Weekly Five Spot: Dirty Ballers

Nick NickelCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2007

Which isn't to excuse the dirty ballers singled out in this week's Spot so much as to just state the obvious: to call a spade a spade, and admit that foul play, in the end, is and has got to be part of the game. We might not like it, of course, but pretending it's not there damn well won't make the thing go away...and come on Meat, you know what they say about he who puts overmuch faith in his fellow man:
He's liable to get dropped from behind when he least expects it—which, come to think of it, might just explain why Thomas Hobbes never won himself a championship ring...

Number Five: Jack Tatum

Some folks'll tell you that conscience is the bedrock of civil order. Other folks'll tell you that remorse is for suckers. Tatum, for his part, never seemed too hung up on contrition after paralyzing the Patriots' Darryl Stingley during a preseason game—until he was pushing his autobiography, that is, at which point the erstwhile Raider safety proposed a televised reconciliation to be aired (where else?) on the Fox Network. Alas, plans for the event fell apart when special celebrity host Christopher Reeve wheeled out of negotiations at the last minute, which—What? A low blow? Hey: We're just trying to get in the spirit here...

Number Four: Bill Laimbeer

Let's be serious: They didn't call 'em the Bad Boys because of Joe Dumars. In his fifteen-year career, Laimbeer never met a kidney he couldn't elbow, and his notoriously, um, physical style of play earned the Palace of Auburn Hills a reputation for rancor and violence long before Ben Wallace had ever even heard of Ron Artest. The ex-center also lent his name to Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball for the Super Nintendo—which, believe us: When you're twelve years old and you shell out fifty bucks for an overhyped game that consists entirely of 16-bit marshmallows floating around a grayscale court, you develop a whole new understanding of the term "dirty trick." Goddamned Laimbeer.

Number Three: Todd Bertuzzi

Steve Moore, to the white courtesy telephone. Bertuzzi's brutal blindside hit on the Colorado center in 2004 ranks as one of the most egregious cheap shots in sports history—and prompted Moore to file a $19.5 million lawsuit against Bertuzzi, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Canucks' parent company in an Ontario court. Still, the Canadian Olympic Committee saw fit to name the 'Tuz to its 2006 Turin team, apparently bowing to the maxim that it's always sound policy to stay on the good side of a hulking felonious goon. Which of course brings us to...

Number Two: Bill Romanowski

Where do you draw the line between dirty and just plain straight-jacket-and-a-padded-room insane? Coming into the 2003 season, the veteran linebacker had a solid rep for below-the-belt behavior: the J.J. Stokes loogie; the Kerry Collins hit; the general on-field persona that was part seedy nightclub bouncer and part cartoon supervillain. And then, of course, there was that day at Oakland Raiders training camp, when Romo saw fit to crush the face of teammate Marcus Williams because Williams had been holding him in a drill. The incident effectively ended Williams' NFL career, and ultimately led to a $340,000 civil verdict in 2005. At press time, there was no word on whether Victor Conte and the BALCO 'Roid Rage Defense Fund picked up any of the tab.

Number One: Ty Cobb

He beat up a crippled fan. Doesn't matter where, doesn't matter why: He beat up a crippled fan. Forget sharpened spikes and alleged gambling habits—if the pummeling of an invalid doesn't qualify Cobb for instant dirty baller immortality, we don't know what will. And yes Meat, we were very much tempted to work in another Christopher Reeve joke here, but there's a difference between jovial irreverence on the one hand and utter classlessness on the other, and besides that we should probably be clear on this much:

If it's the Georgia Peach against the Man of Steel, we don't like ol' Ty's chances—no matter how much kryptonite Clark Kent's been eating for breakfast...
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misidentified Bill Laimbeer as a forward. He was in fact a center. Our bad.