Ranking the 10 Biggest Villains in MLB Since 2000

Zachary D. RymerJune 4, 2022

Ranking the 10 Biggest Villains in MLB Since 2000

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    PHILADELPHIA - MAY 07:  Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies hold banners referring to Barry Bonds #25 of the San Francisco Giants during the game at Citizens Bank Park on May 7, 2006 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    If we were to think of baseball as less of a sport and as more of a drama, we probably couldn't agree on a definitive list of Major League Baseball's top protagonists of the 21st century. On heroes, opinions vary.

    But antagonists? Surely, there are at least 10 on whom we can agree.

    We didn't have an easy time picking out the 10 greatest villains since 2000, and not just because there were so many to choose from. There's also the sheer variety of misdeeds with which various people have achieved infamy over the years. Chasing unfair advantages. Being unlikable. Being phony. Just plain being bad at their jobs. And so on.

    We therefore resorted to these ground rules to help narrow things down:

    • No Curt Schillings or Trevor Bauers: Because what's made them bad guys in the court of public opinion goes well beyond baseball.
    • It Can't All Be Steroid Era Guys: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro may be poster boys for baseball's steroid era, but not the poster boy. 
    • It Can't All Be Players: Because umpires, owners and commissioners can be bad guys, too.

    Ultimately, the list of 10 that we settled on features what we think is a diverse assortment of villains. To rank them, we considered their crimes but also just how guilty they really are of said crimes. The worse they fared in both departments, they higher they ranked.

10. Angel Hernandez

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Philadelphia Phillies argues with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez after being called out on strikes during the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citizens Bank Park on April 24, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Brewers defeated the Phillies 1-0. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    What Are His Crimes?

    The average baseball fan probably can't identify many umpires by name, but there's no better illustration of how Angel Hernandez is an exception than this right here:

    Chelsea Janes @chelsea_janes

    Oh my gosh they just announced that Angel Hernandez is calling balls and strikes today and the Nats Park crowd booed about 62 percent as much as they did for the Astros Friday night.

    Since his debut in 1991, Hernandez has been involved in so many incidents that there's literally an "incidents" tab on his Wikipedia page. And it's so crowded that there isn't even room for Kyle Schwarber's blowup over Hernandez's strike zone from April 24.

    You know who also thinks Hernandez is a bad umpire? Major League Baseball.

    In a lawsuit filed in 2017, the Cuban-born Hernandez charged that he hasn't worked the World Series since 2005 because of racial discrimination. Just last year, though, a judge sided with MLB's argument that it's because he "has not demonstrated the leadership ability and situation-management skills in critical high-pressure roles on a consistent basis."

    How Guilty Is He Really, Though?

    Especially when said umpire is barred from the Fall Classic, there's only so much that a single umpire can do to corrupt the greater institution of Major League Baseball. Much more so than some kind of arbiter of doom, Hernandez is a mere annoyance.

    Also, he might not actually be as bad as his reputation suggests. It's obviously hard to put data to this idea, but it's notable that his strike zone accuracy doesn't grade out as the worst at umpscorecards.com. Looking at you, Andy Fletcher.

9. A.J. Pierzynski

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    CHICAGO - MAY 20:  Michael Barrett #8 of the Chicago Cubs punches A.J. Pierzynski #12 of the Chicago White Sox after a second inning collision as Scott Podsednik #22 steps in on May 20, 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    What Were His Crimes?

    Specific incidents of A.J. Pierzynski being a jerk throughout his 19-year career include the time he allegedly kneed a trainer in the groin in 2004 and more than one dirty play on the basepaths.

    Perhaps most famously, there was also his bulldozing of and subsequent brawl with Michael Barrett in 2006:

    But, really, it was as much Pierzynski's general vibe that made him so disliked. A 2012 player poll by Men's Journal saw him run away with the "most hated player" vote, with one player saying of the catcher: “He likes to talk a lot of s--t, and I’ve heard he’s a bad teammate."

    To the latter, then-White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen seemed to confirm as much when he said in 2006: "If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."

    How Guilty Was He Really, Though?

    There's no excusing how Pierzynski acted, but he at least offered a reasonable explanation in 2018: "I had to have an enemy and I had to play with hate. No matter who it was on the other side, that’s the way I had to do it. That’s what got me going every day."

