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.
19 Terrific – Mike Trout
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.
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.
16 Terrible – Torii Hunter
15 Terrific – Albert Pujols
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.
13 Terrific – Clayton Kershaw
12 Terrible – Joey Votto
11 Terrific – Curtis Granderson
10 Terrible – Roger Clemens
9 Terrific – Derek Jeter
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.
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.
6 Terrible – Barry Bonds
5 Terrific – Craig Biggio
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.
3 Terrific – Jim Thome
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.
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.
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