Nyjer Morgan of the Milwaukee Brewers is nuts. He's Milton Bradley in a smaller, funnier wrapper. His paranoia is not racially charged, at least not explicitly, so he's a bit less controversial than Bradley, but make no mistake: Morgan is just as deranged.
He's not the only uncomfortable thing to watch in baseball today, though. From guys whose physical presence is off-putting to those whose eyes make reporters squirm, here are the 25 most awkward players in MLB today.
If one particular kind of person tends to be more uncomfortable for those in their company than any other, it is the kind that find themselves funnier than they really are. So it goes with Dempster. Once you get past his (sometimes) on-point Harry Caray impression, you find out the guy is a kind, good-humored but very unfunny fellow who nonetheless tells jokes seemingly every time a microphone finds him. It's not easy to watch.
Forget for a moment that Counsell had a streak of about seven weeks without a hit earlier this year. Let's focus on his wackiness in the batter's box. He has quieted some of these antics over the years, but the quintessential Counsell is this:
Barehanded he comes to the plate, his spindly arms scarcely able to hold even a relatively thin bat. He squats in the batter's box, dropping low as if coiling for attack. Now he bursts upward, until a belt strained not at all by his slender waist threatens to bust from the sheer strain of his stretch. Finally he drops to a high but not unprecedented stance, hands above his ears, but he does not stop wiggling the damn things until it's time for him to trudge back to the dugout.
Tatayama's short-armed, side-winding delivery is so quick and so small that it might as well not happen. His deception, along with that feeling of leaping suddenness and ephemera, make him very hard to pick up and no fun at all to bat against. It also makes him look a bit out of place at all times.
Uggla is a trash-can-on-stilts guy if ever there was one, the kind of unsettlingly buff but ill-defined beefcake that fills gyms across this nation. That looks out of place on a ball field, almost no matter what. His build alone makes him stand out.
It is his insistence on playing second base, though, that really makes him awkward. If most players of his size, skills and physique were presented with the chance to move to third base or a corner outfield spot, they would leap at it. Not Uggla. For some reason, he enjoys flubbing grounders and looking thoroughly out of place every time he takes the field.
Grady Sizemore is a good-lookin' fella. He knows it; His ladies know it. It gets awkward, though, when every picture of the man is just a little more carefully taken, as though the light must be just right in order for anyone to gaze upon the delicate beauty of an oft-injured outfielder. That's part of the problem.
Here's the other part. (Don't worry, the link is family-friendly.)
Guerrero is willing to uncoil with his vicious, lunging swing in any count and on any pitch. He succeeds virtually all the time. He's a Cooperstown-worthy slugger even if he retires this year. Still, it's sometimes hard to watch his swings and misses. Hell, the way he hurls his bat into the hitting zone makes it hard to watch when he connects, sometimes. He's a monster at the plate.
Burnett has a painful-looking, arm-wrenching delivery that cost him time with injuries more than once. He briefly tried out that frosted hair look that was actually in style for the last time in 2001. He intermittently gets into feuds (maybe? maybe not?) with Joe Girardi and Jorge Posada. Mostly, though, he lands here because Burnett loves the postgame interview, pie-in-the-face thing way, way too much.
Hamilton's baby blues, which have been the cause of such consternation this season (is his eye color the reason Hamilton struggles in day games?), are a bit haunting, but that's not really the awkward thing about Hamilton.
Rather, it's about the way he makes you feel: Watching him get a ginger ale shower from his teammates whenever the rest of the Rangers celebrated with champagne last season only served to remind everyone watching that Hamilton has a very sad story. In case they needed further reminders, Hamilton can be found proselytizing about everything from the dangers of drugs, to baseball's circadian rhythms, to God Himself.
It's all a bit uncomfortable, especially because Hamilton is not all that charismatic, so his tangents rarely grab listeners with anything beyond amusement or mild intrigue.
Hey, here's some interesting trivia. Did you know Pat Neshek's surname actually came to him as scouts were writing him up as a teenager? Watching his delivery, they got disoriented, and wrote under Last Name simply, "Neesh. Eck."
Okay, that's not entirely true. What is true, though, is that Neshek's mound mechanics are enough to make a spectator cringe, a coach throw up his hands and a right-handed batter simply throw up.
It's unseemly to use chewing tobacco in this day and age. Butler does it anyway. In the new era of baseball, it's very difficult to carve out a career of any substance without any discernible athleticism, let alone a defensive position. Butler does it anyway. Wearing knee-high socks is usually a sign of a speed-oriented guy who can run, more than waddle or gimp, the bases. Butler cares little for those unwritten rules. He's a rebel, man.
Posada's run-ins with Yankee management this season—from chafing at a lineup demotion to clashes over his proper role with the team—only update a long history of being a misfit and malcontent for Jorge. If his personality were a bit more explosive, it says here we would view him as a raving lunatic by now. His ability to keep his crazy just under the surface has helped Posada sustain such a long career, but it also makes him a strange bird.
Farnsworth evokes the tatted-up ex-biker who now wears his hair in a sleek ponytail and hides his ink with a charcoal suit. Once the league's best bad boy, Farnsworth has traded his triple-digit heat for command in the mid-90s and a cutter, his scruffy mullet (and later, military bald look) for a sensible crew-cut and his fighting attitude for a pair of designer goggles on the mound.
One cannot watch him without feeling a certain unease, though: What if he snaps back into old habits, rips off the goggles and gives you the old Paul Wilson treatment? It's bound to happen sometime.