    Besides, he wasn't so toxic that his teams couldn't win with him on the roster. He was part of five different playoff teams, including a dominant White Sox squad that coasted to a World Series victory in 2005.

8. Manny Machado

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Manny Machado #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jesus Aguilar #24 of the Milwaukee Brewers exchange words during the tenth inning in Game Four of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 16, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    What Were His Crimes?

    If it's a question of who's the most hated player in baseball today, a study of fans' tweeting habits that's going around right now points to a clear answer: Manny Machado.

    Many athletes get hate that they don't really deserve, but it's hard to place Machado in that camp because of his reputation as a dirty player. Christian Yelich even used those exact words to describe Machado after this play in the 2018 National League Championship Series:

    Fabian Ardaya @FabianArdaya

    Manny Machado kicked Jesús Aguilar. Many <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/takes?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#takes</a> will follow. <a href="https://t.co/uMopidt8IJ">pic.twitter.com/uMopidt8IJ</a>

    Other moments that stick out are when Machado threw his helmet and bat at Oakland Athletics players in 2014 and his takeout slide of Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2017. Even as recently as last year, he made another highly questionable maneuver that upended St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman.

    Add in Machado's self-professed disinterest in hustling on every play, and the list of reasons that fans have to hate him isn't short.

    How Guilty Is He Really, Though?

    It would be one thing if Machado's occasional forays into the muck were harmless, but that's not the case where Pedroia is concerned. The slide that took him out in '17 effectively kick-started the knee injuries that ultimately ended his career.

    For what it's worth, though, Machado does seem to have matured in recent years. Four years into his $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres, there's both anecdotal and plainly visible evidence of him becoming a clubhouse leader.

7. Roger Clemens

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    22 Oct 2000:  #31 Mike Piazza of the New York Mets is restrained from pitcher #22 Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees by home plate umpire Charlie Reliford in the first inning during Game 2 of the MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/ALLSPORT
    Al Bello

    What Were His Crimes?

    Though Roger Clemens spent the bulk of his 24-year career in the 1980s and 1990s, his reputations as a chin music maestro and a generally mean person followed him into the 2000s.

    Alex Rodriguez and Cito Gaston can testify to such things, but there's no better witness than Mike Piazza:

    That was no harmless pitch that Piazza took to the head in July 2000, as it left him concussed and unable to play in the All-Star Game. So when Clemens later chucked a shattered bat in his direction when the Yankees and New York Mets matched up in the World Series, it's no wonder Piazza fantasized about taking Clemens on in hand-to-hand combat.

    After winning seven Cy Young Awards, "The Rocket" was nonetheless bound for the Hall of Fame after he called it a career in 2007. But then came the Mitchell Report and its dozens of references to Clemens and performance-enhancing drugs. Suddenly all that hot-headed behavior made sense, and the doors to Cooperstown closed accordingly.

    How Guilty Was He Really, Though?

    His inexplicable bullying of Piazza aside, Clemens' reputation as a head hunter was frankly overblown. He only hit 33 batters between 2000 and 2004. That's about half as many as Pedro Martinez, who later admitted to committing "90 percent" of his HBPs on purpose.

    As for the PED allegations against Clemens, some might still say they have circumstantial merit. Yet they never were that strong on their own, and they notably didn't hold up in court.

6. Ryan Braun

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    PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 24:  Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers talks to the media prior to spring workouts at Maryvale Baseball Park on February 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    What Were His Crimes?

    In about a year-and-a-half span between December 2011 and July 2013, Ryan Braun went from testing positive for PEDs to successfully winning an appeal to ultimately getting suspended for juicing anyway.

    At the end of all that, few had a bigger gripe with Braun than Matt Kemp. Even though he had finished with more home runs, stolen bases and runs batted in, he still narrowly lost to Braun in the voting for the 2011 NL MVP.

    "I mean, yeah, I do," Kemp said in 2013 when asked if Braun should have been stripped of the award.

    Perhaps even more wronged by Braun's actions was Dino Laurenzi Jr., whose handling of Braun's urine was the deciding factor in the 2011 case. Rather than just let it be that, Braun, who is Jewish, made things personal and smeared Laurenzi as an anti-Semite.

    How Guilty Was He Really, Though?

    The boos that started upon Braun's return from his suspension in 2014 never fully abated, yet it would be a reach to say that he was Public Enemy No. 1 in that time frame. He was but one of 13 players who got suspended as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, and not even the one with the biggest name.

