bum-bum-bum-bum-bum) TRA-DIT-ION!
For a long time, you could hear this refrain in one of two ways: 1) if you attended the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof, or 2) if you asked someone in the Chicago Cubs organization why light banks hadn't been installed in Wrigley Field.
Before I go any further, let me say that I am not a Cubs hater; in fact, I am extremely indifferent to the franchise—so do not mistake this as being borne of animosity.
No other popular sport in history has been so inexplicably resistant to change than baseball, and no other team in baseball has embodied this better than the Chicago Cubs. the lack of lights (and thus, night games) at Wrigley Field until 1988. Here are a few reference points to show just how blatantly tardy the Cubs were in illumination.
Wrigley Field's first night game was on August 9, 1988. The historic game occurred:
- 109 years after Edison patented his light bulb,
- ~100 years after the first artificially lit night baseball game,
- ~60 years after the first minor league night game,
- 53 years after the first Major League night game (Cincinnati),
- 40 years after Detroit, the last non-expansion/non-moved team to install lights, played their first home night game.
Somehow or another, the Cubs placed a priority on "tradition" over convenience, popularity (Cincinnati paid for Crosley Field's lights within the first three night games), and function.
By '88, the American workforce had largely switched to the nine-to-five work day—going to a non-weekend game at Wrigley would require the patron to play hookie from work that day; this is a practice not typically encouraged by employers.
29. Florida Marlins 1998 "fire sale"
Speaking from the point of popularity, the dismantling of the Florida Marlins, World Series champions in '97 (only their fifth season in existence) was perhaps the most hated series of transactions ever made—the epitome of the phrase "fire sale."
This wasn't the first attempt at a fire sale (Charlie Finley protested free agency by attempting to sell off all of his best players; his plot was nixed by the commissioner), but, coming IMMEDIATELY after a World Series championship, it received an inordinate amount of public attention.
A quick sampling of the those let go by the Marlins includes such names as Nenn, Renteria, Castillo, Alou, Bonilla, Piazza (a brief appearance), and Sheffield; it's not too difficult to understand the reason for the Marlins fans' anger.
Out of all 50 that will ultimately make an appearance, probably the most difficult to put on the countdown, because, when the dust settled, it was clear that the cost-cutting moves made by then-owner, Wayne Huizenga, were actually a good idea (they won another World Series in '03, chiefly led by players acquired in the fire sale).
The fickle denizens of Miami did not approve of Huizenga's wheeling and dealing, however, and they showed their support by not going to the stadium. After finishing fifth in NL attendance in 1997, the Marlins never again placed higher than 13th, even in their World Series championship run in '03—squashing the theory that, if you have a winning team, the fans will show up.
Obviously, there are more reasons than just residual animosity from a decade-old event for the Marlins' attendance woes (hint: Land Shark Stadium is hideous), but, as they say, "where there's smoke, there's a fire (sale)."
[OK, so maybe I added that last part.]
28. Roseanne Barr butchers the National Anthem
America is a land of outstanding diversity—a melting pot, if you will. A large variety of opinions and tastes can be found in the U.S., and everyone is expressly entitled to their own.
However, there is one thing that elicits the same reaction from all Americans, young and old: the butchering of the National Anthem. This especially applies when it's done by celebrities at sporting events. Macy Gray, Tyrese Gibson, and Steven Tyler can certainly attest to that.
But none of these hold a candle to the mangling issued to the "Star-Spangled Banner" by Roseanne Barr in 1990, before a game in San Diego. If you watch the video, you'll see why this warrants the 28th position in the rankings.
Here's the rub: you can't tell if the comedienne is truly serious or not. On one hand, it's almost inconceivable that anyone would intentionally make a mockery of a national treasure in such a public forum; on the other, it's equally as hard to believe that someone could really be that bad at singing—and if so, that they would be invited to perform at a baseball game.
Either way, the sham perpetrated by Ms. Barr stands above all the others in the pantheon of poor performances—and the Padres fans have to bear that weight.
27. Jose Canseco
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ENTRY MAY CAUSE YOU TO RECALL LONG-SUPPRESSED AND PAINFUL MEMORIES. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Does this really need any explanation? The biggest leech/sham/joke/embarrassment/sideshow/charlatan in Major League Baseball history is, without a doubt, Mr. Canseco. And I'm not just referring to his comically enhanced statistics.
