10 Retired MLB Players Who Would Have Thrived in the Social Media Era

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2020

10 Retired MLB Players Who Would Have Thrived in the Social Media Era

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Once upon a time, phones were for making phone calls. Tweets were for whistles and birds. Tick-tock was the sound a clock made. And the only way to like something was, well, just to actually like it.

    The following 10 guys played out all or most of their MLB careers during that bygone era. That's too bad because each would have thrived in the social media age.

    Yes, many would have stirred up controversy. But that's the point. We aren't interested in squeaky-clean athletes with carefully crafted images who always said the right (often cliched) thing.

    We're looking for colorful, larger-than-life characters who didn't shy away from attention, players who marched to their own drum and were never afraid to speak their minds.

Babe Ruth

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    Babe Ruth isn't so much a former baseball player as he is a mythic figure like Santa Claus or Paul Bunyon. But he was an actual flesh-and-blood man, and he would have broken the internet.

    The greatest player of his time and arguably the most famous athlete in history, Ruth lived large off the field, as well. His penchant for food, drink, cigars and women was well-documented, and his bawdy social life surely would have made him a magnet for social media attention, though admittedly not always in a positive way.

    Plus, imagine the debate that would have erupted after his famous called shot (#DidHeCallIt) with Ruth able to weigh in.

    It's impossible to say what social media would have done to elevate—or possibly tear down—Ruth's mythology, but we can say with certainty we'd love to find out.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "I hear the cheers when they roared and the jeers when they echoed."

    "If I'd tried for them dinky singles, I could've batted around .600."

    "I have just one superstition. Whenever I hit a home run, I make certain I touch all four bases."

Dizzy Dean

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    Associated Press

    Right-hander Dizzy Dean was a four-time All-Star and earned an MVP award with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934 when he won 30 games and guided the famous Gashouse Gang to a championship.

    More than that, though, he was a world-class character.

    Throughout his playing days, which were cut short by an arm injury, and during his second career as a radio and TV broadcaster, Dean was known for his unique turns of phrase and colorful boasts.

    He also parlayed his outsized personality into appearances on televised variety shows and was never afraid of the limelight.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "If [Satchell Paige] and I were pitching on the same team, we would clinch the pennant by July 4 and go fishing until World Series time."

    After striking out a then-modern-day-record 17 batters in a single game on July 30, 1933: "Heck, if anybody told me I was setting a record, I'd of got me some more strikeouts."

    "I ain't what I used to be, but who the hell is?"

Yogi Berra

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    Ray Howard/Associated Press

    If there were a metric to measure a player's quotability (quotable quotient?), former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra would be the all-time leader.

    Berra was also a great player who made 18 All-Star teams, won three American League MVP awards and will go down as one of the best backstops of all time.

    But his pithy Yogi-isms made him a legend in his own time, and they would make him a social media superstar today.

    Social media-ready quotes (a small sampling):

    "Ninety percent of the game is half mental."

    "So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face."

    "If you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Pete Rose

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    Pete Rose may never be in the Hall of Fame because of the gambling scandal that tarnished his legacy. But the all-time hit king will always be a huge—and hugely memorable—part of baseball history.

    His aggressive play and head-first style earned him the nickname Charlie Hustle (which would've been an excellent online handle), and he applied that same reckless abandon to his various off-field quotes and observations.

    Imagine what he would have done at the time with a social media megaphone.

    Rose joined Twitter in 2012, and in February, President Donald Trump tweeted his support of Rose's HOF induction, earning a Pete retweet.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "Sliding head-first is the safest way to get to the next base, I think, and the fastest. You don't lose your momentum. And there's one more important reason I slide head-first: It gets my picture in the paper."

    "I'm just like everybody else. I have two arms, two legs and 4,000 hits."

    In 1985 at age 44: "Doctors tell me I have the body of a 30-year-old. I know I have the brain of a 15-year-old. If you've got both, you can play baseball."

Tug McGraw

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    During his 19-year career, which was spent mostly as a relief pitcher, Tug McGraw posted a 3.14 ERA, notched 180 saves, won two World Series rings and made his mark as an eccentric dispenser of screwballs and quotable quotes.

    He's credited with coining the phrase "you gotta believe," which became the official rallying cry of the pennant-winning 1973 New York Mets.

    Today, it would be a ready-made hashtag among many memorable sayings that tumbled from Tug's creative jaw.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    On whether he preferred grass or Astroturf: "I dunno. I never smoked any Astroturf."

    "Kids should practice autographing baseballs. This is a skill that's often overlooked in Little League."

    "Ten million years from now, when the sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen iceball hurtling through space, nobody's going to care whether or not I got this guy out."

Bill 'Spaceman' Lee

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Left-hander Bill Lee played 14 big league seasons with the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos, and he finished his career with a 119-90 record and a 3.62 ERA.

