Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and the Most Polarizing Figures in MLB Teams' Histories

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIJune 7, 2011

Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and the Most Polarizing Figures in MLB Teams' Histories

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    SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 26:  Barry Bonds #25 of the San Francisco Giants looks on during his game against the San Diego Padres during a Major League Baseball game on September 26, 2007 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Baseball is a high-profile game with a long history and no truly definitive way to measure who was the better player or had the bigger ego.

    That's why no one ever agrees about anything.

    In this slideshow are the most polarizing players in each team's history—the men who inspired the most debate or sparked the biggest controversy.

    So read on, enjoy and may this list inspire many more great discussions!

Arizona Diamondbacks: Curt Schilling

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    LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 16:  Curt Schilling #38 of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the game on September 16, 2003 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.  The Diamondbacks defeated the Dodgers 3-2.  (Ph
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Diamondbacks are too new of a team to have suffered any real controversy; the worst they've gotten was a quote from Schilling before the 2001 World Series.

    "Mystique" and "aura" he said—the intangible qualities surrounding the opposing New York Yankees—are "dancers in a nightclub."

Atlanta Braves: Hank Aaron

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 15:  Hall of Famer Hank Aaron is honored prior to the MLB Civil Rights between the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on May 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The controversy surrounding Aaron has nothing to do with perceived faults or impropriety—he's a symbol to many fans of what the game was before steroids.

    For some, "Hammerin' Hank" will always be the true home-run king.

Baltimore Orioles: John McGraw

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    McGraw may be better remembered for his days managing the Giants, but most of his playing career was actually spent with the Orioles.

    His reputation as a fierce competitor and frequent cheater followed him all through his baseball career.

    Public domain image (courtesy of

Boston Red Sox: Babe Ruth

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    COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24:  A statue of Babe Ruth is seen at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum during induction weekend on July 24, 2010 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Sure, it's broken now, but for more than 80 years, Boston supposedly languished under the "Curse of the Bambino."

    But even beyond the alleged supernatural fallout from Ruth being sold to the Yankees in 1919, the motivations of Red Sox owner Harry Frazee are often called into question.

Chicago Cubs: Steve Bartman

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    CHICAGO - FEBURARY 26: The infamous cursed Chicago Cubs foul baseball from the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins on display in it's last intact resting place at Harry Caray's Restaurant before being destroyed on February
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Bartman may never have taken the field for the Cubs, but the wrath he suffered after he accidentally stopped Moises Alou from making the catch on a foul ball in the 2003 NLCS was far worse than what most players ever receive.

    The incident is known as the most prominent manifestation of the Cubs' "Billy Goat" curse.

Chicago White Sox: "Shoeless" Joe Jackson

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    NEW YORK - DECEMBER 5:  'Shoeless' Joe Jackson's bat stands on display during an auction preview at Sotheby's December 5, 2005 in New York City. The bat, called 'Black Betsy,' will be auctioned December 10 and was last purchased at a 2001 auction for $577
    Michael Nagle/Getty Images

    The best and best-loved player on the 1919 White Sox, Jackson was banned for life for his alleged complicity in the Black Sox Scandal.

    Because of his likely innocence, he has become something of a martyr in many fans' eyes while others maintain he was guilty.

Cincinnati Reds: Pete Rose

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    CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 11:  Pete Rose takes in the ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of his breaking the career hit record of 4,192 . He was honored before the start of the game between the Pittsburg Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds at Great Americ
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Some people think it's a tragedy that baseball's all-time hits leader is not in the Hall of Fame. On the other side, there are those who think he deserved his banishment for betting on games—or at least that he should have known the risk he was running.

    Whatever the right answer is, the fact that Charlie Hustle's banishment is still a hot-button issue says something about how polarizing the issue is.

Cleveland Indians: Rocky Colavito

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    The Indians aren't cursed, they're just a historically mediocre, low-budget team.

    Still, some insist on pointing to the Tribe's trade of Colavito to the Tigers in 1960 as the source of Cleveland's woes.

    Public domain image (courtesy of

Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 01:  Ubaldo Jimenez #38 of the Colorado Rockies pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning at Dodger Stadium on June 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Jimenez' hot start a year ago served as fuel for a holy war between sabermetric analysts and fans of traditional baseball stats.

    The former group—which was eventually proven right—pointed to luck-neutral stats that showed that Jimenez was dramatically overperforming his peripherals, while the latter group claimed that he was "effectively wild" and truly had the skill to induce weak contact.

