In a world of emotionless robots, rules, and political correctness, baseball needs its villains back. Whatever happened to baseball’s love affair with the battle between “good and evil?”
The Nasty Boys, Manny being Manny, Rickey “I am the greatest of all time” Henderson, Pete ‘the Gambler’ Rose, Doc ‘LSD’ Ellis, Dave Parker, Bob Gibson, the Outcasts of Macho Row in 93’ in Philly, Murderer’s Row, Albert Belle, Kent F*cking Hrbek, George G.D. Steinbrenner. The villains of baseball, y’all.
One of the greatest tragedies that has occurred in Major League Baseball is MLB’s obsession with pushing a brand of “on the field production” over pushing a narrative of “the greatest heroes (and subsequently villains) in sports.”
Listen, when I was a kid I hated the Phillies. Growing up an Atlanta Braves fan, there was little I hated more than the 93’ Philadelphia Phillies. Dirty, nasty, tobacco juice spitting, shaggy headed, foul mouthed PHILTHY PHILLIES. Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Darren Daulton… man, I hated those guys with a passion like no other. I watched them just to boo them. I remember wishing, as a kid, actual harm on Lenny Dykstra. I remember praying to the Lord and asking my wonderful creator to somehow cause Lenny to break his leg while running into second base. I’m sure you are morally above such devious thoughts, but I wasn’t.
In a world where everyone is obsessed with fielding the team with the best metrics (in sports and in life), where have all the heroes and villains gone?
Batman, from the graphic novels, has always been my favorite superhero. I have always enjoyed the complexity you see in Batman. You know why Batman is so complex? Not because he’s a rich white dude with two first names. Not because he’s a grown man dressing as a bat, and not because he has a giant car that is the world’s most obvious case of overcompensation. No, Batman is great because of THE JOKER.
If there is no Joker, Bruce Wayne doesn’t have a reason to become the Dark Knight. I mean, The Joker is basically the sick perverted version of Batman. Think about it. I could write for hours about the complexity of the genius of the character of the Joker, but to summarize a very nerdy thesis, suffice it to say that the darkness of the Joker and the unpredictability of the most insane villain ever created make the beauty of the contrasting parallel story of Batman the masterpiece that it is.
Without villains there are no superheroes worth watching. Take Superman, for example. I’ve always grown bored of Superman. Why? Because there are very few villains strong enough to remotely compete with Superman. You see, when you cannot legitimately compete, you never truly expose the motivations of the hero.
“Situations don’t make heroes, they reveal heroes.” ~ Dr. Phil
Without bad guys, the good guys start to look like spoiled privileged rich kids with more money than sense. And without villains in baseball, the sport becomes all about rooting for laundry instead of rooting for heroes (or rooting against villains). It becomes offseason after offseason of fans rosterbating through twitter and facebook espousing why their favorite team should spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a player because his WRC+ was 15 points higher than someone else’s. I enjoy metrics as much as the next guy, but they will never paint the picture of the characters in the actual story. Hop on YouTube and watch some of Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home runs and then hop on FanGraphs and look at his career wRC+.
The graphic novel Watchmen takes a deep dive into exactly what happens when you don’t need superheroes anymore. Ironically, it looks a lot like modern day baseball. Real heroes become the bad guys in the eyes of the common man because there is no reason for them to be heroic. The world of the Watchmen became more obsessed with policing heroes than glorifying them. Sound familiar?
Ask any New York Mets fan who their most hated Atlanta Brave was. It was Larry Wayne Jones. Hell, he was such a villain that he named his kid “Shea” just to troll them and remind them that he was their ‘daddy.’ They loved to chant “Larry, Larry, Larry, Larry” and he loved to shut them up, time and time again. Mets fans celebrated Larry’s divorce, they loved his every slip-up in the papers, and then they cried each time Chipper whipped their favorite team’s ass on live TV while wearing a turtleneck.
Bryce Harper’s recent deal with Philly is an opportunity for MLB to embrace the villain again. In a world where the biggest ballpark attraction is the anticipation of the strikeout or the home run (96%+ of the time not resulting in the home run), MLB should find a different reason for fans to come to the park. If MLB had any sense, they’d pack their parks to boo the ever-loving hell out of Bryce Harper. Harper’s a Philthy Philly for life now, and you know what? I hope, for the love of the game, that he embraces it.
