"I'm not a role model,” said NBA legend Charles Barkley. “I’m not paid to be a role model. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Those words came in a now-classic Nike commercial that originally aired in 1993.
Yet, many kids are impressionable, and often look up to pro athletes as bastions of nobility and hard work. A few names immediately come to mind: Derek Jeter, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, etc.
These athletes starred in their respective sports, played honestly, and stayed out of trouble off the field. Too often, though, we discover that star athletes aren't the squeaky-clean people we previously thought them to be.
This is especially true in baseball. Many MLB players are just as infamous off the field as they are famous on the field. The sport has been plagued by steroid use, gambling scandals, and domestic violence accusations, just to name a few. This list includes those transgressions, but goes a step further. Several great players have had their personal trials and tribulations overshadow their play, resulting in legal trouble and even jail time. There are bad apples in every bunch, and these are 15 such cases.
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15 Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco was one of the most famous (or shall we say ‘infamous’) athletes of the 1990s. The Cuban-American star hit over 450 home runs over his 17-year career, and was a four-time Silver Slugger.
Of course, as was the case with many power hitters from that era, Canseco’s career is forever linked with steroid use. However, his transgressions went beyond performance-enhancing drugs.
Canseco ratted out teammates in his books, and allegedly blackmailed certain players (like Magglio Ordonez) so as to keep their names ‘clear’ of public scrutiny. Canseco was eventually (but not surprisingly) cited in the December 2007 Mitchell Report.
Both of his wives have cited him for domestic violence, including a 1997 arrest for assault on his second wife, Jessica, after which he was forced to serve one year of probation.
He attempted an ill-fated mixed martial arts career in the late 2000s, losing his only fight by first round submission. I guess he finally got what he deserved.
14 Dwight Gooden
Gooden was a phenom pitcher for the New York Mets. He won the NL Cy Yong Award and the Pitching Triple Crown in 1985, and helped the team win a World Championship in 1986. I can’t fault Gooden entirely for the poor decisions that derailed his career and tarnished his reputation. Drug addiction is a disease and addicts are unfairly stigmatized.
However, Gooden’s many run-ins with the law don’t stem exclusively from his drug use. For instance, since his 2001 retirement, his arrest record includes charges of DUI (2002), driving with a suspended license (2003), misdemeanor battery (2005), and endangering the welfare of a child (2010). To endanger a child, especially after repeated arrests, shows Gooden hadn’t learned his lesson.
He also served time in prison for violating his probation in 2006. While his struggles with sobriety may have indirectly resulted in these arrests, they also speak to his inability to learn from his mistakes.
In August 2016, Gooden told The Dan Patrick Show that he was four years sober.
13 Roger Clemens
Clemens never needed steroids to enhance his career. By 1998, when he was first accused of juicing, he had already won four of his seven Cy Young Awards, and led the MLB in ERA in four separate seasons.
I guess it makes some sense, then, why the 11-time All-Star vehemently denied using PEDs in a 2008 hearing before a Congressional Committee.
It was HOW he defended himself that speaks to his character. He threw his trainer (and accuser) Brian MacNamee under the bus by defaming him and secretly recording conversations with him in a failed attempt at exoneration.
Numerous allegations of infidelity are a cherry on top of Clemens' questionable moral choices. In 2008, New York tabloids reported on at least three extra-marital affairs Clemens had during his playing career, including a 10-year relationship with country singer Mindy McCready, who was 15 years old at the time. It's one thing to cheat in baseball, but a whole other thing to cheat in one's marriage.
12 Chuck Knoblauch
I always remembered Chuck Knoblauch's awkward batting stance, in which he practically floated the bat over the plate as he focused on the pitch.
Knoblauch spent 12 seasons in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, and Kansas City Royals. He was a four-time All-Star and 1991 AL Rookie of the Year, but all that was overshadowed by two domestic violence incidents. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and served one year of probation after striking his ex-wife in 2010.
Knoblauch wasn't done there though. In July 2014, the second baseman was arrested on assault charges on another one of his wives. He allegedly slammed her head against a wall and threw a humidifier at her after she refused to sleep in the same room.