Detroit Tigers: Ty Cobb

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    24 Jul 2000:  A general view of the plaque dedicated to Tyrus Raymond 'Ty' Cobb at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Between his racist philosophy, statistical controversies and violent tendencies, Cobb's character remains an interesting topic of discussion even 50 years after his death.

    He was as great of a player as he was terrible of a person.

Florida Marlins: Hanley Ramirez

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 27:  Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Florida Marlins acknowledges teammate Greg Dobbs (not pictured) after Dobbs drove Ramirez in with a base hit against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eigth inning at Dodger Stadium on May 27, 2011 in Los A
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Ramirez and then-Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez had a public feud in 2010 when Ramirez was benched after his lazy attitude chasing down a ball cost the team two runs in a game.

    Ownership implicitly sided with Ramirez—Gonzalez was fired shortly after the incident—but many writers thought disciplining Han-Ram was appropriate.

Houston Astros: Carlos Lee

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 2: Carlos Lee #45 of the Houston Astros reacts after striking out during the first inning of against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on June 2, 2011 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    When Lee signed a $100 million contract with Houston in 2006, the question was posed: Did the Astros overpay, or did they really overpay?

    After posting just 0.7 WAR since 2009, evidence points to the latter.

Kansas City Royals: George Brett

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    29 Jul 1993:  Infielder George Brett of the Kansas City Royals in action during a game against the Texas Rangers at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Brett sparked a firestorm in 1983 when, after he hit a two-out, ninth-inning home run, the umpires found too much pine tar on his bat and ruled the play an out.

    The decision was eventually overturned; each part of that process inspired much controversy.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Vernon Wells

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    ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 7:   Vernon Wells #10 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim picks up an RBI in the sixth inning with a sacrifice fly against the Cleveland Indians on May 7, 2011 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.    (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Ima
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    When they traded for Wells this winter, the Angels presented the move as a way to acquire a powerful outfielder after missing out on all their major free-agent targets.

    To the rest of the world, though, the fact that the team gave up good players in exchange for one of the worst contracts in the game was something of a head-scratcher.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Jackie Robinson

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    Nowadays, Robinson is seen as a national hero—a brave man who persevered through major adversity and paved the way for racial equality in sports and society as a whole.

    But 65 years ago? Many players and fans didn't take kindly to the idea of integration.

    Public domain image (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Milwaukee Brewers: Jim Bouton

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    382468 01: Former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton signs copies of his new book, 'Ball Four: The Final Pitch' November 27, 2000 at a Waldenbooks store in Schaumburg, IL. 'Ball Four: The Final Pitch' is a new and final edition of his controversial 1970
    Tim Boyle/Getty Images

    Before the release of Ball Four, baseball was seen as a symbol of purity in American society, full of the kind of people kids could look up to.

    But after Bouton released his tell-all book that detailed everything from players' vulgar habits to the use of "greenies"? The illusion was shattered, and Bouton fell out of favor with his peers.

Minnesota Twins: Bert Blyleven

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    1989:  Bert Blyleven of the Minnesota Twins stands in the dugout during a game in the 1989 season.  (Photo by: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    For years, Blyleven's was one of the most frustrating Hall of Fame cases to discuss; detractors dismissed him as a "compiler" even though—with 287 wins—he was only 13 victories away from the arbitrary number at which no one would have doubted him.

    Luckily, those days are behind us—Blyleven was finally elected in January.

New York Mets: Francisco Rodriguez

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    NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 03: Francisco Rodriguez #75 of the New York Mets walks to the dugout after giving up three runs in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on June 3, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    After Rodriguez assaulted his girlfriend's father in August (and injured himself in the process), the Mets drew the ire of the MLBPA when they gave K-Rod an unpaid suspension.

    Had they tried to void the rest of his contract—as was rumored—it would have led to an ugly battle between the team and the union.

New York Yankees: George Steinbrenner

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    NEW YORK - APRIL 16:  Owner George Steinbrenner (R) is seen on the jumbotron during an opening day ceremony at the new Yankee Stadium on April 16, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. This is the first regular season MLB game being played at the ne
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    To Yankees fans, Steinbrenner was a benevolent icon who spent billions of dollars in payroll to make sure his city was in the running for the championship every year.

    To everyone else, "The Boss" was a convicted criminal who ruined baseball by turning it into a rich man's game.

Oakland Athletics: Billy Beane

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    PEORIA, AZ - MARCH 07:  General manager Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics attends the spring training game against the San Diego Padres at Peoria Stadium on March 7, 2009 in Peoria, Arizona. The A's defeated the Padres 15-6.  (Photo by Christian Peters
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    After the release of Moneyball, Beane became the unofficial symbol of the sabermetric movement (at least, to those who hadn't been privy to the concepts before).

