Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Really Great Guys by Rick Kaplan

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer

OAKLAND (June 22) – “A.J. Pierzynski is such a jerk.” “Ozzie Guillen is one of the ‘class acts’ in baseball.” “Barry Bonds is a low-life.” “Tori Hunter is really cool.”

Sounds right.

How do you know?

Why is one player a “good guy” and another a “bad guy?”

Click below for more!

When Michael Barrett of the Cubs sucker-punched Pierzynski a few weeks ago at home plate, it appeared that A.J. had done nothing more than celebrate being safe with an exuberant slap of the dish.

Despite Barrett’s 10-day suspension–and the combative Cubs’ catcher’s own dubious rep–there were constant gratuitous references in the media in the wake of that incident to Pierzynki’s quasi-official status as the “most hated player” in baseball. And even though most fans seem to have been completely puzzled by Barrett’s apparent lunacy, his little ambush has somehow become part of justifying A.J.’s “most-hated” label.

How does this all get started? Did Pierzynski, to paraphrase Mohammed Ali, ever do anything to you?

I remember growing up in New York with the passionate belief that Ted Williams was a “bad guy.” This was canon in the press at the time. I really didn’t know anything about it, but, being the good little Yankee fan that I was, I didn’t “like” Williams.

Turns out, though, that he was a “good guy,” spending his last years attempting to promote greater respect for ballplayers outside the American mainstream, such as those from Japan and from the Negro Leagues. And he was probably a “good guy,” good guy merely meaning someone I could relate to, even back when I thought he was a “bad guy.” (I actually learned recently that in his first trip around the American League as a rookie, Williams asked the veteran players to point out in each stadium where the legendary black catcher, Josh Gibson, hit the prodigious home runs that Williams had heard about growing up in San Diego.)

On the other hand, Joe DiMaggio, Williams’ rival for recognition as baseball’s greatest player of the 1940’s, could do no wrong in the press. Like with Williams, we only learned years later the truth about Joe D. He was a highly egotistic, arrogant brooder who carefully managed his public image in order to show himself in the best light.

As much as anything, Williams didn’t “play ball” with some of the writers who covered the Red Sox, and this didn’t endear him. It probably didn’t help that his mother was Mexican, and this fact was very troublesome to a baseball establishment that was trying to hold the line against integration, based on the myth of the superiority of caucasian players.

We never learned about this side of Williams until it served MLB to market his stature, as an old man, as the greatest living player.

Today, A.J. Pierzynski is characterized as a “cancer,” a nuisance, and a misfit.

But when I think of A.J. Pierzynski I see a winning, hustling, throwback player that gives me my money’s worth.

I don’t know anything about his graciousness or charitableness. I just know that he beat the A’s and Billy Koch in the ninth inning of the fifth game in the 2002 ALDS while playing for the Twins. I know he saved the 2005 World Series nearly single-handedly (I’m not forgetting Jermaine Dye), with his guile and hustle. And his apparent ability to handle the White Sox pitchers somehow escaped mention in the press, while all the experts were so busy exhausting their supply of superlatives in describing that staff’s heroics last fall.

Speaking of the White Sox, why does every corny ESPN commentator from Rick Sutcliffe and Joe Morgan to Peter Gammons and Jon Miller feel obligated to add “Great Guy” to Ozzie Guillen’s name every time it is mentioned?

Does ESPN have a studio list of good guys and bad guys, complete with cue cards?

Frankly, Ozzie seems a little napoleonic to me. That tantrum and nationally televised scolding of the humiliated rookie who he had instructed to bean one of the Indians didn’t fit the image of the easy-going, approachable Ozzie Nelson of baseball. Nor did his recent apparent homophobic name-calling of a Chicago sportswriter. Nor his self-important threat to name all Chisox to the AL bench for the All-Star game.

This makes you wonder about the “troublemaker” label on Frank Thomas, especially when the vibes around Thomas seem so good in Oakland. Was all the bad chemistry due to the Big Hurt being “difficult?”

