O.J. Simpson epitomizes everything a professional athlete shouldn't do.
An athlete's public image is one of the most fallible things in sports. One day you are at the top of the world, beloved by millions of fans, respected by your teammates, and inundated with lucrative endorsement deals.
Then, after one small incident, like murdering your wife, everything disappears in the flash of a second. You go from being everybody's favorite NFL superstar to being public enemy number one.
I should say at this point that I am not by any means equating what anyone on this list did with what O.J. Simpson did. Hopefully the example set by the former All-Pro running back is one that will never be repeated. I name this dishonorable award after the incarcerated Simpson only to serve as a symbol of everything that is wrong with professional athletes and the way they behave.
The baseball players on this year's list could use a long lecture on image and reputation management. Some are repeat offenders, some are first-time offenders. But all of them showed unbelievably terrible judgment.
So, without further ado, here are this year's losers. As always, share your thoughts below.
For the winners of the MJ Awards (best PR moves), please click here.
There were dozens of incidents this season that could go into the "What Not To Do" MLB Player Handbook. But I could only choose five to make the list. Here are the ones that, luckily, just missed the cut.
Jacoby Ellsbury, for rehabbing his injury in Arizona instead of traveling with his team when they were desperate for some stability in the clubhouse, drawing the criticism of teammates like Kevin Youkilis. His ribs were broken, though, so I'll cut him some slack.
Alex Rodriguez, for disrespecting Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden and breaking an unwritten rule of baseball by running across the mound back to first base after a foul ball. I'll spare A-Rod the shame of appearing on this list since Braden got the last laugh with his perfect game.
Joe West, the umpire who first criticized the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for playing too slowly, and then ejected both Mark Buerhle and Ozzie Guillen from a game for arguing two consecutively called balks. All three were fined, but West gets the bulk of the blame for overreacting.
The once great Ken Griffey Jr., now 40 years old, is clearly not the electrifying home run hitter he used to be. In fact the man with 630 career home runs went all of 2010 without hitting a single one (though he retired midseason).
Now we know why: he was too tired.
According to his Seattle Mariners teammates, Griffey fell asleep in the clubhouse during a game in early May and missed a pinch-hitting opportunity.
I understand that Griffey was a shell of his former self, and of little use on a professional roster. I understand that he may been having personal problems and possible difficulty sleeping at home. I understand that he's 40 and doesn't have the energy of a 15-year-old anymore.
But sleeping during a game is unacceptable behavior for a future Hall-of-Famer and the most beloved athlete in the history of Seattle sports.
Get a Red Bull and go sit with your teammates and support them. Any major league veteran knows that. Heck, any rookie knows that.
Considering how pathetic the Mariners offense has been all season, they needed all the help they could get. Griffey let them down, and for that he gets an OJ.
Guillen is no stranger to drawing the ire of teammates, coaches and fans. He's burned bridges pretty much everywhere he's gone, and Kansas City is no exception.
Signed to a three-year, $36 million deal in 2007, the power-hitting Guillen was supposed to help mentor young Royals hitters like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon.
Instead, he mouthed off about the organization that signs his paychecks.
"Fundamentally, this is one of the worst teams in baseball," Guillen said.
It's hard to disagree with Guillen when the Kansas City Royals are perennially in the AL Central cellar and have not had a winning season since 2003 (and 1994 before that). But that's not the kind of comment you want to be making publicly.
If Guillen had a problem with the way baseball was being taught to Royals players, he should have voiced his concerns to coaches and set an example for younger players. Instead, he thought it'd be a good idea to trash-talk his teammates.
Guillen's intentions here were good. He wants to see his team play better and is upset that they can't figure out the little things like how to advance runners.
His execution, however, was way off the mark. For that he gets an OJ.
It began in mid-May with Ramirez fouling a ball off his shin, and running gingerly down the line as he grounded into a double play later in his at-bat. Then the next inning Ramirez accidentally kicked a ball into the outfield and lightly jogged after it as two runs scored. Next thing he knew, Ramirez was being benched by manager Fredi Gonzalez for not hustling.
