If we at the Spot are sure of anything, it's that everybody has a favorite sports villain. Or a least favorite sports villain, depending on how you look at it—the jock you love to hate, especially when he's taking it your hometown squad. That's the first rule of being a legit baddie, after all: you've got to be pretty damned competent at whatever you do. In that spirit, the dudes who made the cut this week are the best of the worst, the shining lights in a constellation of darkly-burning stars. Yes, they're the objects of our scorn, and the targets of our syringes, but the scorn and the syringes are a sort of admission on our part, an acknowledgement that we care enough to jeer and curse and howl in the first place. Think of it like this: passion is passion, no matter what form takes it, and in every epithet's there's a flicker of something warmer, a hint of something deeper, a whisper that maybe, maybe
We need these guys. Like, really need these guys.
Let's be honest about that much, before we start calling anybody names. We need these guys something fierce—need them like Superman needs Lex Luthor, like Randle McMurphy needs Nurse Ratched, like Dick Cheney needs the New York Times. It's a Hegelian dialectic sort of thing, when you really get down to it: thesis meets antithesis and synthesis is born, until the truth of the universe flares up like neon from the dim and endless void. We need these guys because they help us understand ourselves, help us see who we are by showing us who we aren't, or who we don't want to be. In the end, we need them for no less a reason than that their very existence gives us a clearer sense of our own beings, even if, well—
Even if we can't stand the bastards...
Number Five: Jose Canseco
Between the freakish body and the is-he-serious? arrogance, Canseco in his prime was part cartoon character and part pro-wrestling pariah, the kind of cat who was just touched enough to actually revel in the boos that followed him wherever we went. And God, were there ever reasons to boo: the steroid rumors, the domestic abuse charges, the home run off the forehead. Jose has since recast himself as an iron-willed teller of truth—Bob Woodward with biceps, maybe—but here's hoping that someday, many years from now, the A's-Rangers-Red Sox-A's-Blue Jays-Devil Rays-Yankees-White Sox-Surf Dawgs-Armada slugger will be remembered only as he was, in those halcyon days before the BALCO scandal, when he taught us all that you can, in fact, put jet fuel in a Ferrari.
Number Four: Ron Artest
Big time bonus points to Ron-Ron this week for having the half-crazy, half-insane chutzpah to carry the good fight into the cheap seats at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Even without The Brawl, Artest's resume screams loathe me: the flagrant fouls, the on-court histrionics, the ill-fated lunge at rap megastardom—they're the work of a master craftsman, the output of a man who knows a thing or two about souring public opinion. Factor in the Motown throwdown, though, and you're looking at a once-in-a-generation sort of sports villain. In fact, we'd suggest that anyone who's got a problem with the mercurial forward's inclusion here take a quick peek at a tape of the November 2004 ruckus in Detroit. You see the guy hopping the scorer's table and throwing a haymaker at the CPA in the third row? That's, um—that's one bad mother. If you don't think he deserves the fourth spot, you're gonna have to be the one to take it from him.
Number Three: Terrell Owens
Any prima donna with half a clue can stage an acrimonious contract dispute. It doesn't take much imagination to bail on training camp, or bag on your teammates, or alienate your head coach to the point that he tells you to go away and never come back. But the genius, Meat, the genius: the genius lies in doing all that—in bailing and bagging and getting yourself banished—and then, somehow, finding the stones to defend your position while repping out shirtless situps on your front lawn. The pumped-up press conference was nothing less than a work of theatrical brilliance, an exercise in public egoism so daring, so grandiose, that it's hard to image how T.O. could ever top it. Our bet: his first touchdown celebration in Dallas, when he heads for the midfield star with a can of spray paint in his hand and a shit-eating grin on his face. We haven't worked out what happens next, but we're pretty sure it's going to be good...
Number Two: George Steinbrenner
What's there to say, really? Steinbrenner's tyrannical reputation precedes him with gusto, to the extent that the details of his reign in the Bronx hardly bear repeating. Everyone knows about the feud with Billy Martin, the flap over Don Mattingly's hair, the be-home-by-eleven emasculation of Derek Jeter; that stuff's old news, because, well...he's the Boss, Meat, and that's just how the Boss operates. In three decades of fiscal extravagance and organizational autocracy, the Yankee owner has managed to bully his way to the heart of the modern American zeitgeist—and we'd be kidding ourselves, now, if we thought we could speak for him any better than he's already been spoken for. Let's put it this way: when you've got the cultural gravitas to gobble calzones with George Costanza, you know you've achieved a rare kind of uber-villainy.
Number One: Barry Bonds
Picture this, Meat: it's a Friday night in Los Angeles, or New York, or any other National League city, and the Giants are in town. It's a big game, late in the season, and so the house is packed—forty thousand, fifty thousand diehards in the grandstand, all of them come to live and die and bleed with the local nine. On top of that, tomorrow's Saturday—a day off for the rabble—which means that the six-dollar beers are selling faster than the hops jockeys can pour them, and that the rowdies in the bleachers are making a strong push to drink themselves into a state of ice white oblivion. It is, to put it bluntly, a recipe for a mob scene, a run-up to utter pandemonium, and when the Giants' left fielder jogs out to his position: when the Giants' left fielder with all his personal and professional and pharmacological baggage jogs haplessly out to his position—
There's only a ripple of polite applause, a murmur of muted empathy, a handful of throaty exhortations that the left fielder keep his head up—Stay strong, B—as the scorn of the world falls e'er upon his bullish shoulders. It's a scene at once shocking and touching, a surreal testament to man's capacity for love instead of hate, peace instead of rage—and it feels good, so good, to watch it unfold, until of course we wake up, Meat, and rub the sleep from our eyes, and realize that some dreams, alas, are a long long way from ever coming true...