Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza and the Best MLB Feuds of the Last 20 Years
As we continue with Rivalry Week at B/R, we're going to shift our focus away from feuds between teams to ones between individual players.
For this, there are 10 we think deserve the "best of" treatment for the 21st century.
Please note this isn't a list of the most memorable on-field brawls of the 2000s and 2010s, as many baseball fights are isolated incidents that happen in the spur of the moment.
Our interest was more so in players who displayed—or are still displaying—a genuine dislike for one another. Some did indeed come to blows on the field, while others limited themselves to sniping each other through the media and social media.
Ranking these was the hard part as there's really no good way to define what makes a good feud. But generally, the uglier and more longstanding they were, the higher they ranked.
Let's count 'em down from No. 10 to No. 1 after we first hit some honorable (well, "honorable") mentions.
Alex Rodriguez vs. Jason Varitek
John Gibbons vs. Shea Hillenbrand
Joba Chamberlain vs. Kevin Youkilis
Chamberlain frequently buzzed Youkilis when they were on opposite sides of the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees rivalry between 2007 and 2012. They eventually cleared the air when they became teammates.
Michael Barrett vs. A.J. Pierzynski
It's not quite Rougned Odor to Jose Bautista, but Barrett's socking of Pierzynski in 2006 is one of the more memorable punches in baseball's recent history. The two supposedly made up just weeks later.
Yadier Molina vs. Brandon Phillips and Kris Bryant
Carlos Gomez vs. Paul Maholm and Gerrit Cole
Gomez's boisterous ways ran afoul of Maholm in 2012 and then of Cole in 2014. But apart from a not-at-all intentional hit-by-pitch by Cole later in the '14 season, nothing much came of either incident.
Bryce Harper vs. Jonathan Papelbon
David Ortiz vs. David Price
Dennis Eckersley vs. David Price
This, on the other hand, is a darn good feud. It was petty when it began in 2017, and it was still petty in its continuation in 2019. But since the two never did and can't ever share a playing field, it didn't feel right to include it.
Adam Eaton vs. Todd Frazier
There's plenty of history between these two, but we ultimately concluded that it's more stupid and amusing than heated and dramatic.
10. Trevor Bauer vs. Alex Bregman
There have definitely been uglier feuds than the one between Alex Bregman and Trevor Bauer. But if nothing else, it's unique in how it's played out almost entirely online.
The year after Bregman and the Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017, Bauer insinuated on Twitter that the Astros were so good in part because their pitchers were doctoring balls. That prompted Bregman to retort to the then-Cleveland Indians ace: "Relax Tyler ... those World Series balls spin a little different..."
Though Bauer promptly had fun with his new moniker, he didn't have as much fun in putting up a 6.75 ERA during a sweep at the hands of Bregman's Astros in the American League Division Series later that year.
The following January, Bregman chided him for being "our best player in the postseason last year." Come April of that year, Bauer took a revenge jab after pitching eight one-run innings against the Astros.
From the outside looking in, all this might be mistaken for good-natured ribbing between buddies. But Bregman clarified last April that he and Bauer are "not friends," and there's been no indication that's changing any time soon.
To wit, Bauer still has it out for the Astros even though he's now outside of the American League with the Cincinnati Reds. Ever since Houston's cheating scandal from 2017 came to light in January, he's taken every opportunity to troll the organization on social media.
9. Derek Jeter vs. Alex Rodriguez
Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were friends once. So much so, in fact, that Jeter once got chewed out for chumming it up with Rodriguez during a brawl between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners in 1999.
A rift between the two developed, however, after A-Rod signed his record-setting $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2001 and offered harsh words about Jeter to Esquire: "Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him. He's never had to lead. He can just go and play and have fun. And he hits second—that's totally different than third and fourth in a lineup. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie [Williams] and [Paul] O'Neill. You never say, Don't let Derek beat you. He's never your concern."
Even Jeter, who rarely lets his guard down, couldn't hide his annoyed reaction, and the chip on his shoulder remained there even after he and A-Rod joined forces on the Yankees in 2004. By 2007, A-Rod could publicly admit their friendship was "not as good as it used to be, when we were blood brothers."
Mind you, these are merely the CliffsNotes for a much longer, more complicated story. Regardless, time has not been able to heal these old wounds.
Rodriguez didn't even show up to Jeter's number retirement ceremony in 2016. When the two sat down for a tandem interview in 2017, ESPN's Dan Le Batard heard (h/t SI.com) that Jeter came away from it "beside himself angry" because nobody told him Rodriguez was going to be involved.