    Braun's reputation as a bad guy is also clouded by his reconciliation with Laurenzi and his community work. He was the Brewers' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award in 2014 and 2016, and he ultimately committed more than $1 million to charitable causes during his career.

5. Barry Bonds

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 02:  Barry Bonds #25 of the San Francisco Giants reacts after flying out in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 2, 2007 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    What Were His Crimes?

    Barry Bonds was already on a Hall of Fame trajectory through the 1990s, so his circa-1999 decision to start using steroids was as if Superman decided to get on Dr. Erskine's Super-Soldier Serum.

    After breaking Mark McGwire's single-season record with 73 home runs in 2001, Bonds set his sights on Henry Aaron's career home run mark. The publication of Game of Shadows in March 2006, however, crashed that party just as it was getting started.

    Bonds did end up getting No. 756, but his march there was only a good time for San Francisco Giants fans. He endured hostile crowds everywhere he went in 2006 and 2007, and he was so radioactive by the end of '07 that he was basically forced into retirement.

    A nicer guy might have been granted an easier time, but nobody ever accused Bonds of being one of those. Not commissioners. Not journalists. Heck, not even teammates.

    How Guilty Was He Really, Though?

    Even Bonds knows there's no defense for how he carried himself. As he said in 2016: "It's on me. I'm to blame for the way I was [portrayed], because I was a dumbass. I was straight stupid, and I'll be the first to admit it."

    Yet in his defense, Bonds didn't invent the art of using PEDs to excel on the baseball field. He merely perfected it but did so with bad timing. With McGwire out of baseball and Sammy Sosa on his way out by the latter half of the 2000s, Bonds was left to be a singular pariah.

4. Alex Rodriguez

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    Home plate umpire Bruce Froemming, attempts to keep Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, right, away New York Yankees batter Alex Rodriguez in the third inning after Rodriguez was hit by a pitch by Red Sox's Bronson Arroyo  at Fenway Park in Boston.  Varitek and Rodriguez were removed from the game after the two fought, an incident that ended in a bench-clearing brawl.  The Red Sox won, 11-10,  with a 9th-inning game winning home run by Bill Mueller (Photo by J Rogash/WireImage)
    J Rogash/WireImage

    What Were His Crimes?

    Some Seattle Mariners fans might still begrudge Alex Rodriguez for accepting a $252 million payday from the Texas Rangers in December 2000, but that's now a niche section in the greater populace of A-Rod haters.

    Just in 2004, Rodriguez made himself into one of the great heels in the history of the rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. First, by igniting a brawl in July and later with the slap heard 'round the world in October.

    As Bonds carried out his tainted pursuit of Aaron, Rodriguez nonetheless arose as a hopeful figure in some circles during the late 2000s. As one fan put it in July 2007: “If [the career home run record holder] was someone who was gracious and who doesn’t have that steroids halo over him. Someone like Alex Rodriguez."

    Yeah...about that.

    After famously denying ever using PEDs in 2007, Rodriguez came clean in 2009 about his juicing between 2001 and 2003. It was briefly water under the bridge when he helped the Yankees win the World Series in '09, but then the Biogenesis scandal and his resulting 162-game ban ruined his reputation all over again.

    How Guilty Is He Really, Though?

    Say what you will about Bonds, but he was never actually caught or punished for PEDs. Not so with A-Rod, and the timeline in his case is such that it's fair to have reservations about a big chunk of the 696 home runs that he hit in his 22 seasons.

    Kudos to him, though, for repairing his reputation with his work as a broadcaster—even if he occasionally blurs the line between the abstract and the nonsensical.

3. The Houston Astros

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    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 18: A sign referring to the Houston Astros cheating is held by a fan during the Boston Red Sox game against the Houston Astros in Game Three of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park on October 18, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    What Were Their Crimes?

    Oh, you know. Nothing major. Just cheating their way to a World Series championship in 2017.

    This much isn't really in dispute, as Major League Baseball's investigation into the sign-stealing scheme that Houston used during the '17 season found that it was in use throughout both the regular season and the playoffs. Multiple heads rolled for this, including those belonging to A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow and to Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran.

    Yet the organization itself got off with a slap on the wrist, losing draft picks and incurring a $5 million fine but keeping its World Series trophy. At this, the outrage still runs deep.

