Baseball is often described as one of the most difficult sports to play. You try hitting a small round object thrown at speeds upwards of 100 mph. Combine the frustration of playing a sport in which even the greatest fail 70% of the time with hotheaded players and you're sure to see some serious outbursts, temper tantrums, and flat out meltdowns.
It's no coincidence that baseball players and managers are thrown out of games more than athletes and coaches from any other sport. It's not because they're inherently more angry (for every Billy Martin there is a Bobby Knight); it's because baseball is such an infuriating sport, one that is largely out of the hands of the competitors. Ejections are therefore just as much a part of the game as strikeouts or home runs, and umps are so used to tossing people that you'll often see them do it with an insouciant flip of the wrist.
In other words, anger and baseball go hand in hand, and here are the 15 players with the worst tempers in MLB history. Thankfully, for the most part these men were able to limit their tempers to the baseball diamond, yet some (such as our #1) found that their anger issues spilled over into the real world, leading to run-ins with the law.
15 Ivan Rodriguez
When it came to throwing out would-be base stealers, no one was better than Ivan Rodriguez. At the same time, no one was better than throwing temper tantrums than “Pudge.” Between 2000 and 2009, only one player was thrown out of more games. His temper wasn’t solely reserved for foes and enemies, either. After a collision at the plate in 2008, he took a swing at Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, with whom I-Rod was apparently good friends.
The 14-time all-star catcher chocked his many ejections up to his competitive nature, saying, “Sometimes when you compete, hard things like that happen,” but it’s more likely that a predisposition toward rage had something to do with it.
14 Gary Sheffield
Rivaling Pudge Rodriguez for most ejections is Gary Sheffield, who was thrown out of 12 games between 2000 and 2009. As Forbes notes in their list of the angriest baseball players, Sheffield’s anger streak began well before he was a big leaguer, having been arrested alongside uncle Dwight Gooden when he was 18 for fighting in Tampa, an incident that left a police officer in the hospital with a concussion.
On-field acts of aggression include the time he chased a coach around the diamond with a bat for benching him because he’d shown up late to practice. Sheff’s attitude problems can be attributed to his rough upbringing, having grown up in a notoriously dangerous project in Florida where violence was a way of life. According to JockBio, Gooden, who was like an older brother to Sheffield, not only taught him how to hit a fastball, but also how to hit another person, as the future 9-time all-star refused to back down from fights with bigger kids in the neighborhood.
13 Lou Piniella
Although he’s known more for his temper as a manager than as a player, with 63 ejections, many of which occurred in dramatic fashion, Lou Piniella had to be included on this list. Ironically nicknamed “Sweet Lou,” Piniella, who played 18 seasons in the big leagues and managed for another 23, had one of the shortest fuses, at the end of which lay one of the most explosive tempers, in the history of the MLB.
Piniella, who managed five teams, including the World Series champion 1990 Cincinnati Reds, made an art form out of getting tossed. Not one to go down without a fight, he often put on a spectacle for the crowd by screaming in umpires’ faces, tossing bases, and kicking dirt.
At least he had a sense of humor about his temper. In 2007 he poked fun at his volatile personality by appearing in an Aquafina commercial wherein he reenacted his infamous 2007 meltdown in Chicago.
12 Rob Dibble
According to Lou Piniella, Rob Dibble doesn’t “want to be treated like a man.” At least that’s what the Reds manager yelled at his pitcher after they were separated during a heated locker room brawl, which was captured on camera by NBC. The immediate cause of the fight? Piniella chose to use second-year pitcher Steve Foster over his usual closer, Dibble. The actual cause of the fight? Two hot-headed personalities clashing. It’s a miracle these guys didn’t go at it more often or wind up killing each other during their time in Cincinnati.
Dibble had a long track record of throwing temper tantrums, and at 6’4” 230 lbs., you didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of them. In 1989, he caused the benches to clear in a game between the Mets when he intentionally hit opposing player Tim Teufel in the back. A couple seasons later, after giving up two runs in a relief outing (yet still picking up the save), he threw the game ball into the center field bleachers, pegging an unsuspecting fan. That same season he infamously attempted to throw at Cubs outfielder Doug Dascenzo as he ran to first base. His childish outbursts indeed beg the question as to whether he wanted to be a treated like a man or like a tantrum-throwing Little Leaguer.