8. Jose Bautista vs. Rougned Odor
To be fair, this particular feud started out as one between Jose Bautista and the entirety of the Texas Rangers.
In October 2015, the Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays did battle into Game 5 of the American League Division Series, wherein Bautista strode to the plate with two on and two out and the score tied at 3-3 in the seventh inning.
What followed was a three-run homer and a bat flip for the ages, much to the chagrin of Rangers closer Sam Dyson. He told reporters that his first move was to relay a message to Toronto designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion: "I told him Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more."
The following May, Matt Bush had a beanball with Bautista's name on it waiting for him. That led to his late slide into second base, which finally brought Rougned Odor to the center of the stage. After first shoving Bautista, he followed up with a punch that got all of the veteran slugger's left cheek.
Odor, who was eventually suspended for eight games, didn't and still doesn't have much to say about the incident. But Bautista, who drew a one-game ban, called the Rangers "cowardly" and couldn't help but wonder if Odor was "looking for a fight" that day.
Though Bautista's beef with Odor and the Rangers escalated no further, he never really buried the hatchet, either. For their part, the Rangers might just be pleased that Bautista has been out of the majors since 2018.
7. Bryce Harper vs. Hunter Strickland
Though the San Francisco Giants survived their tilt with the Washington Nationals in the 2014 National League Division Series, Hunter Strickland walked away utterly defeated by Bryce Harper.
Harper slugged home runs off him in the first and fourth games of the series. The first was long enough to be worth admiring, while the second caused Harper to pause while he judged whether it was fair or foul.
Despite ending up with a World Series ring for his efforts in 2014, Strickland plotted his revenge and finally took his shot in a game at Oracle Park in May 2017, plunking Harper in his rear end with a 98 mph fastball.
The message wasn't lost on the slugger, who charged the mound and threw both his helmet and punches at the ornery right-hander. As Harper explained afterward, "You never want to get suspended or anything like that, but sometimes you just have to go and get him."
The brawl resulted in a six-game suspension for Strickland, a three-game suspension for Harper and, somewhat tragically, the end of Mike Morse's career because of the injury he suffered in the midst of it.
As feuds go, this one is certainly of a one-sided vintage. But while Strickland and Harper never really made amends, the former did go on to get help for his anger issues. He also eventually won another ring in 2019, this time as a member of—who else?—the Nationals.
6. Mike Fiers vs. Giancarlo Stanton
Back in September 2014, one of the scariest incidents in recent memory unfolded when then-Milwaukee Brewers hurler Mike Fiers hit then-Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the face with a pitch.
Fiers, who was immediately horrified, clearly wasn't trying to go that far up and in on Stanton. It was nevertheless an emotional moment for everyone, and things got heated not long after Stanton was carted off the field. Fiers' next pitch hit Reed Johnson on the hand, prompting both benches to empty.
Stanton came away from his beaning (which was technically ruled a swing and a miss) with facial fractures, dental damage and, apparently, a grudge. When the Marlins attempted to trade for Fiers in 2016, Stanton stepped in and shot it down.
When Fiers and Stanton met again in 2018 as members of the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, respectively, Stanton naturally didn't take kindly to getting hit again in the third inning. So when he hit a home run off Fiers in the sixth, he made sure to pause and appreciate it.
After the game, Fiers called Stanton's actions "childish." But Stanton was in no mood to be contrite: "Anything like that that happens, no matter how many years it is, I'm not going to be happy."
Whereas most baseball feuds have a pseudo-amusing element, this one is just plain uncomfortable. And given the circumstances, it likely isn't fading away in the near future.
5. Pedro Martinez vs. Jorge Posada
Though Pedro Martinez fought more battles against Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams throughout his Hall of Fame career, he considered Jorge Posada his No. 1 enemy.
"He always seemed to have a bad attitude toward me, and he was so arrogant compared to the other guys," Martinez said on SNY in 2015 (h/t Ted Berg of USA Today). "... He never wanted to talk to me. He was always mad at me for some reason."
The longtime New York Yankees catcher's disdain for the former Boston Red Sox ace might have been born out of Game 3 of the 2003 American League Championship Series.
That game is best remembered for the clash between Martinez and Don Zimmer, but it also featured Martinez seemingly threatening to bean Posada in the head. For his part, Martinez claims Posada incited the chaos by saying something unkind about his mother.
Posada eventually got the last laugh with a game-tying hit off Pedro in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which the Yankees went on to win. But he was still bitter about the events of Game 3 even five years later, and he was more than eager to return Martinez's volley in 2015.
"I can't believe he's talking about it during his Hall of Fame tour, bringing me up," Posada said in an interview with CBS New York. "Yeah, we don't like each other."