And nothing against Tori Hunter. I’m sure he is nice enough, and he plays hard. But why is he such a “great guy?” Is he a great guy in the Kirby Puckett tradition? Oy vey. The cutesy frat-boy references to “Is my wife listening?” get a little old for a guy who is now past 30.

I love to watch him play centerfield. And if I had his skills and the kind of money he is making, I wouldn’t expect the constant and very tedious “great guy” flattery about what should simply be expected of someone in my extremely privileged position. Just play ball.

What is a “great guy” in a baseball sense? Is it about being a clown and giving hot foots and pies-in-the-face? It’s not usually about visiting children in the hospital or serving the homeless or sharing your wealth, although this does happen occasionally. But the types that do these good deeds regularly are usually modest and don’t call reporters to accompany them on their mitzvahs.

I found extremely revealing Glenn Dickey’s note on this site about Barry Bonds, a certified bad guy, telling a reporter that if he divulged anything about Barry’s kindness in the paper that he, Bonds, would never talk to him again. Sounds like a good guy to me, or, more accurately, and like most of us, a good-and-a-bad guy.

Correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t remember Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron being “great guys.” What we mainly heard about was them being great players.

You did hear sometimes about Roberto Clemente being a great person. That’s because he was a little unusual and really more developed as a human being than most of his peers, and he proved it. He gave his life for others.

We can all learn from his example of discreet, quiet dedication to the less fortunate.

Delmon Young, the bat thrower, has just returned from a 50 game suspension in the minor leagues for his dangerous outburst against an umpire. Some commentators were calling for a ban of two years or more after the promising Minor League Player of the Year struck the home plate umpire with a thrown bat.

But Roger Clemens, after having knocked Mike Piazza unconscious with a bean ball, followed up his first attack with a ill-tempered toss of Piazza’s broken bat at the former Met’s feet the next time they met.

Why was there virtually no consequence to this ugly display? Are some players exempt from criticism?

Now Clemens is the returning mythic figure. Even the treatment of his generous $12M contract for half a season seeemed to escape any serious scrutiny or consideration of cost-effectiveness. It’s almost like baseball owes him what ever he wants.

But this is a figure so beloved by the media that the mystery of how he remained an effective pitcher, and one who seemed completely physically altered in the same image as, let’s say, a Barry Bonds, never became a public issue of any importance.

And then there is Albert Pujols. Seems like a nice enough guy. But is he a god or something? Albert the Anti-Bonds has been given the most absolutely squeaky clean image one can imagine. Even his being a father to a child with Down Syndrome, something that millions of parents quietly dedicate themselves to without media glorification, has been shamelessly grafted on to his slightly premature image as a baseball god.

At one time Jose Canseco was a really bad guy, a psycho, a menace. But then reality broke through and we found out that most of what he is saying was true. Now his bad guy status is not as extreme. He even has a certain amount of cache.

Your bad guy ranking can go up and down like the price of gas.

A couple of weeks ago, Jason Grimsley rocketed to the top of the bad guy list.

Among the reports in the press on Grimsley being pursued by the FBI was an item that Chris Mihlfield had been named in his testimony in connection with steroid use in MLB.

Chris Mihlfield is Albert Pujols’ trainer.

How do we really know who is a good guy or a bad guy?

Secret ESPN Rankings (subject to whatever way the wind is blowing)

1. Albert Pujols (could be a bad guy soon)
2. Ozzie Guillen(altready is a bad guy)
3. Tori Hunter (a great centerfielder)
4. Dontrelle Willis (really is a good guy)
5. Craig Biggio (the greatest good guy according to Bill James)
6. Roger Clemens (shouldn’t even be playing)
7. Derek Jeter (he’s so good he’s annoying)
8. David Ortiz (Stop spitting on your hands)
9. David Eckstein (even gooder in the NL)
10.Sean Casey (Good Guy MVP)

1. Barry Bonds
2. A.J. Pierzynski
3. Jose Mesa
3. Frank Thomas
4. Jeff Kent
5. Milton Bradley
6. Manny Ramirez
7. Doug Brocail
8. Carl Everett
9. Delmon Young
10.Alfonso Soriano


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