I hope he comes to Atlanta and drags the “A” every time he gets ready to bat. I hope he returns to Washington and writes an open letter in the Players’ Tribune making fun of their fanbase and the fact that their trains don’t stay open late enough for people to stay for an entire baseball game. I hope he tells the Mets that he never even thought of playing for them because he couldn’t stand the thought of wearing the same uniform that Mike Piazza wore. I want Bryce to be the most twisted villain of all time. I hope Atlanta Braves fans hate Bryce Harper more than the devil himself.
I understand that not every ballplayer has to be the villain. I appreciate guys like Freddie Freeman and Mike Trout who smile and go through life like the sweet little babyface boy next door. But I also want Ronald Acuña to grab his nuts, stick out his tongue, and then throw his bat 20 feet in the air as he trots to first base after taking Max Scherzer deep. I want Brian McCann and Carlos Gomez to both be total pricks for life. I want Gomez to pimp his home run and I want Brian McCann to try to kill him when he gets to home plate.
I want blood, y’all. I want fights. I want pitchers throwing at batters. I want heel turns. And most of all, I want MLB to love it instead of Buster Olney writing fourteen articles about how “this no longer belongs in baseball”.
I want announcers to scream things like, “bahhhh gawd that’s Josh Donaldson’s music” or “ohhhh my Lord… All Hell has broken loose!!!” (in the voice of Jim Ross)
Wrestling figured this stuff out a long time ago. Build up a hero, let the fans love him, then have him stab them in the back. Have your announcers hype it and make it a narrative. Fans will pack the place out to boo the villains (or cheer for them, depending which side you’re on). I want baby faces and villains. I want personality back in the game. Instead of fifteen-week diatribes about an announcer questioning Juan Soto’s age, I want MLB to recognize it as a huge opportunity to hype yet another storyline for fans to love. I want reasons to hate players again. I want “clubhouse cancer” storylines to be a thing (even if they’re fake).
The best part about baseball is that you shouldn’t have to fake this stuff. Players are diverse. Some are jerks, some are despicable human beings, some are angelic, some are southern, some are yankees, some are geniuses and some are dumb as a brick. That’s what makes baseball so great. Unlike wrestling, with baseball you don’t have to have some fake script to follow. All you need to do is simply let let the players be themselves.
Can you imagine if Mickey Mantle had twitter? The few stories that have leaked out about him in recent past are so risque that they make Rob Manfred blush just thinking about them. Instead of embracing the blush, MLB is actually trying to pull videos off the internet of Mickey Calloway losing his mind on an umpire over a terrible call. MLB is too busy policing guys like @PitchingNinja (thank God they finally figured out that policing that guy was dumb) over copyright infringement.
There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. This means that at least 15 teams each year are going to suck. If MLB embraced the personalities, the villains and THE STORY, a team’s losing season might not be all that bad in terms of ticket sales. Am I giving excuses for terrible baseball? No. I’m simply saying that rooting against villains is way more fun that tweeting about how bad a player’s wRC+ was last year.
In the seminal comic about Batman, The Joker shoots a beloved character in the back and paralyzes them for life. I need that in baseball; no I don’t need Bryce Harper to actually shoot Ozzie Albies in the back, but I need a moment when the villain is so dark and evil that you truly wonder if your “Batman” is enough to handle him. A moment that makes you cry for your city, your team, your favorite player because of the villian. A moment that makes you rage at the other team with pure hatred. All the while fans of the villain chant gloriously and flaunt their superiority with unremorseful arrogance. It sounds like heaven on Earth.
Baseball needs its heroes back, but the only way for it to get them is to find and embrace their villains. The problem with embracing your villains is not trying to whitewash everything about them. Political correctness must take the backseat in this venture. You must let them be the bad guy. Let them say things that might hurt some feelings. They’re just feelings. You have to let them be controversial and disliked. Let them be insulting and rude. Fine them if you must, but make it part of the story.
MLB once understood this! They must remember how to love and how to market their craziness, their dark and their completely insane. Baseball needs its Punisher like the hard sliding, catcher destroying, baseball bashing and admittedly degenerate, Pete Rose. It needs its own ridiculously insane and completely unpredictably mad Joker. It’s had those guys in the past, and it desperately needs them again. You want fans to buy back into the greatest game of all time? Bring back the villains that remind you why you want your team to pay whatever it takes to keep your heroes, not because of their wOBA or WRC+, but because they’re the hero that vanquished the villain that shamed your team on live TV.
I leave you with a quote from The Killing Joke.
“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” – Joker