Football coaches and players are practically required to scream themselves purple. It’s a rare day at the track when NASCAR drivers don’t engage in tussles that look like something out of Road House. And yet baseball players and managers are expected to “show some fire” but generally behave.
That ain’t fair. So we salute the following individuals for flouting convention and landing on our annual list of MLB’s worst tempers. Engage them at your own risk.
Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox: What he lacks in compassion, he makes up for in insensitivity. A few days after Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed in a drunk-driving accident, Beckett did his best to spark an international incident, throwing a pitch at Bobby Abreu’s chin after the hitter had the temerity to call for time. His the-plate-is-mine-and-I-will-guard-it-with-great-zeal ‘tude is part of what makes him a great pitcher, but it’s also part of what makes him as much of a candidate for road-rage incidents as any athlete on the planet.
Ozzie Guillen, Chicago White Sox: With crosstown peer Lou Piniella having mellowed somewhat with age, Guillen gets the nod as Chicago’s most out-of-sorts skipper. He’s often described as “mercurial,” which is a nicer way of saying “Ozzie loses his crap quite frequently.” Thing is, he doesn’t lose it in the conventional way; we never see him kicking dirt or tossing bases. Instead, his temper manifests itself in brutal, exacting honesty. About White Sox outfielder Carlos Lee, who slid into second as if trying to keep his pants unsoiled, Ozzie quipped, “We had a guy go into second base as if his wife was turning a double play.” About former Chicago newspaper columnist Jay Mariotti, renowned for taking his potshots from a safe distance, Ozzie said, “Why’s he so afraid to show up to the ballpark?...He’s garbage, still garbage, going to die as garbage. Period.” Yeah, we like Ozzie a whole lot, too.
Bobby Cox, Atlanta Braves: Cox looks like your grandfather and, most of the time, exudes the same warmth and hayseed wit. But when a call doesn’t go his way, look out. He holds baseball’s all-time record for ejections—a stunning 143, or an average of 5.3 per season over the course of his managerial career. He’s been booted from two World Series games, once for a mis-tossed batting helmet (he tried to slam it in the dugout, but it landed on the field). Players swear that he gets ejected so that they won’t, but the numbers don’t lie.
Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs: The Sean Penn of baseball? Zambrano wears his temper on his sleeve. When he allows a big hit or doesn’t get a key call, he stalks around the mound like an undermedicated sociopath. When he strikes out, he snaps the bat over his knee and unleashes a torrent of expletives that’d make Quentin Tarantino blush. At the same time, Zambrano is the best kind of hothead, a repentant one. After his epic meltdown two weeks ago, when he reacted to a blown call by throwing pretty much every item within reach into the outfield, he was able to laugh about it afterwards. Also, he pitches better in a state of high, frazzled emotion. He’s a hell of a lot more fun than humorless lunatics like Kyle Farnsworth.
Milton Bradley, Chicago Cubs: He’s been relatively mellow this season in Chicago, merely brushing up against an umpire while arguing a called third strike. That said, his history suggests this relative tranquility won’t last. In the minors, he spit gum at an ump. In San Diego, he went after an umpire with such ferocity that skipper Bud Black had to restrain him (Bradley shredded an ACL in the process). Last year, while playing for the Rangers in Kansas City, he confronted TV commentator Ryan Lefebvre for having cast aspersions on his general character. Anything from the price of gum, to ending a sentence with a preposition might set him off.
Elijah Dukes, Washington Nationals: He’s such a hothead that the Nationals allegedly hired a “special assistant, player concerns” to follow him everywhere except the shower. Here’s the thing, though: as opposed to most of the guys on this list, Dukes is an athletic specimen who was an all-state linebacker in high school. That makes his long rap sheet for battery and assault even sadder. On the field, he’s mostly lazy, taking his time getting to first base after hitting a grounder or popping up. Off it? Dukes threatens to break Ty Cobb’s longstanding record for “most restraining orders incurred.” He is a terrifying human being.
Vicente Padilla, Texas Rangers: Either his control issues rear their ugly head at the most coincidental times, or he is simply targeting any hitter who has had success against him in the past. To wit: He has “accidentally” plunked or brushed back A.J. Pierzynski and Nick Swisher multiple times. On Tuesday night, he nailed former teammate Mark Teixeira in consecutive at-bats for having had the insolence to homer against him two times in June 2005. Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens could get away with stuff like this, because they were Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens. Who the hell is Vicente Padilla?