Ramirez was furious, attacking his manager and refusing to apologize to teammates.
"It's his team. He can do whatever," said a heated Ramirez, adding that Gonzalez doesn't know what it's like to play hurt because he was never in the big leagues.
The feud spiraled out of control. Ramirez defended himself, saying he couldn't go after the ball any faster, while his Marlins teammates supported Gonzalez's decision to remove the superstar shortstop from the game.
Hanley Ramirez is one of the best players in the game and is entitled to a certain amount of influence in the management of the team. But Gonzalez (who was controversially fired a month later) was absolutely justified in removing Ramirez from the game.
Whether Ramirez was giving his best effort or not, it clearly wasn't enough to warrant leaving him in the game. He was too hurt to play, or too lazy to try to play, and so his manager pulled him.
By attacking his manager and publicly stating that he had "lost respect" for Gonzalez, Ramirez is putting himself above the team. No single player is ever more important than the team, no matter how talented.
Ramirez's actions resemble something his former Boston Red Sox teammate Manny Ramirez might do. When your behavior elicits comparisons to a self-absorbed prima donna like Manny, you know you've done something terribly wrong.
Hanley is still only 26 years old and has time to make amends for what he did. However, for the time being it is he who has "lost" the "respect" of his teammates and coaches.
Perez could not have started the year much worse than he did. He lost his first three starts with a 6.28 ERA and was kicked out from the rotation.
The Mets wanted to send Perez on a minor league rehab assignment to work on his mechanics and control. Perez, as a veteran, twice refused the assignment, and remained with the team out of the bullpen, where he was just as bad.
Finally, the Mets all but fabricated an injury to put Perez on the disabled list in early June. When he returned to the team, however, he still couldn't pitch.
So New York had no choice but to stick the $12 million lefty in the bullpen and let him sit there, and then sit some more. At one point in August the Mets went 25 consecutive games without using Perez, even though he was on the active roster.
Perez was also one of three Mets players who skipped a team trip to visit wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. When asked why he missed the trip, Perez's response was devoid of any emotion.
"I don't answer anything about outside the stadium," he said.
I don't know what's worse. That Perez is so selfish and egotistical that he would refuse to go to the minors to open up a spot on the roster for someone who can actually help the team, or that he's so busy not pitching that he can't find the time to see some army veterans in the hospital.
When you're making that much money, the least you can do is show that you give a damn. If you can't help your team, cheer on your teammates. Donate some of those millions that you definitely didn't earn to someone who actually deserves it.
Perez could have been a team player and avoided all this controversy. Instead, he decided he was too important to waste his time in the minors or in a hospital. Luckily for the Mets, they have this egghead signed through 2011.
What a waste.
Your 2010 OJ Award Winner...Carlos Zambrano!
Zambrano's 2010 season got off to a poor start with Big Z surrendering eight runs over one and one third innings in an Opening Day start against the Atlanta Braves. The Cubs moved the suddenly ineffective Zambrano back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen.
After giving up four runs in the first inning of a start against the Chicago White Sox, Zambrano exploded. He ravaged the Cubs dugout in his fury, and began yelling at coaches and teammate Derrek Lee for failing to field a sharply-hit ball, blaming Lee for the poor outing.
The two players had to be separated, and manager Lou Piniella decided not to send Zambrano back out for the second inning. Then Cubs GM Jim Hendry suspended Zambrano indefinitely, and forced the big righty to attend anger management classes if he wanted to return to the team.
Zambrano did return on August 9th, and has put together a good season, finishing the year with an 11-6 record and a 3.33 ERA. But the stigma of his meltdown can never be washed away.
It's bad enough that he showed his frustration for ineffectiveness. But to call out your teammate for not making a play? That's not just stupid, it's downright low.
Zambrano has a history of being an emotional player. He had a similar episode last season after not getting the call he wanted from umpire Mark Carlson. There's a fine line between being passionate and being psychotic, and Zambrano has put himself on the wrong side of that line.
He's still one of the best pitchers in the game. It's about time he grew up and started acting like one.