Wednesday, April 23, 2003 Updated: April 30, 11:04 AM ET
Calling all villains
By Jeff Merron Page 2 staff
We hate 'em. They're nasty, mean, and sometimes just pure evil. Whenever we remember their positive contributions to sport, we can't help but think about the ugly, overwhelming negativity of who they were, or some awful deed they did. They're the ultimate sports villains, and if they weren't real, we would have had to make them up. Check our list of the ultimate sports villains and then tell us who we missed.
1. Ty Cobb
Cobb's life was fueled by hatred -- he seemed to hate most everyone, and most everyone hated him back. He played dirty. Opponents, teammates, umps, fans -- he fought them all, and continued to despise them long after the fighting (and his ballplaying) was over. Cobb was an overt racist, too, one who, wrote Peter Carlson in "The Gospel According to ESPN," "regularly attacked black people he deemed insufficiently deferential. He fought a black elevator operator, a black construction worker, a black groundskeeper -- and when the groundskeeper's wife protested, he grabbed her by the throat."
Even after Cobb was gone, he was despised. When Newsday sports columnist Jack Mann was asked to write Cobb's obit, he said he'd only do it if he could tell it like it was, explaining, "The only difference now is that he's a dead prick."
2. O.J. Simpson
Ten years ago, he probably would have made our "heroes" list. But he was a better actor than we all thought. In a way, the perfect villain -- a public persona of mellow, good-humored friendliness that masked a greater evil inside.
3. John Rocker
Even before SI outed Rocker as a racist jerk, his Braves teammates shunned him -- because he didn't care about the team. "If the team lost, the team won, it really didn't fit with what he did," said Thomas Stinton of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "It was how he pitched that night, how he had performed, what he had accomplished, what his ERA was, how many saves he had."
And after his hateful harangue? Persona non grata. Nobody came to his defense, because he was indefensible. And soon, he was gone from Atlanta.
4. Walter O'Malley
Just two years after the Dodgers won the World Series, O'Malley took them away from Brooklyn, even though more than a million fans -- a respectable number in those days -- came to see the Bums in 1957. In the meantime, he also convinced Horace Stoneham to move the Giants to San Francisco. Writers Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill, both Brooklyn natives, once had an argument that they settled by each listing, on a piece of paper, the three greatest villains in recent history. Their lists were identical: 1) Hitler; 2) Stalin; 3) O'Malley.
5. Mike Tyson
When Tyson said to Lennox Lewis, "I want to eat your children," we weren't sure if he was kidding or not. In the sordid, corrupt world of boxing, he's a dirty player who once had a chance to rule the heavyweight division on pure talent. Instead, he turned out to be a convicted rapist and ear muncher. Now, as former featherweight champion Barry McGuigan so concisely said, "He's out of control outside the ring and out of control inside the ring. He's a disgrace." Who gives a flip if he can turn on the charm when Jimmy Kimmel's cameras are pointed at him?
Page 2's Sports Heroes & Villains
It's Heroes & Villains Week all week at Page 2. Here's what we have featured:
6. Conrad Dobler
The offensive lineman for the Cardinals, Saints and Bills in the 1970s and early '80s received the dubious honor of topping Page 2's list of dirtiest pro team players ever last year. He was a true villain who didn't care who he hurt, or how he hurt them. For example, he was so well known for biting (sound familiar?) that the Vikings requested rabies shots before playing against him. His unabashed dirty play resulted in several rules changes: no blocking a windpipe -- said Dobler, "When I hit a guy, I'll hit him in the throat ... he doesn't have any pads on his throat" -- and no leg whips.
Dobler got off cheap shots against Merlin Olsen and Mean Joe Greene -- in the Pro Bowl -- and Lions linebacker Charlie Weaver, among countless others.
But the cheapest, most juvenile of all came at the end of a 1974 game against the Giants, when the opposing players were shaking hands as the clock wound down. When Giant Jim Pietrzak attempted this ritual of sportsmanship, wishing Dobler good luck in the playoffs, Dobler punched him in the throat.
7. Charles ComiskeyArnold Rothstein/Hal Chase
The real troika behind the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox, became the owner of the Black Sox at least in part because he was a notorious cheapskate. In other words, his players -- the best in baseball -- were greatly underpaid. Would they have fixed the Series if they didn't need the cash, and felt any allegiance whatsoever to Comiskey? We wouldn't bet on it.
Rothstein, the gambler, arranged it all.
And Chase, notorious for fixing games throughout his career with the Yankees, White Sox, Reds and Giants, was indicted by the Chicago grand jury as go-between in the scandal.
8. Enos Slaughter, Ben Chapman and the 1947 baseball racists
Slaughter led a May 1947 St. Louis Cardinals attempt to strike in protest against Jackie Robinson. It failed, but Slaughter intentionally spiked Robinson later in the season, demonstrating his complete lack of class. Chapman, a short-fused star for seven teams, led the league in race-baiting in 1947, mercilously taunting Robinson from his manager's perch in the Phillies dugout. Though organized baseball at the time was suffused with racism, both subtle and overt, Slaughter and Chapman exemplified the ugliest of the ugly.
9. Tonya Harding
Well, we'd give points to Tonya Harding for originality -- athletes play all kinds of mind games before competing, but nobody had come up with an idea like hers, to have her husband and a gang of third-rate thugs crack an opponent's knee. Of course, Harding skated in the Olympics and did poorly, while Nancy Kerrigan, her victim, took home a silver. Since then, Harding has divorced, served jail time, feuded with her fan club, starred in a wedding-night porn video, and been booed at public appearances. And she just won't go away, as she keeps popping up in lame celebrity boxing matches on Fox.
But she's achieved status as an American icon, of sorts. One Web site paid tribute to Harding, explaining, "By living her life on the low end of the bell curve, she's helped the rest of America feel that much better about ourselves."
10. Robert Irsay
In the middle of the night of March 29, 1984, Irsay, the owner of the Baltimore Colts, got his moving vans going, heading out under cover of darkness to move the city's beloved franchise to Indianapolis. Thirty-one years of good mutual history, undone by a millionaire's quest for yet more money, tore at the soul of the city. "It's unbelievable, the callousness of this man," said one fan. "Just because he has a couple of bucks, he can tear a whole city down on his whims." Yep. Thatıs what villains do.