On-field antics that have struck a chord
The world has weighed in on Joba Chamberlain's post-strikeout celebration routine. David Dellucci doesn't care for it. Mike and the Mad Dog think it's excessive. And Goose Gossage wants Chamberlain to seek a few pointers from Mariano Rivera and start acting like a Yankee.The debate over how to properly react to losing -- or winning -- isn't new to Major League Baseball. One man's freedom of expression is another's idea of self-aggrandizement or poor professional comportment. The divisions simply have become magnified in an age of blanket TV coverage and instant analysis by radio, Internet and blog. Where do you draw the line between good, honest entertainment and a competitive athlete's going over the top in venting his emotions? The answer is in the eye of the beholder. This week's installment of "Starting 9" focuses on players whose on-field routines through the years have struck a nerve with opponents, rival fans and occasionally even teammates. In lieu of generalities, we offer up specific examples of the tension that has ensued. Our apologies to noted tantrum throwers Roger Clemens, Carl Everett, John Rocker, Milton Bradley, Rob Dibble, Jose Guillen, Albert Belle and Carlos Zambrano for their failure to make the cut. If you disagree with our choices, by all means, feel free to vent.
Barry's PirouetteBarry Bonds stood at the plate and admired a lot of his 762 home runs, but one celebration in particular made a lasting impression on the Giants' most hated rivals. In September 1997, the Dodgers were driving toward a postseason berth when Bonds hit a big home run off Chan Ho Park to fuel a San Francisco victory. It was all in the line of duty until Bonds rubbed it in by doing a pirouette in front of home plate before circling the bases. The Dodgers were galled by Bonds' actions, but no Los Angeles pitcher saw fit to throw a brushback in response. The Dodgers went on to miss the playoffs, and life at Chavez Ravine took a distinct turn in 1998. They traded Mike Piazza to Florida, the new Fox ownership group fired general manager Fred Claire and manager Bill Russell, and the franchise won one postseason game over the next 10 years. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke called Bonds' maneuver "the single most arrogant move in the history of an ego-drenched rivalry'' and argued that the Dodgers' failure to stand up to him was a sign of bad things to come. "The Bonds homer didn't just wreck a season," Plaschke wrote. "It led to the disintegration of a culture." Could a single pirouette weigh so heavily on a franchise's psyche? Who knows? It sure makes for a heck of a debate.
The Mad Hungarian Versus MadlockBefore Al Hrabosky moved into the Cardinals' broadcast booth, he was a workhorse reliever for 12 seasons in St. Louis, Kansas City and Atlanta. His career accomplishments included a 64-35 record, a 3.10 ERA, 97 saves and an unforgettable shtick. Hrabosky's long hair and Fu Manchu were just right for the times. But lots of opponents grew tired of his forays behind the mound to glare into space, pound the ball into his glove and work himself into a state of "controlled hate" before turning his attention to the hitter. The anti-Hrabosky sentiment reached a head during a Cubs-Cardinals series in 1974. Chicago's Bill Madlock waited for Hrabosky to complete his routine, then retired to the on-deck circle for some pine tar. Hrabosky went on a second walkabout, and Madlock made a return trip to the on-deck circle. Umpire Shag Crawford, tired of the gamesmanship, ordered Hrabosky to throw the pitch, and Hrabosky pumped it in for strike one. When Cubs manager Jim Marshall and on-deck hitter Jose Cardenal joined Madlock in the batter's box to argue, Hrabosky scattered the threesome with another fastball -- inciting a bench-clearing brawl.
One Flap DownSan Francisco outfielder Jeffrey Leonard, aka Hac Man, made history in 1987 by homering in four straight National League Championship Series games. In the process, he enraged the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis with 1,440 feet of "take that."
Leonard circled the bases after each home run with his left arm pressed to his side as part of a routine he called "One Flap Down." In response, Cardinals pitcher Bob Forsch drilled him, John Tudor called him a jerk and the fans in St. Louis made it clear they agreed. When the series shifted to Busch Stadium, Cardinals fans waved anti-Leonard signs and threw trash at him from the stands."They had great signs, great lines. They had a great time," Leonard told reporters after St. Louis' 1-0 victory in Game 6. "I didn't mind the hot dogs, money, paper and beer they threw at me. If I'd picked up all the money, I could have paid my clubhouse dues for the year.'' Leonard wasn't quite so jocular after St. Louis won Game 7 to take the series. In hindsight, some observers thought his antics angered the Cards enough to motivate them to overcome 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits.
The Cobra's TrotDave Parker hit 339 homers in 19 big league seasons. At an estimated rate of three trots per minute, he spent nearly two hours of his life just circling the bases. Parker took a wide turn toward the opposing dugout that one Pittsburgh columnist labeled "The Detour" and ran with a finger-wagging motion that others likened to a dance step. A West Coast writer said "tumbleweeds roll uphill faster'' than Parker covered 360 feet. And columnist Mike Littwin said the trot was so slow, "should it rain, Parker would be rusted solid by the time he reached third base.'' During the 1989 American League Championship Series, Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber judged Parker, then playing for Oakland, guilty of violating baseball etiquette and showing up the Blue Jays by making such a show of things. Parker, never one to shy away from verbal repartee, didn't appear to place much stock in Gruber's opinion. "Is there some kind of school of baseball etiquette, or is Kelly Gruber starting one?" Parker said. "And if there is one, have there been any graduates?"
