Baseball's image has changed quite a bit over the years. Once, baseball was seen as the ultimate American pastime. Going to the ballpark with your friends and family to root for the home team was part of a nation’s identity. While it still may be for some, there’s no denying that things like the steroid scandals and $100 million contract disputes have tarnished the pure image of the game somewhat. Baseball players were once treated as gods among men. Now, fans realize that some of them can be just as big of jerks as anyone else. A select few are even worse human beings than the average man would ever dream to be.
Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom. Whether you look at the golden age or the modern era, you’ll find that there are plenty of players who represent the pure idea of what a baseball player should be. They treat their status as global stars as a reason to be the kind of people that kids and adults all over the world can look up to. Of course, every era features a mix of both kinds of players. These are the 10 great MLB players who were terrible human beings and 10 who were terrific.
20 Terrible – Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper has been called a polarizing figure by his fans and critics alike. While the next person to deny Harper’s talents will be the first, it is equally difficult to deny that Harper’s competitive tendencies have earned him a reputation as one of the biggest jerks of the modern era. If there’s one thing to be said about Harper’s antics, it’s that they seem to be largely limited to the baseball field.
While there are very few instances of Harper being an outright awful person to fans, he does have a problem when it comes to respecting on-the-field authorities and his fellow teammates. Harper has been involved in a few locker room and dugout fights as well as some post-game interviews which suggests that he’s really just a big teenager who never quite matured.
19 Terrific – Mike Trout
Mike Trout may very well be the greatest pure baseball player to come along in the last 20 years. Since he was 19 years old, Trout has been doing the kind of things that take even the greatest baseball players years to learn. Major League Baseball has been trying to turn Trout into the face of the brand, and Trout has responded in kind by performing acts of incredible humanity. As a player, Trout has been referred to as a nearly perfect teammate who puts the success of the team above his own considerable accomplishments. Away from the game, Trout is known as the guy who has performed such charitable acts as buying Christmas presents for an entire family after their home burned down over the holidays.
18 Terrible – Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez may hold a special place in the hearts of Mets fans everywhere as well as pop culture addicts who love him for his various comedic appearances, but those who know him best know him as one of the most despicable players in history. What, exactly, is Hernandez’s problem? That’s a fantastic question that many struggle to answer.
Hernandez’s most notable moment of abusive behavior was the time he almost had a heart attack after seeing a woman in a team’s dugout – according to him, “Women don’t belong in dugouts” – but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Hernandez was a toxic presence in the locker room whose incredible substance abuse issues led to many of his teammates wasting their lives away with drugs and alcohol.
17 Terrific – Ozzie Smith
Ozzie Smith always came across as a nice guy during his playing days. His incredible return from a rotator cuff injury and selfless playing style made him seem like the kind of guy you wanted to lead your team from both an on-the-field and personable perspective. Thankfully, that’s pretty much exactly who Ozzie Smith really was. By all accounts, what made Smith special was how humble he was. Apparently, you would never even know he was a baseball star if you happened to meet him in the streets.
One of the most remarkable stories involving Ozzie Smith involved the five mile jog he would do around St. Louis before games. He would always find times to stop and chat with fans and, supposedly, even once stopped to sit with a family having a picnic because he saw a kid wearing a Cardinals hat.
16 Terrible – Torii Hunter
Given that Torii Hunter was a stalwart contributor on the field who always did something special with a bat in his hand, it’s a little disheartening to hear what an absolute jerk he was behind the scenes. Yet, there’s little doubt that’s exactly what he was. First off, Torii Hunter has some rather…interesting views on things like homosexuality and dark-skinned Latin American players (whom he once called “imposters). He once decided to start taking his clothes off on the field when a call didn’t go his way – which is just a surefire sign of emotional problems – and has blown up at a fair number of press conferences over trivial matters such as any question which he interprets as an attack. Hunter should have just kept his mouth shut years ago.
15 Terrific – Albert Pujols
Anyone who was a fan of a team that had to face Albert Pujols in his prime will probably be surprised to hear that Pujols is a nice guy. That’s because Pujols had a certain competitive attitude that often led to him throwing an occasional knowing smirk or lingering a bit after a big home run. Pujols, however, is generally thought of as one of the nicest stars in recent baseball history. Pujols loves to interact with fans – especially young ones – and once went out of his way to send an autograph to a kid that was hurt catching one of his home runs. What really separates Pujols, however, is how humble he is. A couple of in-game outbursts aside, Pujols just seems like the type of player who is happy to be where he is doing what he does.
