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Moe Berg, active 1923-39
Princeton (magna cum laude), Columbia Law (second in his class), and Sorbonne (linguistics) alum was said to “speak a dozen languages, and couldn’t hit in any of them.” Had subsequent career as OSS spy who chatted up Werner Heisenberg to assess state of German atomic program. (Assignment: If Nazis beating Allies, shoot scientist, swallow cyanide.) Once met with Einstein. Mysterious, neurotic pack-ratter of documents; if anyone else read his daily papers first, insisted on new ones. Nobody knows where he’s buried.
Joe Pepitone, active 1962-73
Yankee playboy never reached potential due to erratic focus on game (retired three times), off-field shenanigans, and, perhaps, obsession with own balding. Carried hair-products kit everywhere and wore incredible toupees, including what he called “game piece” (for use beneath cap) and street version that sportswriter once compared to “a shag toilet-seat cover.” Reportedly first player ever to bring hair dryer into clubhouse. In 1975 posed nude for Foxy Lady magazine, revealing impressively hirsute nether region.
Tony Horton, active 1964-70
Once, after popping out to catcher on tantalizingly slow “eephus” pitch, literally crawled back to dugout. Attempted suicide after being pulled, anxious and disoriented, from another game. So high-strung that doctors told him to cut himself off completely from baseball to save his life.
Steve Garvey, active 1969-87
The Bing Crosby of baseball: “White Christmas” on the outside, “Blue Velvet” on the inside.
Johnny Evers, active 1902-29
Member of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination immortalized in kitschy F. P. Adams poem. Didn’t actually speak to Tinker for thirty-five years, allegedly because of disagreement over taxi fare. Suffered nervous breakdown in 1911. Later, team had trouble trading him because his temper cost him so much playing time. MVP in 1914 but left baseball following season, saying he was on verge of another breakdown.
Chuck Knoblauch, active 1991-2002
In 1999, Gold Glover and four-time All-Star playing for Yankees at height of dynasty suddenly experienced mental “blauch.” Couldn’t make routine throws to first. Openly contemplated seeing a hypnotist or psychologist. Struck Keith Olbermann’s mother in the face with wild throw. Never got his groove back.
Phil Rizzuto, active 1941-56
Technically, a wack job not as player but later on as play-by-play man cum unwitting Dadaist poet. In slim volume, O Holy Cow!, his on-air musings are transcribed as blank verse. For instance: “I think my head shrinks a little / In this indoor stadium. / I am… / The mike is getting bigger. / And I have to tighten it.” Once opened broadcast by inadvertently introducing self as partner, Bill White.
Doug Rader, active 1967-77
Once, fishing without license, hid from game wardens underwater, breathing through reed; three days later reported to spring training from jail, never having changed wet clothes. Used Astros’ locker room as driving range, teeing up and blasting balls off walls while teammates dove for cover. Shat on teammate Jesus Alou’s birthday cake. As manager, one year drove rental car into same tree every day during spring training.
Wade Boggs, active 1982-99
Ate chicken before every game, took BP at 5:17 p.m., ran sprints at 7:17 p.m., inscribed Hebrew word chai in dirt before every at-bat, followed same route to dugout after every inning, and had four-year extramarital affair with mortgage broker who subsequently blabbed about it in Penthouse and sued him for $12 million.
Ty Cobb, active 1905-28
Turned psychotic, it’s believed, after mother shot father in 1905; later institutionalized following in-season nervous breakdown. Carried gun entire career to protect self from teammates, who despised him. Once fought off two muggers—in home city—and pistol-whipped third to death. (Next day, bandaged and bloody, got three hits.) Sharpened spikes to inflict maximal damage on basemen. Numerous episodes of racist rage. Courted and married 14-year-old heiress. After son flunked out of Princeton, flew to campus and beat him with whip. Terminally cancerous in his seventies, instigated brawls regularly.
Rickey Henderson, active 1979-2003
Pre-game, would gaze naked into mirror, murmuring “Rickey’s the best.” Once missed three games with frostbite, reportedly because fell asleep on ice pack. After breaking Cobb’s runs-scored record with homer, ambled around bases, then slid into home. In late career, was offered desirable team-bus seat by teammate who said, “You’ve got tenure,” and replied, “Ten? Rickey’s got twenty years in the big leagues.” Seeking work, reportedly left off-season voice-mail message for Padres GM: “This is Rickey. Calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”
Pete Reiser, active 1940-52
In ten seasons, was carried off field eleven times. Five times knocked unconscious after smashing into walls. Three times sneaked out of hospitals to pinch-hit (respectively getting a home run, a triple, and, on broken ankle in ’47 Series, a walk). After breaking right arm, taught self to throw lefty. Was administered last rites after Ebbets Field wall collision, but recovered.