    Michael Young @MikeyY626

    Right...they did it because trash can acoustics are good for the soul.<br><br>Yes, they had a good team. But of course it impacted the game. If it didn’t impact the game, why continue it? Don’t play the public for fools. Just apologize, be accountable, and move forward. <a href="https://t.co/Hf7iFL7FRz">https://t.co/Hf7iFL7FRz</a>

    Further, the general tone coming from Houston since the scandal broke in 2020 has been marked as much by defiance as contrition. And it's flowed straight from the top, with owner Jim Crane refusing to take accountability and deflecting blame.

    How Guilty Are They Really, Though?

    Of carrying out the scheme in the first place? Very. And that's bad enough. Though there have been rumors of chicanery happening in the World Series here and there, the Astros' cheating in 2017 and the Chicago White Sox's game-fixing of 1919 are basically it as far as actual World Series scandals go.

    And yet, the inconvenient truth is that it's unclear how much the Astros' sign-stealing actually helped. Even setting aside the studies that cast doubt on the idea, there's the basic reality that the Astros have just kept on raking and winning over the last three years.

2. Jeffrey Loria

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    MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria speaks during a press conference at Marlins Park on November 19, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    What Were His Crimes?

    Before Jeffrey Loria bought the Miami Marlins in 2002, he first ran the Montreal Expos between 1999 and 2002. As in, ran into the ground.

    The gist of the short version is that Loria spent most of his time and effort on ultimately failed quests for a new ballpark or relocation. Poor marketing and attendance signaled the franchise's doom, but it all worked out for Loria when he sold the Expos to MLB for 10 times what he initially paid to buy in. Just three years later, the Expos were no more.

    Loria used his proceeds from the Expos sale to buy the Miami Marlins in 2002, and the high points of his 15-year tenure as their owner include a World Series championship in 2003 and the opening of Marlins Park in 2012.

    Yet said championship was swiftly followed by the first of two high-profile fire sales under Loria. Said stadium, meanwhile, was largely constructed through hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. After Loria sold the Marlins for $1.2 billion in 2017, the Miami-Dade County government went after him and was able to recoup all of $5.5 million.

    How Guilty Is He Really, Though?

    At least one story cuts against Loria's infamy as the cunningest of cheapskates. When he OK'd a $325 million contract for Giancarlo Stanton in 2014, he reset the market for superstar players to a level where it still resides today.

    This is, of course, no comfort to those in Montreal or Miami. The former are out a major league team thanks to Loria, while the real cost of Marlins Park to taxpayers in the latter may be in the billions.

1. Rob Manfred

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    ORLANDO, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 10: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions during an MLB owner's meeting at the Waldorf Astoria on February 10, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Manfred addressed the ongoing lockout of players, which owners put in place after the league's collective bargaining agreement ended on December 1, 2021. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    What Are His Crimes?

    Nobody will make the case that things went entirely smoothly under Major League Baseball's previous commissioner, Bud Selig. For the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and the league's steroid era, the buck stops with him.

    But while Rob Manfred's legacy is still being written, as of now the best summary of it is this tweet from ESPN's Joon Lee:

    Joon Lee @joonlee

    the man who called the world series trophy “a piece of metal” smiling on a day when mlb cancels games <a href="https://t.co/UpVgC74yyH">pic.twitter.com/UpVgC74yyH</a>

    It's true that Manfred, who took over for Selig in 2015, disparaged the literal Commissioner's Trophy as a "piece of metal." That was in response to the uproar over his kid-gloves handling of the Astros scandal, which is perhaps his greatest shame.

    Unless, that is, you lean more toward baseball's first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike—which was made inevitable by widespread patronization of players by the league's owners—as Manfred's greatest shame. Then again, one could just as easily lean toward the never-ending rule changes and shape-shifting baseballs, both of which have arguably changed baseball more for the worse than for the better.

    How Guilty Is He, Though?

    It depends on how you perceive the commissioner's job. If you think it's primarily to funnel as much of MLB's multibillion-dollar revenue stream toward its owners, well, you're not wrong. And at this much, at least, Manfred is right for the job.

    It's also on Manfred, however, to safeguard Major League Baseball's future. At a time when attendance is trending downward and what fans the league has are skewing older and older, it's inexcusable that Manfred hasn't yet gotten a handle on this part of the job.