11 Barry Bonds
Call it roid rage or simply a rotten personality, but Barry Bonds, who holds the single-season and career home run records*, had one of the worst tempers in the game. During spring training in 1991 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bonds took offense to the presence of a photographer. He then got even angrier when a team employee took the side of the photographer, explaining that the press had every right to be there. Bonds then dove into an expletive-filled rant, saying, “You can get that camera out of my face or I’ll take care of it myself, do you hear me?” This led to an argument between Bonds and his coaches, one of whom told the Home Run King* to grow up.
Bonds’s poor relationship with his teammates continued when he made the move to San Francisco, where he once got involved in a blowup with fellow Giant superstar Jeff Kent in the dugout. But Barry's temper was never more evident than through his interactions with the media, perhaps the best example of which was the time he angrily repeated, “Next question,” to a reporter’s pestering about the outfielder’s (alleged) steroid use.
10 Bobby Cox
Bobby Cox only played two underwhelming seasons in the majors, but he had a long and successful career as a manager. In his 29 years as a skipper, Cox managed to get thrown out of a whopping 161 games, making him the most ejected manager in the history of the game. Cox’s willingness to get tossed from games was the stuff of legends, making guys like Lou Piniella look like Buddhist monks in comparison. He got ejected so often that he once joked that, rather than pay a $500 fine each time, he would simply write the league a $10,000 cheque and tell them to let him know when it ran out.
Unlike other oft-ejected managers, such as Piniella or Billy Martin, Cox’s temper was more of a performance than genuine anger, as more often than not he got himself ejected so as to protect his players from the same fate. Apparently his efforts were for not, however, as his teams had a combined winning percentage of .385 in the games in which he had been tossed.
9 George Brett
George Brett was one of the greatest hitters of all time, with three batting titles, an MVP, and a World Series to his name, yet for all that he accomplished he is doomed to be remembered for his famous outburst during the “Pine Tar Incident” of 1983, as FanSided.com described him as “the poster child for what a true meltdown should be in baseball.”
After hitting a go-ahead two-run home run against the New York Yankees, home plate umpire Tim McClelland reversed the call and ruled the Royals third baseman out for having too much pine tar on his bat. Brett then calmly exited the dugout and proceeded to have a levelheaded discussion with McClelland over the pros and cons of the decision....
Just kidding, of course. In a scene destined to go down as one of the greatest temper tantrums ever thrown in sports history, Brett flew out of the dugout like a madman and proceeded to scream in McClelland's face, having to be restrained by several coaches, umps, and players out of fear that the all-star might actually kill the home plate umpire. Reflecting on the situation later on, Brett said that he was still embarrassed to this day about the way he reacted.
8 Jonathan Papelbon
Armed with an above-average fastball and an above-average (to say the least) temper, Jonathan Papelbon is one pitcher you don’t want to mess with. Manny Machado recently learned this the hard way when the Nationals closer plunked the Orioles third baseman with a 93 mph fastball to the back. Paps, whom teammate Jayson Werth nicknamed “The DC Strangler” after his infamous run-in with Bryce Harper, got ejected from the game, but it certainly wasn’t the first time he’d been tossed for his short fuse. While pitching for the Phillies in 2014, he was ejected and suspended 7 games after blowing a save and letting the hometown fans know how much he appreciated their boos by grabbing his crotch.
7 Rougned Odor
Rougned Odor’s temper took center stage this season when he walloped Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista in the jaw, which instigated a bench-clearing brawl between the two American League rivals. Odor’s punch was the result of lingering animosity between the Rangers and Jose Bautista, who emphatically flipped his bat in Game 5 of the ALDS in 2015 after launching a bomb off of Sam Dyson.
This wasn’t the first time Odor had stirred up trouble on the field, however. During a game between the state rival Astros in 2015, the fiery Rangers second baseman prompted the ire of Houston catcher Hank Conger, who felt as though Odor had been taking too long to step back into the batter’s box. A verbal confrontation between the two players ensued, at which point the benches cleared and opposing managers Jeff Banister and A.J. Hinch nearly came to blows.
Believe it or not Odor caused the benches to clear another time, although this incident occurred when he was just a minor leaguer. Playing for the Spokane Indians, the Venezualan caused all hell to break loose during a game between the Vancouver Canadians (the Toronto Blue Jays Short Season A team) when he pushed and punched an opposing player.
6 Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano could do it all: pitch, hit, and fight. Referred to by the Chicago Tribune as the “slugout in the dugout,” in 2007, Zambrano and teammate Michael Barrett (who’s not unaccustomed himself to run-ins, having landed a solid blow to the jaw of White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski the year before) came to blows during a game at Wrigley Field. And at 6’4” 275 lbs., it’s a wonder that the Cubs pitcher didn’t take off his batterymate’s head. The fight, presumably the result of two hotheaded players coming together in the midst of a losing streak, carried over into the clubhouse, leading to a hospital visit for Barrett and probably a sore pitching hand for Zambrano.