Joe Charboneau, active 1980-82
As Indians rookie, won notice for twenty-three homers and for ability to open beer bottles with eye socket, drink beer through straw in nose, do own dental work, and fix own broken nose with Jack Daniel’s and pliers.
Rube Waddell, active 1897-1910
Walter Johnson said boozy lefty—Sporting News called him a “sousepaw”—“had more sheer pitching ability than any man I ever saw.” Game’s first great eccentric and first great drawing card. Rube being Rube: He’d run off the pitcher’s mound to chase fire trucks. If taunting fans held up shiny objects or puppies, he’d fall into trance. Lost track of how many women he’d married. Manager hired detective to prevent him from disappearing. Wrestled alligators. Once bitten by lion.
Bill “Spaceman” Lee, active 1969-82
Possibly the only pro athlete ever to openly advocate legalizing marijuana; claimed he sprinkled it on his organic-buckwheat pancakes to make self “impervious to bus fumes.” A drinker, too; once said foreign object in X-ray of his foot was “an old Dewar’s cap.” After Red Sox traded him, declared, “Who wants to be with a team that will go down in history alongside the ’64 Phillies and the ’67 Arabs?” But gloried in Boston’s 2004 ALCS comeback over “Nazi” Yankees, suggesting Steinbrenner move stadium to Philippines and rename team Manila Folders.
Dock Ellis, active 1968-79
Once responded to hecklers who called him “nigger” by joining them in stands, asking, “What happened to all those niggers up here? All those niggers calling me nigger?” When MLB officials griped about Ebony feature on his coif, defiantly took field in curlers. To revive spiritless club, once opened game by hitting three straight batters and doing damnedest to hit fourth. Claimed never to have played without first taking speed. Sometimes got high sniffing new Ping-Pong balls. Threw no-hitter under influence of Purple Haze acid. Drug counselor after baseball.
Satchel Paige, active 1948-65
The Ali of baseball—its all-time greatest showman. Would gather his outfielders around pitcher’s mound and strike out side. Would ask right- and left-handed batters to stand six inches apart at home plate, then knock cigars out of their mouths. In 1941 reportedly pitched on thirty consecutive days. Said Bob Feller: “I’ve seen Satch walk a man deliberately to get to DiMaggio.” Autobiography contains maxims such as, “Avoid fried foods which angry up the blood.” Estimated he’d won 2,100 games and thrown fifty-five no-hitters, lifetime. At age 59, pitched three scoreless innings against Red Sox.
Mark Fidrych, active 1976-80
Rookie would sprint to mound, groom it with “piano-ist’s hands” (his words), and murmur to ball. In 1977, in rage over career-ending injury, destroyed washer and dryer in Tigers clubhouse, then promptly repaired them. Once said, “I don’t think there’s been a time when I wasn’t confused.”
Billy Martin, active 1969-88
Legendary drinker, tactician, riler-upper. Briefly sought hit man to whack umpire he hated. Threatened to break knuckles of stadium organist he claimed distracted team. Brawled with: Reggie Jackson, two Yankees traveling secretaries, marshmallow salesman, sportswriter, bouncers at topless bar, etc. Once made a player switch-hit who wasn’t a switch-hitter; once drew lineup for struggling team out of hat. Refused ever again to let Larry Gura pitch after seeing him wearing tennis whites. Hired, fired five times by Yankees. Posed for ’82 Topps card with middle finger extended.
John McGraw, active 1899-1932
Innovator set games-ejected record that lasted seventy-five years. Fought Wee Willie Keeler nude, D. H. Lawrence-style, on clubhouse floor. Knocked child lemonade vendor’s teeth loose. Got two black eyes tussling with Hopalong Cassidy.
Bill Veeck, active 1946-81
MLB’s Barnum. Innovations: AL’s first black player, exploding scoreboard, Wrigley ivy, gate prizes (orchids, pigeons, horse, 200-pound block of ice). Visited every bar in Cleveland to apologize to fans after nearly trading popular player. Hired circus clown to coach third. Signed midget; issued him elf slippers and uniform (#1/8); vowed to shoot him with rifle if he swung bat (midget walked on four pitches). Held “Grandstand Manager’s Day,” in which fans voted on strategy using yes and no signs. Wore wooden leg with built-in ashtray. In retirement, became shirtless habitué of Wrigley bleachers.