14 Terrible – Ryan Braun
Even when Ryan Braun was at his best, he was seemingly always involved in offseason trade talks. Is that because he was an outstanding piece of talent worth 10 good players? Partially, but it really had much more to do with the fact that there were many people that just couldn’t stand playing with Braun. These rumors of Braun’s somewhat toxic behavior really came to a head when Braun was mixed up in a substance abuse scandal.
Whatever your thoughts may be regarding performance enhancing drugs in baseball, it can probably be agreed by everyone that Braun’s statement regarding his positive test being the result of an “anti-Semitic Cubs fan” was pretty far over the line. He pleaded no contest to the charges then proceeded to whine about his punishment.
13 Terrific – Clayton Kershaw
While not every awful acting baseball player behaves the way they do for a single reason, more often than not the source of their actions can be traced back to them forgetting their roots. The vast majority of MLB players began their lives as fans, and the best among them typically never forget that. This seems to be the basis of Clayton Kershawn’s outstanding attitude. If you’re looking for a single story that summarizes Kershaw’s overall niceness, then you’re probably looking for the time that a young fan accidentally crashed into him, and Kershaw laughed it off before posing for a selfie with the fan. Kershaw’s greatest quality, however, seems to be the fact that he recognizes he’s the best player on his team and chooses to use that information as an excuse to be someone who leads by example.
12 Terrible – Joey Votto
It seems like just yesterday that Joey Votto was the young player with a world of potential and the best thing that the Cincinnati Reds had going for them. Now, Votto is quickly approaching veteran status on a young Cincinnati team that looks to him for leadership. They’d be better off looking elsewhere. Votto is such a jerk that it’s almost funny. Well, that is if you consider things like him telling a kid that he won’t give him his batting gloves because “He’s in the front row and this isn’t a Make A Wish situation” funny. Votto loves to troll the fans wherever he goes, which would be a lot more enjoyable were it not for his odd fascination with messing with children. He takes great pride in being a villain.
11 Terrific – Curtis Granderson
When Curtis Granderson signed with the Mets, many fans wondered if the slugger would ever prove to be truly worth his weight in gold (which is about what the Mets paid him). Mets fans everywhere soon found that Granderson most certainly still had it on the field. What some were surprised to learn, however, is just how great of a person Granderson truly was. Granderson is more than willing to spend a little time with fans at games or even just tip his cap to those who take the time to call out to him. He’s also the author of a well-respected children’s book and the recipient of some of the MLB’s greatest humanitarian awards. His passion and love for the game and its fans are nearly unmatched.
10 Terrible – Roger Clemens
If you were to just look at the career of Roger Clemens in terms of his numbers, you would likely walk away with the impression that he is more of a god than a mere man. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly how Clemens sees himself. On the mound, Clemens is a man willing to give it all just to get an out. Everywhere else, he’s a man that likely wouldn’t lift a finger unless there is something in it for him. Let’s put aside the steroid allegations for a moment and focus on things like the time that Clemens through a fastball at his own son, participated in numerous affairs while travelling, and acted like a complete jerk to just about everyone that has had the misfortune of encountering him. It’s a shame he was such a good player, because he probably would have been a lot nicer if he wasn’t.
9 Terrific – Derek Jeter
It seems like it would have been so easy for Derk Jeter to be a jerk, doesn’t it? After all, when you’re the captain of one of the most high-profile sports teams in the world and among the greatest who have ever played the game regardless of position, it stands to reason you might be a bit cocky from time to time. While that may be true of Jeter on occasion, Jeter is widely considered to be one of the nicest to ever play the game. Jeter has earned the respect of just about every player that ever shared the field with him due to his work ethic and the way that he always placed his teammates, fans, and family above himself. The man is otherworldly decent.
8 Terrible – Alex Rodriguez
Just to show you how wrong Derek Jeter could have gone, let’s take a look at that other famous Yankee. Is it a case of beating a dead horse into the ground at this point to claim that Alex Rodriguez was one of the biggest jerks baseball has ever known? Maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Some will say that A-Rod’s reputation as a jerk is partly due to the media portraying him as such, but there’s no denying that the once saintly Rodriguez became at least slightly corrupted by his own ego over the years.
Joe Torre once said that Rodriguez cared more about how he looked than how he played. Millions watched him slap a ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove to try to save the Yankees' chances during the 2004 ALCS. He’s also the guy who was supposed to be baseball’s clean home run champion. Rodriguez always found a way to tarnish his own legacy.