11 Barry Bonds
Another All-Star who never needed steroids, Bonds was already a surefire Hall of Famer from his terrific all-around play with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a seven-time NL MVP, and a five-time Gold Glove Award Winner before he first started using steroids.
We often picture Bonds as the 'yolked-out' Giants’ power hitter who belted a record 73 home runs in 2001, but often forget his svelte build and base-stealing prowess during his Pittsburgh days.
Thus, the public reaction of his breaking Hank Aaron's all-time home run record was one of indifference instead of joy.
Bonds was also notorious for his contentious relationships with teammates and coaches, and public disdain for the media.
Bonds' infidelity led to the end of his first marriage in 1994, and in 2009, faced another divorce from his second wife. In 2011, Bonds and his wife agreed not to take divorce proceedings to trial, and instead settled out of court.
10 Denny McLain
Denny McLain’s pitching career was going strong in the late 1960s. The Detroit Tigers’ ace won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 1968 and 1969, and led the AL in wins during both seasons. He pitched to a career 3.39 ERA and was the last pitcher to win at least 30 games in one season. His brilliance on the mound made McLain feel he could play by his own rules, and he often clashed with teammates and coaches because of it.
However, by 1970, Sports Illustrated revealed stories about McLain’s involvement in bookmaking and connections to organized crime. His legal troubles and injury woes quickly deteriorated his career, and his playing days were over at age 29.
McLain retired deeply in debt, and turned to loan sharking to try and break even. He even smuggled a fugitive out of the country for $160,000.
In 1996 he was arrested for stealing money from a pension fund, and served prison time for embezzlement, money laundering, and mail fraud. He spent seven years in prison.
9 Kirby Puckett
Kirby Puckett is a Minnesota Twins legend. He was a 10-time All-Star who won two World Series Championships over an 11-year career. He is also the franchise leader in hits, runs, doubles, and total bases.
Yet, his pristine public image sharply contrasted with his turbulent private one. He faced allegations of infidelity and domestic abuse after his retirement. Most notably, in 2003, he was charged with felony false imprisonment, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and fifth-degree assault for allegedly dragging a woman into a restaurant bathroom and groping her.
Although the charges were eventually dropped, Puckett's reputation took a hit, and he resigned his post as the Twins' executive vice president the following season. It was an incredibly shocking development for someone who had built so much good will with Minnesota and baseball fans in general.
8 Aroldis Chapman
When a star athlete plays for your team, you try to separate the person from their work. You try to focus on their on-field contributions and leave their personal problems by the wayside. Sometimes that's tough. I faced that dilemma when All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman came to the Yankees in 2015. The hard-throwing left-hander was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing his gun off into his garage wall in an October 2015 rage.
Chapman insisted he was never physical, and charges were later dropped. We all know how domestic violence cases play out, though. Women are often discouraged from telling the full story or holding firm on their accounts due to fear of retribution from their abusers.
Despite the dropped charges, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Chapman for 30 games this season for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.
Chapman was later traded to the Chicago Cubs, where his dismissive attitude towards the case drew criticism from local media.
7 Ty Cobb
Ty Cobb is not the crazed, boisterous racist that early biographers have painted him as. While the Hall-of-Famer was notorious for his aggressive playing style and boundary-pushing tactics (such as sliding into bases with his spikes high), early accounts of prejudicial tirades have been largely debunked. Cobb didn’t actually speak about race until 1952, when he told The Sporting News that African Americans have the right to play baseball.
Yet, Cobb’s volatile temper got the best of him at times. In 1908, Cobb attacked an African American laborer after he complained about Cobb stepping into freshly-laid asphalt. He was convicted of battery.
In 1912, He famously attacked a crippled heckler who accused him of being half-black. When informed that the man had no hands, Cobb shouted “I don’t care if he has no feet!” Nice.
While Cobb’s personality mellowed in later years, he couldn’t shake his initial reputation as a borderline-dirty player and closet racist. His words and actions may not have been entirely detestable, but some were far from admirable.
6 Lenny Dykstra
Lenny Dykstra was a fan favorite of the 1986 New York Mets World Series team, and was a three-time All-Star as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. However, he has openly admitted to PED use and (allegedly) blackmailing umpires for favorable calls at home plate. He was also arrested for drunk driving after a 1991 crash.