George Steinbrenner, active 1973-2008
Shipping-company scion dwelled in own private nineteenth century. Changed managers twenty-one times, GMs eleven times. Made front-office people stay at desks all night after losses. Harassed managers with brainstorms during games. Suspended for illegal Nixon-campaign contributions. Picked fights with most popular players: Reggie, for slumping; Mattingly, for growing hair long; Jeter, for partying. Own sons quit Yankees jobs because of “verbal abuse”; he later King Leared them in SI (“I’m not sure Hank understands me…[but] Hal I’m very proud of”). During ’81 Series, flaunted injuries after claiming he decked two Dodgers fans in elevator while defending honor of Yankees. Once said, “I will never have a heart attack. I give them.”
The 2009 Team
A. J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
Cheap-shot artist specializes in gratuitous collisions, spiking. In spring training, after ball hit him in groin, was asked by trainer, “How does it feel?” Exclaimed, “Like this!” and kneed trainer in nuts. Has bad-mouthed own teammates to opposing hitters. Is member of tag-team pro-wrestling duo. In Sports Illustrated Players Poll, voted number one player rivals hoped to see get beaned.
Dmitri Young, Washington Nationals
Nicknamed Da Meat Hook for ongoing flirtation with 300 pounds. Paints fingernails. Was asked to trim huge Afro for good of “team structure.” Celebrates doubles with “voodoo hands.” In 2006 attempted to choke girlfriend in hotel room; forced to perform community service trimming hedges while Tigers, who’d released him, won AL pennant. Of Da Hook’s appetite for sushi, Nats teammate remarked, “You should almost have to pay at the door to watch…the demolition.”
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
A Chihuahua who’s convinced he’s a Great Dane. College coach described him as having “body of a sixth grader,” but in first meeting, 5’5”-ish Pedroia flexed biceps and asked, “How do you like these guns?” Before taking batting practice, announces, “Are you ready for the laser show?” After being denied entrance to visitors’ clubhouse during ’07 World Series because security doubted he was ballplayer, sputtered, “You don’t know who I am? Ask [opposing pitcher] Jeff fucking Francis who I am. I’m the guy who hit a bomb and just ended their fucking season.” In 2007 off-season dance contest, stripped off shirt to reveal daddy painted on chest.
Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland Athletics
His every at-bat is a desperate cry for Dr. Oliver Sacks—a frenzy of Tourettic toe tapping, helmet touching, sign-of-crossing, glove yanking. (Observer swears Nomar never actually touches gloves, just pantomimes touching them.) “I’m just doing it to get everything tight,” he’s said. “I like everything tight.” En route to field, insists on stepping on each dugout step with both feet. Departing field mid-inning, removes glove to touch self fixed number of times. Has said, “If I do everything the same every day, I can’t blame a bad day…on the fact that I didn’t do the routine.”
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Wants desperately to be Jeter—effortlessly glamorous, clutch, in zone—but is precise opposite instead. As Yankee, has become a notorious postseason choker (ninety-four at-bats, .245 average, four home runs). Before every game, performance coach leads him in repeating mantra: “I hit solid with an accelerated bat head.” Greatest, richest player of his generation having midlife crisis at 32. Alleged affair with Madonna. Calculating yet graceless about image: recently seen at lunch with brunet, dabbing own mouth with (come on, now!) $100 bill.
Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
A mythical creature: half Gehrig, half towering nincompoop. In Cleveland, absconded with teammates’ bats and clothes, distributed unwanted nude hugs, carried half-dozen driver’s licenses. In Boston, blew off pennant race, alleging sickness (only to be seen drinking with rival player), injury (said knee was hurting, then allegedly forgot which knee), death of relative (when Manny missed White House reception, POTUS himself said, “I guess his grandmother died again”). Observed in outfield wearing MP3 player. Once vacated position to urinate behind left-field wall and missed first pitch of next inning. Defensive highlights: high-fiving fan, midplay, after leaping catch at wall; inexplicably diving to cut off fellow outfielder’s relay (result: inside-the-park HR).
Elijah Dukes, Washington Nationals
Indisputably, most terrifying player in MLB. Sent photo of handgun to then wife’s cell phone in 2007 and left this voice-mail message: “Hey, dawg. It’s on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain’t even bullshittin’. Your kids too, dawg. It don’t even matter to me who is in the car with you. Nigga, all I know is, nigga, when I see your motherfuckin’ ass riding, dawg, it’s on. As a matter of fact, I’m coming to your motherfuckin’ house.” When asked for comment, told reporters, “I’ve got a video game to finish.” Traded in 2007 to Nats, who hired ex-cop to supervise him full-time.