7 Terrific – Roberto Clemente
Roberto Clemente wasn’t always perfect. Sometimes, he would go maybe a hair too far with a particular prank or would occasionally say the wrong thing. Ultimately, however, a player’s legacy shouldn’t be determined by whether or not they were perfect, but rather if the majority of their actions were the actions of a man who sought to be good. To that end, few ever sought to be quite so good as Clemente. Clemente was a hero to millions of Hispanic fans who looked at the star and saw themselves. Yet, there are few people – regardless of race or profession – that can lay claim to the same number of humanitarian efforts that Clemente could.
In fact, Clemente died on a plane loaded with supplies bound for Nicaragua. The reason that he was on the plane is because corrupt officials had managed to ensure that some of his previous shipments didn’t make it to the people.
6 Terrible – Barry Bonds
In recent years, Barry Bonds has gone to the media, fans, and former teammates and expressed his sincere apologies for the jerk he was. According to Bonds, he once felt that there was real value in fostering his image as baseball’s biggest jerk but now sees the error in his ways. As encouraging as that is, it does little to soothe over the many wrongs that Bonds did at the peak of his fame. The main one among them would be his decision to dive so deeply in the world of performance enhancing drugs just so home run hitters wouldn’t outshine his own stellar style. Then there’s the way that Bonds seemingly went out of his way to just act like a jerk to everyone that ever spoke to him just so that he could maintain an image he created. He just couldn’t stop being awful.
5 Terrific – Craig Biggio
Every franchise has their local legend. Sometimes, they’re the player that was just statistically he best member of a particular squad, but more often than not, local legends earn that title by being the one player who just spoke to the fans through their play and attitude. Craig Biggio is an example of both. As a player, he was a squeaky clean athlete who valued a scrappy “blue-collar” style over flash. He once even said that he views home runs as an accidental by-product of him trying to get a hit. Where Biggio really shined, though, is in the community. Biggio wasn’t born in Houston, but you can be sure that his contributions to the city have made him the town’s favorite son. He’s everything you hope your favorite athlete will be.
4 Terrible – Jose Canseco
Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve managed to become one of the most respected power hitters in all of baseball. Actually, you’re already being recognized as arguably the greatest home run hitter of all time. Now, imagine how many awful things you would need to do in order to completely ruin that reputation. Canseco began his crusade to ruin his considerable legacy by taking more steroids than anyone else, but he certainly didn’t stop there. He also proceeded to get in legal trouble whenever possible or otherwise go out of his way to belittle every fan he met.
Through it all, Canseco never forgot to remind everyone how great he felt he was while turning himself into a Jersey Shore reject. The exclamation point on his legacy was his decision to rat out nearly everyone he took steroids with just so he could stay in the spotlight a little longer.
3 Terrific – Jim Thome
If you’re looking up the list of all-time great home run hitters, Jim Thome’s name might stand out a bit. It’s really no wonder why. Thome isn’t the guy that usually comes to mind right away when you’re naming the all-time great power hitters. It’s not that he wasn’t as great as his fellow sluggers, but rather that he never seemed to demand the attention that his fellow power hitters received. By all accounts, that’s how Thome wanted it. He never sought fame and fortune above all. Indeed, those who spoke to him came away saying how modest he was for such an imposing man. He treated everyone the same which is another way to say that he treated everyone like they were great. He’s the nicest home run hitter there ever was.
2 Terrible - Ty Cobb
Barry Bonds may have gone out of his way to build his jerk persona, but that is nothing compared to what Ty Cobb did. Bonds was a jerk, but Cobb was close to a true villain. Not a baseball villain, mind you, but a comic book villain. Starting with an explanation of how big a villain Ty Cobb really was requires you to casually move past things like his overt racism and his fondness for sharpening his cleat spikes so that he could hurt opposing players. There’s just not enough time to get into the whole story.
You need time to talk about how Cobb rigged baseball games, choked umpires, faked injuries, tried to get his own teammates kicked out of baseball, attacked handicapped fans, or attacking a groundskeeper for shaking his hand before choking the groundskeeper’s wife. He was pure evil.
1 Terrific – Raul Ibanez
Whether or not Raul Ibanez is a hall of famer is a matter best left for the debate of more seasoned baseball fans, but if there was a hall of fame for genuinely good guys who so happened to play professional baseball, then Ibanez would be a 100% first-ballot entrant. Ibanez may have bounced between quite a few teams during his journeyman career, but every teammate he met along the way went out of their way to sing his praises. Of course, even if they hadn’t, then the various fans who Ibanez treated like his own personal heroes would have spoke loudly enough for all of them. In the case of Ibanez, though, it’s not about the acclaim he received. It has much more to do with the fact that Ibanez played for years and seemed to have never made a single notable enemy.