    As such, the A's' successes are seen as victories for the statheads, while their falterings are seen as proof of why Beane (many detractors who hadn't read the book thought it was an autobiography) shouldn't have written a book about how smart he is.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 06: Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies runs to first base after hitting a one-run single during the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park on June 6, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew H
    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    A few years ago, there was a heated debate over whether or not Howard's lofty strikeout totals hindered his offensive value.

    Now the question is whether the Phillies were smart to have locked up one of the most intimidating hitters in the game for $25 million a year through 2016 or if they significantly overpaid for a guy who won't age well.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Dock Ellis

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    The man most famous for pitching a no-hitter while on LSD also made quite a name for himself in other ways—particularly his tendency to maliciously bean opposing hitters.

    Ellis once hit Reggie Jackson in the face with a pitch. In another game, he tried to bean every single batter he faced.

San Diego Padres: Ken Caminiti

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    10 Oct 1998:  Infielder Ken Caminiti #21 of the San Diego Padres in action during the National League Championships Series game against the Atlanta Braves at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Padres defeated the Braves 4-1. Mandatory Credit:
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Caminiti's 1996 MVP award wasn't the worst decision the BBWAA has ever made, but it was pretty bad.

    Even forgetting Jeff Bagwell and Bernard Gilkey, Barry Bonds had a 1.5-WAR lead over Caminiti.

Seattle Mariners: Milton Bradley

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    SEATTLE - MAY 06:  Milton Bradley #15 of the Seattle Mariners is restrained by manager Eric Wedge #22 after being ejected from the game against the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field on May 6, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners won 3-2. (Photo by Ot
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Bradley might not have been at his worst when he was in Seattle, but his tenure with the Mariners was still full of controversy.

    His release from the team last month sparked a debate about the true state of race relations in baseball—he wasn't the villain he's often seen as, but he wasn't purely a victim either.

San Francisco Giants: Barry Bonds

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 12:  Former Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds arrives at federal court on April 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  The jury is deliberating for the third day in the Barry Bonds perjury trial where the former baseball
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    There are some who think Bonds should be thrown in jail, and his records should be erased. Even among those who don't wish to persecute him, there's a sense of remorse that a cheater has had the second-best career of all time.

    Bonds may be the most controversial player of all time.

St. Louis Cardinals: Mark McGwire

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 12:  Batting coach Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals watches from the dugout during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 12, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Diamondbacks defeated
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The single-season home-run king for three years, McGwire's reputation is tainted by his known steroid use.

    But while his PED connections are keeping him out of Cooperstown, it's worth noting that MLB did not officially ban the substances he used until after he retired.

Tampa Bay Rays: Manny Ramirez

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 03:  Designated hitter Manny Ramirez #24 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the Baltimore Orioles during the game at Tropicana Field on April 3, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Ramirez spent only a week with the Rays, but his abrupt retirement in April after a second positive PED test started the 2011 MLB season off with a bang.  

    What other controversies have happened in Tampa Bay?

Texas Rangers: Rafael Palmeiro

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 11:  First baseman Rafael Palmeiro #25 of the Texas Rangers swings at a Kansas City Royals pitch during the MLB game at the Ballpark in Arlington on July 11, 2003 in Arlington, Texas. The Royals won 13-3.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Ge
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Palmeiro wasn't a Ranger when he wagged his finger at  Congress or when he tested positive for stanozolol, but he's best remembered for the 10 years he spent in Texas.

    Because of his hypocrisy, Palmeiro is seen as epitomizing the worst aspects of the PED era.

Toronto Blue Jays: Joe Carter

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    8 Jul 1995:  First baseman Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays swings at the ball during a game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California.  The Blue Jays won the game 9-6. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Allsport
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Carter's lofty RBI totals and legendary World Series home-run totals have secured him a place in the baseball history books.

    While there's no disputing the magic of that home run, there is a debate over whether or not Carter was really a good hitter. He had a career wRC+ of just 103; thrice he collected over 100 RBI despite being below replacement-level. 

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg

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    VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25, 2011 in Viera, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Strasburg was probably the most-hyped prospect ever when he made his MLB debut last year. There was no denying his generational talent.

    Now that he's undergone Tommy John surgery, things have changed. Some think he'll be able to pick up where he left off last year, but others fear he'll never again be the same pitcher.

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