Gary Sheffield, New York Mets
Reminiscent of Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory: 99 percent of what he says makes hardly any sense, but you damn well better listen to that last 1 percent. First baseball suspension was in frickin’ Little League. Has been stalked, shot during attempted carjacking, slapped with restraining, implicated in BALCO scandal. Married gospel singer who appeared in R. Kelly sex tape. Has quarreled with Barry Bonds and sued Scott Boras (lost, unfortunately). Told GQ that if hadn’t made it as ballplayer, would have become accountant.
Miguel Batista, Seattle Mariners
Describes self as “Dominican by birth, athlete by profession, poet by vocation.” First major leaguer ever to publish serial-killer novel (The Avenger of Blood, currently number 1,240,318 on Amazon). Devotee of paranormal; told GQ that ghostly “claw” tried to prevent him from writing book. Skin-crawlingly cheesy aphorist: “Ideas are like rabbits: Mingle them and in a week you have a bunch of them.” Lifetime record, 89-104: “People say that if I concentrated more on baseball, I would be a superstar.”
Scott Olsen, Washington Nationals
Teammates openly call Parliament-smoking lefty “selfish.” At least three have attacked him, among them Olsen’s best friend. Made headlines after 3:40 a.m. police pursuit in July ’07 in which he led cops to own home, sat down in plastic chair in front yard, started kicking, and was tased. After thuggish head shot was widely distributed, tried to persuade heavily inked teammate to tattoo it on own ass.
Carl Pavano, Cleveland Indians
World’s highest-paid hypochondriac spent 90 percent of four-year, $40 million Yankee deal either rehabbing or on DL. Reportedly, showed face in clubhouse only to get massages, candy bars, and paychecks. Best injuries: broken ribs (totaled Porsche but didn’t tell team for eleven days), “bruised buttocks” (had MRI of left ass cheek), “hip cramp,” “heavy legs.” Joe Torre: “The players hated him.” When offered new contract for just below $10 million/year, fellow pitcher Mike Mussina declared, “I can’t be paid less than Pavano”; GM caved. In clubhouse Jeter once inquired, “Hey, Pav. You ever going to play? Ever?’”
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox
Dimness, cockiness, and 100-mph fastball evince comparisons to Charlie Sheen character in Major League. Says Curt Schilling: “He’s not exactly a charter member of Mensa.” Has been observed shooting craps in foul territory at Fenway. Refers to David Ortiz as “Big Papi, a.k.a. the Large Father.” Interviewing teammate for FSN TV broadcast, repeatedly seen adjusting…himself. After winning 2007 AL pennant, danced Irish jig in underwear in Fenway infield. Asked by Letterman about post-championship activities, replied, “Other than not sleeping? Partying.” At one time possessed baseball that made final out of 2007 World Series, but has said dog ate it.
Julian Tavarez, Washington Nationals
Has (respectively) “body-slammed,” “bumped,” and “inadvertently knocked over” umpires on three separate occasions. Suspended four times for brawling, including twice in spring training: In ’98 launched flying karate kick; in ’06 landed solid right cross. (Commented, “What do you mean, ‘regret?’…I’m not mad at myself. I love myself, bro.”) Had near breakdown after surrendering go-ahead HR in ’04 NLCS: threw ball behind head of next batter, wild pitch to next, hit third; after leaving field, punched out dugout phone, breaking two fingers. Says childhood nickname was Yo-Yo because of his emotional turbulence. Calls Manny “my best friend”; was observed in 2007 in Boston dugout quietly submitting to lengthy head-petting by him.
Once boasted, “I like trouble.” After outfielder Magglio Ordóñez accused Guillen of making him play hurt, responded, “He’s my enemy.… He’s another Venezuelan motherfucker.… What the fuck did he ever do for me?” Reduced rookie pitcher who refused to bean batter to tears, then shipped him back to minors. Called critical sportswriter “a piece of shit… fucking fag,” then later added, “I apologize to the gay community, but to [the writer]? No chance.… He’s still garbage, going to die as garbage.”
As Yankee exec in ’80s, known for smoking on field, not picking up paychecks, and trying to replace closer who went on to set saves record. Clashed with and distanced self from father—once changed name on mailbox to “Stein”—only to transform self into “Boy George” upon becoming team’s co-owner. Said wouldn’t re-sign A-Rod if he opted out of contract (“If you don’t understand the magnitude of being a Yankee… No chance”), then did; shut down prospective Johan Santana trade, declaring, “The deadline is the deadline,” but six weeks later said, “We’re still discussing it.” Agent: “The guy’s a blowhard. But unlike his father, he’s an ineffectual blowhard.”
nate penn is a gq correspondent.