There's just something about the way that the ex-Bash Brother and A's/Rays "slugger" just makes everyone despise him. Whether he's talking about his rampant 'roid use, writing "tell-all" books that are chock-full-o-lies, or appearing on obnoxious VH1 semi-reality shows, there's probably no one else that baseball would rather have go away, and for a very long time.
Unfortunately, whenever another steroid/PED allegation comes to light in Major League Baseball, the sports media always seems to turn to Jose for a sound byte, giving Canseco a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) wind. Most of the time, it's just something along the lines of "I knew it all along, you should buy my book." Same old song and dance.
To cheer you up from having to read a whole two paragraphs about Canseco, here's a video of the outfielder completely failing to catch a fly ball. Enjoy.
26. Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park
The Veeck family (Bill and Mike) has done a great deal of promotion for the game of baseball—indeed, they're responsible for the ivy in Wrigley Field, the exploding scoreboard, Eddie Gaedel, and Martians kidnapping Luis Aparicio, amongst other things.
However, they are also responsible for one of baseball's darker moments; that being the single worst promotion (That whole Ten Cent Beer thing notwithstanding) in baseball history: Disco Demolition Night.
Seeking to capitalize on the de-popularization of Disco music at the end of the 70s, the Veecks, joined by a local DJ, came up with an "ingenious" idea to draw fans to one particular White Sox game. Here was the plan: tell fans to bring their now-unwanted disco records to Comiskey, where, in between the games of a day-night doubleheader, the crate holding the vinyls would be detonated in center field.
Sounds like a blast, huh? (pun intended)
As you might guess, their best laid plans quickly went awry, and the restless and rowdy young adults eventually spilled out on to the field, wreaking havoc along the way.
When the dust settled, so much damage had been done to the field that the White Sox had to forfeit the nightcap (the last time an AL game has ended in forfeit). If you didn't recognize it before, the headline picture above is from that infamous night.
25. The 1981 strike-shortened season
Trivia Time! What was the last team to not make the postseason despite having the best record in the entirety of Major League Baseball (in a year that had a World Series)?
If you said the 1981 Cincinnati Reds, you are correct!
Whenever "real life" interferes with baseball, it breaks our suspension of disbelief—the fan's view of baseball as being transcendent of the mundane problems they encounter on a daily basis.
Nothing brings the fan down to earth quite like a labor disagreement in baseball, and the distinguished history of America's Pastime has been significantly marred on two different occasions: first in 1981, and then again in 1994 (you'll see this making an appearance later on).
The strike of '81 came about in the middle of the baseball season, over the issue of free agent compensation. The 10-week period of inaction posed a conundrum to the baseball powers-that-be when the season was resumed—there needed to be a way to salvage the season, despite the loss of almost two-fifths of the regular season schedule.
Obviously, it is the strike itself that causes the most discomfort amongst baseball fans, but the officious business is supplemented by the poor decision made by the owners: a split season, with the first half coming pre-stoppage.
Essentially, the split-season format is two distinctly separate seasons, played back to back. Each club's record is reset halfway, the teams in first place are guaranteed a postseason berth, and then each team begins anew; the system is currently utilized in a few of baseball's minor leagues.
There were myriad issues with MLB's implementation of the system, however—and the instance mentioned above is one of the most apalling examples. Clearly, the big league season is meant to be played out in its entirety; the owners' decision to abandon, even briefly, the system further befouled the season of 1981.
24. Rafael Palmeiro's finger-wagging before Congress
In the wake of the BALCO scandal, nothing fostered more ill will towards baseball than the congressional hearings on drug use in the game. The former titans of the game—Sosa, McGwire, and Palmeiro—were brought to answer the questions posed by the elected officials serving our country.
The result was wholly unsatisfying and inconclusive for all parties involved, as the three testily denied that they had used steroids—though McGwire and Sosa did so in less-than-convincing terms.
Palmeiro, however, went for the gusto. When asked about the allegations regarding his steroid use, Palmeiro, his index finger pointed at the congressional committee, vehemently refuted the claims in an authoritative, almost scolding, manner.
Therefore, when it was later found that Palmeiro actually HAD taken steroids, and that he had openly lied to Congress, it is understandable that there would be an massive outcry against the deceitful first baseman—and baseball bore the brunt of the barrage.