4. Madison Bumgarner vs. Yasiel Puig
Madison Bumgarner is famous for three reasons: He's a World Series-winning ace, a purveyor of extraordinary snot rockets and a guy who absolutely hates being shown up.
On that last point, there's been no greater foil for the former San Francisco Giants ace than former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Their beef began in earnest when Puig celebrated a homer off Bumgarner with a bat flip on May 9, 2014. Bumgarner took exception, and Puig took exception to his exception. So when Bumgarner later plunked Puig in September, they inevitably jawed at each other again as their respective benches cleared.
"He looked at me and said, 'What are you looking at?'" Puig told reporters through an interpreter after the game. "I just reacted to what he said."
The two stars got into it again in 2016, and Puig's switch from the Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds in 2019 did little to quell their mutual animosity. After Puig got to him for another homer in May, Bumgarner couldn't help but troll him: "It only took him seven years to learn how to hit that pitch."
Bumgarner has since jumped ship to the Arizona Diamondbacks, while Puig is still on the free-agent market. But if reports about Puig possibly returning to the National League West as a member of the Giants come true, their rivalry will have a chance to continue.
3. Barry Bonds vs. Jeff Kent
From one perspective, Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent were fantastic teammates for the San Francisco Giants.
Between 1997 and 2002, they won three National League MVPs and racked up 83 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Though the effort proved fruitless, they also hit seven home runs in the 2002 World Series.
From another perspective, however, Bonds and Kent were two alpha males who clearly didn't enjoy sharing the same space.
Like with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, there's too much history here to cover in the space of a few hundred words. But it was an open secret, even at the time, that Bonds and Kent were not fond of one another, mainly because Kent didn't mind telling anyone who would listen.
"On the field, we're fine, but off the field, I don't care about Barry and Barry doesn't care about me," the second baseman told Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated in 2001. He then added: "Or anybody else."
Bonds and Kent even came to blows in the Giants dugout in 2002. Rather than write the situation off as an isolated incident, Kent said it was merely one of a "half-dozen" fights the two had already had.
To his credit, Bonds has since traded in his notoriously surly persona for a more self-aware one. Even still, Kent made it sound as recently as 2016 that a reconciliation between the two won't be happening.
2. Jose Mesa vs. Omar Vizquel
As teammates on the Cleveland Indians during the 1990s, Omar Vizquel and Jose Mesa were locker mates in the clubhouse and good friends off the field.
But in 1997, Mesa's blown save in Game 7 of the World Series cost the Indians their lead and, ultimately, the series itself.
Later in 2002, Vizquel's autobiography seemed to imply that Mesa's heart simply wasn't in the moment: "The eyes of the world were focused on every move we made. Unfortunately, Jose's own eyes were vacant. Completely empty. Nobody home. You could almost see right through him. Not long after I looked into his vacant eyes, he blew the save and the Marlins tied the game."
In response, Mesa was quick to vow revenge: "If I face him, I'll hit him. I won't try to hit him in the head, but I'll hit him. And if he charges me, I'll kill him."
Vizquel is, of course, alive and well. But Mesa did make good on his threats to plunk the 11-time Gold Glover, doing the deed first in 2002 and again in 2006. The latter left Vizquel feeling especially exasperated: "He's thinking about it for eight years and refuses to turn the page. He's the one who has the problem."
Both Mesa (in 2007) and Vizquel (in 2012) have long since ended their playing careers, but their friendship still hasn't recovered. At last check, Vizquel said in 2014 that the two hadn't even talked to each other.
1. Roger Clemens vs. Mike Piazza
That could explain why Clemens was intent on pitching Piazza inside when his New York Yankees faced Piazza's New York Mets in July 2000. What's still debated even 20 years later, however, is whether Clemens meant to hit Piazza in the head with a fastball.
In any case, the Mets were furious. So was Piazza, who wrote in his 2014 autobiography that he had a blunt response when Clemens called the Mets clubhouse to apologize: "Tell him to go f--k himself."
There was still bad blood between the two when the Yankees and Mets found themselves in the World Series later that year. It finally boiled over in Game 2 when, after Clemens had broken Piazza's bat on a foul ball, he threw one of the shards in Piazza's direction.
Though that incident didn't prompt the heavyweight fight the masses wanted, Piazza later revealed that he had learned some karate moves for the occasion.
Over the years, Clemens has had relatively little to say about all this. But of Piazza's revenge fantasy, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner did say that the Hall of Fame catcher would have had to "get in line."
Does the Clemens vs. Piazza feud get more attention than it deserves? Probably. But clearly, that it's still talked about is symbolic of the chord it struck.