The Bird Versus The Hit KingThe nation was captivated by Mark Fidrych's arrival in Detroit in 1976. Who couldn't love a frizzy-haired free spirit who talked to the ball, personally manicured the pitcher's mound and ran around the field congratulating teammates as if his pants were on fire? Fidrych appeared in Rolling Stone magazine and did commercials for Aqua Velva aftershave. In Detroit, female admirers lingered at the barber shop to scoop up souvenir locks of his hair, and a Michigan state legislator submitted a resolution recommending that his $16,500 salary be increased. But the hard-core baseballers weren't all so smitten. Pete Rose, for example. Before the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia, Rose told his teammates he was not a fan of Fidrych's antics. "Pete didn't like him talking to the baseball, and he said, 'My first time up, I'm going to hit one right back at him,'" Larry Bowa, a reserve on the '76 National League squad, said in a 2003 interview. Let history show that Rose led off the bottom of the first inning with a single up the middle against Fidrych, and the NL went on to a 7-1 victory. Now that's the way to make a statement.
Pudge Versus Prime TimeOld-school sensibilities and modern-day showmanship collided in May 1990 in a batter's box confrontation between White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and Yankees outfielder Deion Sanders. According to newspaper reports, Sanders drew a dollar sign in the dirt before digging into the box. He then infuriated Fisk by failing to run out a pop fly. When Sanders came to bat a second time, the two men exchanged glares, and Sanders reportedly told Fisk, "The days of slavery are over." In a subsequent interview, Sanders denied etching the dollar sign in the dirt and said he was unfairly singled out for criticism. "You find a black man who isn't afraid to open his mouth, and people are going to be crawling to get poor stuff out of him," Sanders said. "I'm the guy with the black hat on all the time. But I look in the mirror, and I tell the truth." Fisk, for his part, insisted the dispute was unrelated to race and based solely on his desire to see the game played the right way. "There's no racial issue involved," Fisk said at the time. "It's professional etiquette. I'm either old and cynical or old and sentimental. Either way, I know what's right and what's wrong." The incident remains a part of baseball lore nearly two decades later. It did not, however, merit a mention in Fisk's marathon 37-minute Hall of Fame induction speech.
The Warrior Against The WorldAll players have the urge to grimace over a called third strike or to take a Louisville Slugger to the Gatorade jug when confronted with failure. But few players in recent memory vented their emotions with more regularity than Paul O'Neill. In "Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," Buster Olney writes that O'Neill's fatalism was rooted in a burning desire to succeed. Yankees fans loved O'Neill for his passion and competitiveness, and owner George Steinbrenner christened him "The Warrior." "But in Boston, in Cleveland, in Seattle, fans regarded him as a boorish, whining brat, guilty of behavior that was unacceptable from even Little Leaguers," Olney writes. Umpires weren't too fond of O'Neill, either. Durwood Merrill mentioned O'Neill as a serial whiner in his book, and in a 1999 Sports Illustrated poll, a whopping 41 percent of respondents voted for O'Neill as the game's biggest complainer/whiner/tantrum thrower. O'Neill was aware of his reputation, yet incapable of doing anything to debunk it. "You think I like being on 'SportsCenter' all the time?" he said after the SI poll. "I hate it. My wife says it's embarrassing to the family and our kids. She's right. But sometimes, I can't help it. It's just a part of my personality that comes out in a game."
Strikeout CelebrantsFew pitchers have shown more intensity after strikeouts than Randy Johnson. If hitters are hesitant to complain, it's because they know they will have to step in the box against him at some point. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley wasn't shy about expressing himself, either. Toronto broadcaster Alan Ashby recently told The Canadian Press that in Eckersley's rookie year, he punched out Rod Carew and told the then-four-time batting champion to "Go sit down, meat." Pascual Perez also generated lots of conversation with his antics. And Twins reliever Juan Berenguer put on such a thigh-slapping, fist-pumping display against Detroit in the 1987 playoffs, he was ripped by Tigers manager Sparky Anderson -- aka Mr. Sunshine. Berenguer eventually apologized to Anderson for his actions, then ended a personal media boycott to explain himself. "That's me when I pitch,'' Berenguer told the media. "I do my best. I go a little crazy, but I don't try to show anybody up."
A Youthful Indiscretion?Lastings Milledge was understandably excited when he hit his first career home run off Armando Benitez in June 2007 at Shea Stadium. The homer tied the game in the 10th, and when Milledge returned to his position in the top of the 11th, he celebrated by high-fiving fans along the right-field line. The crowd loved it. The Giants, some of Milledge's veteran teammates and assorted "purists" not so much. "We weren't too happy about it," Giants reliever Steve Kline told reporters. "I understand he was excited, and that's fine, but this is the big leagues." What's the proper balance between "colorful" and "flamboyant," or a young player having fun without overstepping the generally accepted bounds of propriety? During his time in New York, Milledge seemed to spend an awful lot of time straddling it. He's found a more nurturing environment with his new team in Washington, where manager Manny Acta and the other Nationals have been uniformly supportive and told him to just be himself. All Milledge needs to do now is work on that .336 slugging percentage.
Honorable MentionsRickey Henderson, Manny Ramirez, serial helmet thrower Gregg Jefferies, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Mike "The Human Rain Delay" Hargrove and former Reds reliever Brad "The Animal" Lesley.
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