Long, lanky frames make for strange-looking ball players everywhere but on the mound, and Werth is no exception. He leans and careens around the field, and looks even weirder doing it thanks to his inexplicable fascination with his own facial hair. He changes it seemingly twice weekly. To top it off, he's a tough interview because of his natural reticence to, you know, speak.
Pierzynski has several things working against him, and ultimately putting him on this list. First of all, he's a jerk. Around baseball, he's known as one of the guys opposing players hate most. He has a nearly unbearable smugness about him, and seems to be forever saying the thing that will needle his opponent best.
Almost as importantly, though, Pierzynski is beloved by White Sox fans for the very personality that drives everyone else up a wall. He has Dempster Syndrome, having been told for too long that he is funny when he honestly isn't.
Collmenter has had a tremendous rookie showing in 2011, and he has done it largely without any great stuff. Instead, he relies on deception, and with a delivery wherein he releases the ball from more or less behind his head, he doesn't want for that at all. Collmenter's delivery is nearly impossible to comprehend as you watch, but then, it's nearly impossible to sort out as it comes at hitters, too.
A superstar in any sport must maintain a certain positivity and public dignity. You don't want a Ron Artest type representing your league as one of the cornerstone men.
At the same time, there's nothing worse than a boring superstar. It's uncomfortable when media types endeavor to profile such players several times a year, only to churn out 10 stories about the man's family life and rather bland political view. So it is with Pujols. The Cardinals' slugger just is not an interesting human being, and when people try to force gags on him to keep things interesting ("The Machine," for instance), it goes over like a lead balloon.
Sometimes, saves are dramatic. The final out of a game often elicits a fist-pump or two from even the most mild-mannered closers, especially as the season wears on.
When the histrionics come every day, though, even at the end of three-run wins that were never in doubt, that's a bit over the top. Valverde's warrior dance will make him very popular in the playoffs, but in April, he's a fish out of water.
His prettiness is disquieting. He cheats on a woman annually, and this year, he's in a steady relationship with Cameron "Popcorn" Diaz and her muscles. He's somehow entangled in a gambling ring with the whole cast of the Ocean's movies, and in between times, he mashes toward a new milestone every month. Rodriguez is a great player who gets a bum rap, but following his life is tiring and strange.
Baseball people speak rather cryptically, at times, about what constitutes a bad body. Although it's obviously an issue, no one much minds the fatness of Prince Fielder, CC Sabathia or David Ortiz. Despite the problems, none of the above has a truly bad baseball body. Their weight is in the right places, and they're as strong as they are heavy.
Not Brett Wallace. Brett Wallace is a pear-person. He has thunder-thighs, a soft middle and a high center of gravity. He's built to bowl, not bat, but he remains a decent young hitter nonetheless.
Um... He said what?
Buehrle is a well-respected guy, generally a nice guy and a White Sox fan favorite. When he said last winter that he hoped to see Eagles quarterback Michael Vick get seriously injured, though, he undid a lot of the work he had done in building a reputation around the game.
He is obviously not the only person who has expressed that sentiment, but everyone who has is wrong, and it needs to be acknowledged. Look, what Vick did to dogs he raised to fight illegally is tragic and sick. But:
- He did them to dogs, not people.
- He paid his debt to society, has demonstrated real remorse and now strives to be a face for change when it comes to that culture and to animal violence in general.
- Did I mention he did these things to dogs?
Animal rights people have a tendency to forget that animals, while essentially defenseless and therefore to be protected, are not people. Buehrle went way beyond the line in wishing harm on another person whose sins are well-documented and who has made a pretty fair penance already.
No star-caliber player in all of baseball is less smooth or looks less natural on the field than Pence. In the batter's box, he is somehow all knees and elbows. No batter should be able to succeed with so many limbs flailing and so little apparent coordination thereof, and yet, he consistently stings the baseball. He's fun to watch, but it's always hard to figure out exactly how he does the things he does.
Around the office, who's the one guy who gets the most uncomfortable stares, who leaves silence in his wake most often? It's the guy with the ridiculous temper, right? The one who throws the water cooler across the hall because the handle is jammed.
Huge, angry outbursts—even when not directed at teammates—have the same shaming, numbing effect on a big league dugout. Zambrano has bludgeoned coolers, snapped bats over his knee, screamed at umpires, thrown at opposing players and fought with teammates, usually out of frustration more than justified anger. That kind of temperament simply cannot help but shorten your shelf life in big league baseball.
Alonso is a terrific hitter. He could be a superstar at the plate someday, blending patience with great power despite an essentially line-drive approach. If he can find a starting job at first base somewhere, he will be a stud for years to come.
In the meantime, though, the Reds continue to try to play him at third base and in left field, and it gets ugly in a hurry out there. Alonso simply cannot handle either position, making comical mistakes, having very little range and generally looking very uncomfortable. His play of a Tony Campana double (you know it as Tony Campana's only career home run) at Wrigley Field last month made clear the sort of bumbling, useless outfielder he would always be.
"I want to rage. Right now."
With those words, a star was born. Wilson has become one of baseball's best-known pitchers, mostly because of his shoe-polish beard and his crazy stare. He's actually much funnier than most similarly awkward players, but he's still way out there. Bullpen pitchers are supposed to be crazy; that's tradition. Wilson, however, has elevated it to an art, blending actual insight and baseball IQ with that nuttiness.
From the nicknames to the scarcely suppressed rage to charging Chris Volstad and coming out with both hands up like a championship prizefighter, Morgan has blown around the league like a tornado of hard-to-watchness for the past few seasons. When he does interviews intended to be funny, he usually succeeds only in putting reporters very much on edge. T-Plush is nuts.