Friday, February 22, 2013

Pomp and Swagger

Because professional baseball players have a unique set of skills that are in short supply, they are often subject to hero worship. A little bit of that can go a long way toward swelling a guy's head. Though some of the greatest players in history have remained quite humble despite all the accolades and adoration, there have been others who have fallen prey to their own hype. With that having been said, I now present a short list of the most arrogant players of all time.

Dizzy Dean--
A Hall of Famer who won 82 games for the Cardinals between 1934 and 1936, Dean was by far the cockiest player of his generation...So cocky, in fact, that numerous opponents and teammates were inspired to punch him out. While playing in the Texas League, he called up a rival manager the evening before one of his starts and bragged that he was going to limit his opponents to "just two or three hits." Before the 1934 campaign, he predicted that he and his younger brother Paul were going to win 45 games. On another occasion, he bet a teammate that he could strikeout Vince DiMaggio four times in one game. He made good on all of those claims, becoming famous for the quote: "It ain't braggin' if you can back it up."

Reggie Jackson--
Among the highest paid sluggers of his era, Jackson was baseball's equivalent to Muhammed Ali. He was comfortable in the spotlight and almost always good for a quote, though the things he said often stirred up controversy. Before signing with the Yankees, he boasted that if he came to New York they would name a candy bar after him. They did, of course. When "Reggie!" bars hit the shelves in 1978, teammate Catfish Hunter commented hilariously: "When you unwrap (one), it tells you how good it is." Jackson was a larger than life character with a larger than life ego. After blasting a tape measure shot in Boston one afternoon, he told reporters "We needed an insurance run so I hit it over the Prudential Building." He soured his ambivalent relationship with Yankee team captain Thurman Munson when he infamously referred to himself as "the straw that stirs the drink." "Maybe I should say me and Muson," Jackson added, "but he can only stir it bad." For the most part, Jackson put his money where his mouth was throughout his career, blasting 563 homers in an era when the 500-homer club was much smaller.

Bobo Newsom--
In an era when team pride ran deep, Newsom was a shameless self-promoter who sold himself to the highest bidder every year. He played for 9 teams between 1929 and 1953, winning 211 games while losing even more. Enamored with his own abilities, he bragged later in life that "whenever Bobo asked for more dough, Bobo always got it." That's no misprint. The ultimate form of self-love, Newsom almost always referred to himself in the third person. When FDR came to the Senators opener in 1936, Newsom got hit by a throw that fractured his jaw. He pitched a complete game shutout over the Yankees anyway and remarked afterward in typical self-serving fashion:"When the President comes to see Bobo pitch, Ol' Bobo ain't-a-gonna disappoint him."Never mind the other 17 players who took the field that day, it was all about Bobo.

Rickey Henderson--
Henderson was undeniably the greatest lead-off man who ever lived, walking more times leading off an inning than many Hall of Famers walked in their entire careers. But Henderson was also one of the game's biggest narcissists. He would often stand in the locker room before a full length mirror (sometimes completely naked) admiring his own physique and practicing his swing while repeating the mantra "Rickey's the Best!" Yes, he was an illeist, having studied at the Bobo Newsom school of language. Referring to himself in the third person, he provided some highly amusing quotes over the years. He once called up Padres GM Kevin Towers and left the following message: "This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball." When he received a signing bonus of $1million from the Yankees one year, he was so proud of it, he framed it and hung it on his wall instead of cashing it. After breaking Lou Brock's stolen base record, he prolaimed: "Lou Brock was the symbol of great base stealing, but today, I'm the greatest of all-time."

In the current era, there are many who would argue in favor of Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds being the most arrogant--The way they stood at home plate admiring their home runs and strutted around without a care in the world for what people thought of them. Bonds didn't even show up to receive  his MVP award one year. Pitcher David Cone once defended conceit among players, commenting that: "You need a certain amount of ego, a certain amount of arrogance to be able to play well and to push yourself and trick yourself into thinking you're better than you really are." There's a certain logic to that statement, though arrogance is still distasteful to many.  As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: "Arrogance on the part of the meritous is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: For merit itself is offensive."

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