As a sport that celebrates nostalgia and the image of fathers playing catch with their children, baseball loves promoting All-American good guys such as Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. during World Series time.
Of course, it’s no secret that baseball is filled with its share of bad apples. And as much as we want to see good triumph over evil, these baseball baddies often end up stealing the show and sometimes even winning the ultimate prize.
To kick off the World Series, here are five of the top villains in the history of baseball’s grand October showcase:
Known for his surly temperament and tendency to throw at hitters, pitcher Carl Mays was disliked by teammates and opponents alike. And that was before he threw a pitch that killed Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920, Major League Baseball’s only death from an on-field incident to date. Pitching for the New York Yankees in 1921, Mays threw a five-hit shutout to beat the New York Giants in Game 1 of the World Series, but was defeated in Games 4 and 7. Later, a rumor surfaced that Mays deliberately lost those games, a touchy subject given the eight Chicago White Sox players who were banned for accepting bribes during the 1919 World Series. The rumor was never proven, but Mays’ poor reputation left him with few supporters in the court of public opinion.
One of baseball’s most devastating hitters with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s, Joe Medwick was affectionately known as “Muscles” or “Ducky” to teammates. But to Detroit Tigers fans during the 1934 World Series, his name was Mud. To be fair, he wasn’t the only one drawing the ire of the Motor City faithful, as the entire Cardinals team was a notoriously brash bunch that earned the nickname “The Gashouse Gang.” However, Medwick was the one who slid into Tigers third baseman Mickey Owens with his spikes in the air during Game 7, nearly setting off a brawl between the two players. With Detroit fans already in a bad mood after watching the Cardinals build a huge lead, they took out their anger on Medwick the following inning, pelting him with fruit and garbage until he was removed from the game for his own safety.
Even before his gambling problems surfaced, Pete Rose made plenty of enemies during his playing career. He needlessly ran over Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse at home plate during the 1970 All-Star Game, fracturing Fosse’s shoulder, and picked a fight with diminutive New York Mets second baseman Bud Harrelson during the 1973 playoffs. Playing for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series, Rose stayed true to his character by essentially telling the press that Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant threw like a girl. Tiant had his way with the powerful Cincinnati lineup that Series, but Rose had the last laugh, winning MVP honors as the Reds pulled out a seven-game victory.
Responsible for incidents ranging from firing a baseball at a heckler in the stands to chasing kids off his property in an SUV, Albert Belle was Public Enemy No. 1 to many baseball fans during the 1990s. As such, few were surprised when he exploded in a tirade prior to Game 3 in the 1995 World Series between his Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves. Bothered by the extensive media presence in the clubhouse, the menacing slugger ordered all non-Indians personnel out and wound up screaming at NBC reporter Hannah Storm. Seemingly fueled by his outburst, Belle homered in Games 4 and 5, but Commissioner Bud Selig was not happy; the following February, Belle was fined $50,000 and directed to undergo anger-control counseling.
When the San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds hit a record 73 home runs in 2001, he became the symbol of an era in which muscle-bound players were assumed to be aided by steroid use. Of course, no proof existed of Bonds’ supplemental habits, so critical fans had to content themselves with his disappointing postseason performance to that point in his career. Bonds simultaneously fueled the fires of suspicion and eradicated his playoff reputation with a monster World Series vs. the Anaheim Angels in 2002; he homered in his first at-bat, went deep again in the next two games, and finished with a Series-best four homers and .471 average. However, the Giants were unable to hold on to a late lead in Game 6 and dropped the finale, providing the Bonds haters with some measure of satisfaction.