Yet, those transgressions don't hold a candle to the legal trouble Dykstra created for himself after his 1996 retirement. The former center fielder's jet-charter company and investment business went bankrupt, and Dykstra dug himself deeper in a hole with how he chose to pay off his debts.
He resorted to credit card fraud and grand theft larceny. In 2012, Dykstra pleaded guilty to three felonies: including bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets and money laundering. He spent six months in prison.
We could also go into his 1999 arrest for sexual harassment of a 16-year-old, and the several sexual assault allegations since, but we’d be here for days.
5 Milton Bradley
We've touched on discipline issues throughout this list, but Milton Bradley's temperament is especially unstable. Bradley was a solid five-tool player during his 12-year career, but one of those tools happened to be a rash temper. His inability to calm himself in potentially volatile situations led to him bouncing around between eight teams over his career. He even tore his ACL while being restrained from attacking a first base umpire in 2007.
Unfortunately, Bradley's worst outbursts occurred at home. He reportedly abused his wife, Monique, on three separate occasions in 2005 alone. Monique filed for divorce in 2011, after Bradley was arrested for making threatening phone calls to her.
In 2013, Bradley was convicted on nine counts of physically attacking and threatening his wife, including four counts of spousal battery. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison, but according to a 2015 Sports Illustrated report, Bradley has yet to spend a day in jail.
4 Julio Machado
Machado spent only two years in the MLB before an incident of road rage ended his career. He was on his way to stardom in 1991, that is, before he was convicted of manslaughter.
Machado was just 23 years old at the time, and in the span of two seasons in the majors, racked up a respectable 151 strikeouts in 147 innings. Yet, all that ended one December night in his native Venezuela, when he fatally shot a woman, Edicta Vasquez, following a car crash.
Machado approached Vasquez’s car and an argument ensued. Machado pulled a handgun and fired into the car, striking Vasquez in the head, killing her.
Machado later said he intended the firing as a warning shot, as he feared he was being robbed. However, that defense didn’t hold up in court, and Machado was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter.
3 Chad Curtis
Even as a New York Yankees fan, I admit that the team has signed some morally questionable players throughout the years. However, convicted sexual predator Chad Curtis is clearly on another level of “questionable.”
Curtis enjoyed a solid 10-year career during which he won two World Series championships with the Yankees. However, as we’ve seen with others on this list, Curtis’ troubles began in retirement. In 2012, Curtis went into coaching youth football at Lakewood High School in Michigan.
He was convicted in August 2012 on six counts of criminal sexual conduct for inappropriately touching several female students during his coaching tenure. In 2013, Curtis was formally sentenced to seven to 15 years in prison.
Assaulting another person is one thing, but sexually assaulting a minor? There’s a special place in hell for those people.
2 Mel Hall
Speaking of “special places in hell,” let’s look at the case of Mel Hall. Hall was a versatile hitter and fielder who played 16 years in the big leagues. Yet, Hall’s narcissism and ego on the field and in the locker room was dwarfed by his pedophilia off the field.
That’s right. At a 2009 trial, a woman testified to being sexually abused by Hall back in 1989, when she was just 15 years old! Unlike Chad Curtis, Hall didn’t save his despicable behavior for retirement.
That didn’t mean the assaults stopped then. At that very same trial, two other woman accused the former outfielder of assaulting them back in 1999 when he coached them on a youth basketball team. Their ages at the time? Only 14 and 12, respectively. Hall was sentenced to 45 years in prison in 2009.
1 Ugueth Urbina
Ugueth Urbina is the only player in MLB history with the initials “U,U.” However, that distinction won’t be his most memorable. Why? Well, that’s because the former two-time All-Star closer was convicted of attempted murder.
Urbina had quite the fall from grace. He led the Majors with 41 saves in 1999, and helped the Florida Marlins win their second World Series title in 2003. He spent 11 years in the MLB before one infamous October 2005 night in Venezuela ruined it all.
Urbina attacked a group of farm workers on his ranch after he accused them of stealing a handgun. He and a group of friends attacked the workers with machetes before pouring gasoline on them and attempting to set them on fire.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment.
Fortunately, none of the men died that night, though Urbina’s freedom effectively did. In 2007, he was convicted of attempted murder and served seven years in prison.
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