    But the left-hander affectionately dubbed "Spaceman" will be remembered best as a counterculture symbol known for his memorable quips and sometimes bizarre antics.

    Lee has co-written four books, including an autobiography titled The Wrong Stuff. He returned to professional baseball briefly in 2012 at the age of 65 with the independent league's San Rafael Pacifics and threw a complete game.

    He appears to have joined Twitter that same year with an unverified account, but it would have been fun to see what he'd have done with the platform in his heyday. 

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "The other day they asked me about mandatory drug testing. I said I believed in drug testing a long time ago. All through the '60s, I tested everything."

    "Most of the managers are lifetime .220 hitters. For years, pitchers have been getting these managers out 75 percent of the time, and that's why they don't like us."

    "People are too hung up on winning. I can get off on a really good helmet throw."

Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    For a brief period in the late '70s, Mark Fidrych was one of the most fascinating players in baseball.

    In 1976, he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA for the Detroit Tigers and threw an AL-leading 24 complete games in 29 starts, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing second in Cy Young Award voting. 

    But his singular antics truly set him apart. He made strange marks on the mound with his hands and cleats, he talked to himself and the ball, and he moved in idiosyncratic ways that earned him the nickname "The Bird." 

    He was featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated (including once with Sesame Street's Big Bird) and Rolling Stone, indicating a crossover pop-culture appeal that would have played perfectly in the social media age.

    Injuries derailed his career, and Fidrych was out of the league after his age-25 season in 1980. But not before he burned across the MLB sky like a mop-topped comet.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "When you're a winner, you're always happy. But if you're happy as a loser, you'll always be a loser."

    "Sometimes I get lazy and let the dishes stack up. But they don't stack too high. I've only got four dishes."

    "I'm supposed to be writing a book, and I can hardly read."

Reggie Jackson

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    PAUL HURSCHMAN/Associated Press

    A legendary playoff slugger and Hall of Famer who did some of his most famous work in pinstripes under the October lights, Reggie Jackson was also a complicated man with ample swagger and unwavering belief in his own abilities.

    Here's how Esquire magazine's Harry Stein described him in a 1977 profile (h/t Deadspin's Harry Stein): 

    "Reggie Jackson is as mercurial as anyone you are likely to meet. In dizzying succession he can be disarming, reflective, earnest and—suddenly, inexplicably—hyper-defensive. The charm comes easily, seemingly at will, but always, just behind it, held back by a hair trigger, looms the anger. Over the years many people have had many things to say about Jackson in print, but none of those things is so apt as ex-teammate Bill North’s remark that Jackson 'is an enigma and a paradox.'"

    If that isn't a guy tailor-made to light up social media, we don't know who is.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "Fans don't boo nobodies."

    "In the building I live in on Park Avenue, there are 10 people who could buy the Yankees, but none of them could hit the ball out of Yankee Stadium."

    "I didn't come to New York to be a star; I brought my star with me."

George Brett

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    Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

    For 21 seasons, George Brett was the face, heart and soul of the Kansas City Royals, the only big league club he ever knew.

    He was also a demonstrative and outspoken player.

    Take the infamous pine tar incident, in which Brett was called out after hitting a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning of a July 1983 game against the New York Yankees for having too much of the substance on his bat. The call and Brett's apoplectic reaction⁠—he charged out of the dugout and appeared ready to throttle the umpires before being restrained⁠—would have surely set off a social media firestorm.

    And judging by Brett's willingness to frequently speak his mind on various issues throughout his career, he would have been right in the middle of it.

    Note: Even without any social media backlash, the league ultimately ordered the pine tar game to be replayed from the point of Brett's home run, and the Royals prevailed in the do-over 25 days later.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out."

    "If I stay healthy, I have a chance to collect 3,000 hits and 1,000 errors." (He was half right. Brett finished his career with 3,154 hits and 292 errors.)

    "I could have played another year, but I would have been playing for the money, and baseball deserves better than that."

Rickey Henderson

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    Alan Greth/Associated Press

    Baseball's all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored, Rickey Henderson played in the big leagues until his age-44 season in 2003 and continued on in independent ball until 2005.

    But he missed the social media age during his playing days, and that's a shame.

    A talkative and confident competitor who teased an MLB comeback during his Hall of Fame induction speech and often spoke of himself in the third person, Rickey was never shy about telling anyone who'd listen how great Rickey was.

    Of course, as they say, it isn't bragging if you can back it up.

    Social media-ready quotes:

    "If my uniform doesn't get dirty, I haven't done anything in the baseball game."

    In 1989, the year he and the Oakland Athletics won the World Series: "I don't want to be one of those great players who never made it to the [World] Series."

    "I'm not a bad guy. I don't think any of my teammates think I'm a bad guy. I feel Rickey Henderson is a great guy. I am a performer. I give entertainment."


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.