Travesty. Sham. Mockery.
All of these are apt descriptions of Mr. Palmeiro's dishonest behavior.
23. The Ted Williams cryonics saga
When Ted Williams returned to Fenway Park for the 1999 All Star Game, there was a outpouring of love for the man once spurned by his own city—Beantown welcomed Teddy Ballgame back with open arms.
Ted's triumphant return in '99 made his death in 2002 all the more heartbreaking—but no one was prepared for the painfully aggravating soap opera that would unfold next.
Following Williams' passing, it was (naturally) assumed by most, including some of his closest friends, that there would be funeral services, followed by cremation—but it was not to be. Instead, John Henry Williams, his son, had the Splendid Splinter's body sent to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona, where it would be frozen—a process known as cryonics.
John Henry, acting out of concert with most of Williams' surviving family, claimed that Ted wanted to be preserved in such a way, because, apparently, he wanted to return to life someday (this is an extremely doubtful, but theoretical, possibility with cryonics). Frankly, it was the preposterousness of the whole matter made it extremely controversial—baseball fans simply refused to believe Henry's story, but Henry stuck to his guns—and the national news ate it up.
Eventually, all of the legitimate outrage simply devolved into farcical, petty squabbling, as the story was relegated to the "trash rags;" only mere tabloid fodder. For the man who ended his career in fantastic fashion (home run in his last at-bat), it's sad that his life had to end in such an ignoble manner.
22. The Reserve Clause
Though the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States, was ratified in 1865, there was a form of more-or-less "legalized slavery" practiced for another 110 years—the reserve clause of the sporting world.
Practiced at the time by all three of the major American sports—baseball, football, and basketball—the reserve clause strictly limited a pro athlete's ability to change places of employment,. In fact, if you were a baseball player, from the time you were drafted/signed until you retired, one team had the exclusive rights to sign (or not sign) you. If they wanted, they could give you a raise...But you were just as likely to receive a massive pay cut
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez found the reserve clause to be somewhat of a nuisance when it was proposed that his salary be cut from $20,000 to $7,500 in 1935. When Gomez heard of this, he famously quipped, "you keep the salary, I'll take the cut."
But the long reach of the reserve clause was no laughing matter—just ask Curt Flood. When Flood was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969, he flatly refused to play in Philly. As far as his reasoning went, Flood cited that, at the time, Philadelphia fans were known for their poor treatment of players—especially African-Americans. Dick Allen, the slugging Philly left fielder who was traded for Flood, was occasionally pelted with garbage by the raucous crowds at Shibe Park.
Protesting the fact that he was forced to play for the Phillies, or retire, Flood took his case to the courts, where he was ultimately defeated. However, it was the St. Louis outfielder's actions that paved the way for the advent of free agency—sending the grossly unnecessary reserve clause the way of the dodo.
21. Ty Cobb's "fan interactions"
Wherever he went on the diamond, Ty Cobb left his mark—whether it be on the ball, or on an opponent. While he was a notoriously vicious player, it was Cobb's mark on the record books that overshadowed his rough style of play—with one definite exception.
The "Georgia Peach" was not exactly a fan of the fans—if someone heckled him, he made it his business to settle the score, regardless of who that person might be. Though some of the details regarding Cobb's escapades are almost certainly fictional, it's equally certain that there is at least some truth in all of them.
Of course, the game was in a different era—Cobb's excursions into the stands were not as big a deal back then as they would be today (think Ron Artest). Nevertheless, they have stood the test of time because of the sheer gall Cobb exhibited—the doings of a violent madman.
Cobb's list of transgressions is fairly long, so here's a few of the more notorious ones:
- assaulting a groundskeeper, then his wife after she tried to defend him;
- climbing into the stands to beat up an incessant heckler;
- a post-game fistfight with an umpire;
- pulling a knife on an elevator operator AND a night watchman.
Ty dismissed all of these as a byproduct of his rough upbringing, which is a horribly insufficient excuse for what he did. Even if it is somewhat true, it did not license the one-time Hit King to mercilessly assault these people—and it is for that reason his actions merit the 21st spot on the rankings.
With that, you've reached the end of Part Two—next up will be numbers 20 through 11, followed by the Top 10 ugliest moments (which will be out by Monday).
Again, thanks for reading, and stay tuned.
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