This wasn’t the first incidence of the Venezuelan-born pitcher’s temper getting the best of him. A few years after the Barrett run-in, teammate Derek Lee (and an innocent Gatorade jug) had to incur the wrath of "El Toro" after the Cubs pitcher let up four runs to their crosstown rivals. More recently, he was at the heart of a bench-clearing brawl while playing in the Venezuelan winter league, where it was reported that the former big leaguer was taking “wild swings at anyone and anything that got in his path.”
5 Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens was known for brushing back batters with his fastball, but he took it to a whole other level in 2000 when he threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza during the Subway World Series. The Yankee pitcher claimed that he was merely removing the bat from the field, but given his temper and his previous altercations with the Mets catcher (he put Piazza on the DL earlier that year by throwing a fastball straight at his head, shattering his helmet and giving him a concussion), it’s more likely that the toss was intentional.
Clemens was at the center of another famous bench-clearing brawl a few years later, when Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox took exception to being thrown at by the Yankees hurler. The two teams went at it for minutes, resulting in several ejections, a few bloodied faces, and one supremely embarrassed Don Zimmer.
4 Albert Belle
Albert Belle was the kind of player you only put up with because he was so good. Sure he regularly destroyed clubhouses in fits of rage, reportedly getting billed $10,000 per year by the Indians to pay for the damages he caused, but he also hit 381 homers in just 12 big league seasons and drove in runs at a freakish rate, at times averaging nearly an RBI per game.
The slugging outfielder was particularly disliked by reporters, with whom Belle refused to speak. One reporter said, “It was a taken in baseball circles that Albert Belle was nuts,” while another urged fellow sports writers to remember the 5-time all-star’s “boorish behavior” when it came time to decide whether or not he should be in the Hall of Fame, saying, “He was a surly jerk before he got hurt and now he’s a hurt surly jerk [referring to Belle’s career-ending hip injury]… He was no credit to the game.”
3 Billy Martin
What is it about hotheaded players becoming managers? You never hear of guys like Jim Thome (who was once voted the nicest guy in the league) or Derek Jeter (who wasn’t tossed from a single game in his 20-season career) wanting to become managers. No, it’s always the crazy ones, the ones who always seemed to be in the middle of a bench-clearing brawl (it should therefore come as no surprise that A.J. Pierzynski has stated that he wants to be a manager after he retires). Is it that they’re masochists, and they simply can’t get enough of the sport that so often drives them to fits of rage?
And while Billy Martin might have the record for most ejections, no one rivals him when it comes to temper tantrums. Even before he was a manager, though, the Yankee second baseman had already established himself as one of the most volatile and reckless figures in the game, getting involved in a number of on and off-field altercations, perhaps the most famous of which was the Copacabana nightclub brawl, which led to him being traded from New York.
2 Ty Cobb
A menace in spikes on the diamond, Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb was anything but a peach of a guy. Famous for intentionally sliding into bases with his cleats in the air so as to injure opposing players, near the end of his life Cobb said of his aggressive attitude: “In legend I am a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport.”
Described as a racist and violent man by biographer Al Stump, Cobb’s temper on and off the field were almost as legendary as his baseball abilities. Many of the stories regarding Cobb’s earlier playing days have since been dismissed as largely hyperbolic or outright fictitious, but there’s no denying that the Hall of Famer and all-time batting average leader was a dangerous man. One crazy story from his playing days that is considered true, since Cobb himself corroborated it, was the time he beat up a physically disabled fan. Despite protests for the Tiger outfielder to stop attacking the fan, who didn’t have hands, Cobb refused and reportedly replied, “I don’t care if he has no feet!”
1 Milton Bradley
Milton Bradley had all the tools necessary to be an elite pleyer. He could run, hit for average, hit for power, field, and throw. Unfortunately, a wicked temper often prevented him from reaching his true potential.
Famous for his on-field outbursts—including the time he emptied a ball bag onto the field after being ejected from a game, or the time he picked up a bottle that had been thrown at him and chucked it back into the stands, or the time he had to be physically restrained from attacking an umpire, or the time… well, you get the picture—Bradley had just as bad a temper off the field. For example, in 2013, he was convicted of assaulting his wife, who would go on to die from the injuries she sustained. Although sentenced to 32 months in prison and 52 weeks of anger management and domestic violence classes, Bradley has apparently yet to see the inside of a jail cell and still retains custody of his two children.