There are good reasons to dislike crummy players — they're crummy, that's usually reason enough. But sometimes you just can't stand a player for reasons having nothing to do with his on-field performance. Sometimes it's irrational.
When Curt Schilling came to the Red Sox, I remember being ecstatic. The roster had never looked so beautiful. With one of the game's best coming to Boston to play #2 to Pedro Martinez's ace, and Grady Little gone, a trip to the World Series in 2004 seemed inevitable. How could it be otherwise?
That's not how it went, though. Oh, the Sox certainly made the World Series and broke the curse, but to my 14-year-old mind it didn't happen the right way. Because as Schilling made his way into Fenway and killed it start-after-start, he established himself not as the number two, but as the number one, easily surpassing Pedro Martinez, who was mired in the worst season of his career.
While the World Series win and Curt's infamous bloody sock doubtless helped endear him to me, the resentment never faded entirely. Even as I cheered every big win from him, I would quietly lament that it was better than the last Pedro start, and likely better than the one to come. When Pedro left for New York in the offseason, I almost blamed Curt. Without him, they never would have let Pedro go.
Now there are all-new reasons to love or hate Curt between his business ventures and outspoken political beliefs. But for me, at least, everything else is built around a teenage boy who can't forgive him for supplanting his hero.
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New York Yankees — Matt Nokes
I’m a “players’ fan”. Whenever there’s a dispute of any kind, whether it be about playing time or salary, I usually come down against management. And, if a player is performing poorly, I prefer to blame the manager who keeps penciling his name into the lineup. However, there have been a few exceptions to my mercy, including, through no fault of his own, Matt Nokes.
As an opposing player, Nokes never gave Yankee fans much reason to dislike him. Despite hitting 32 home runs in his rookie season, the Tigers’ catcher only managed one long ball against the Bronx Bombers. However, his sudden success for a division rival was enough to justify my resentment, especially considering the parade of backstops who had tried unsuccessfully to fill the void left by the beloved Thurman Munson.
When the Yankees got Matt Nokes in 1990, he wasn’t close to being the hitter he was in his rookie season. There was no Baseball-Reference.com back then, so I wasn’t aware of how dramatically his OPS+ had dropped — or even what OPS+ was — in the intervening years. All I knew was that the Yankees were getting a catcher who had hit 30 homers only three seasons prior. Needless to say, Nokes never lived up to that billing, and although his 1991 season was a very good one and his career OPS+ with the Yankees was a respectable 101, he came to epitomize the team’s dramatic decline. So, whenever he would strikeout or hit into a double play, I would boo. In my defense, I may have simply been unable to sufficiently keep track of who was managing the team at the time to boo them.
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Baltimore Orioles — Mike Bordick
When a baseball team spends fourteen years wandering in the desert, most of the hated players on a team deserve it. Either they are terrible, or worse, they’re terrible but make crazy comments indicating they think they’re awesome (see: Gregg, Kevin). So to find a player I hated irrationally, I have to go all the way back to 1997, when the Baltimore Orioles signed Mike Bordick to replace my hero, Cal Ripken, at shortstop.
It didn’t matter to me that Bordick was brought in on his defensive reputation or that he’d been given the Cal Ripken seal of approval as the one guy good enough to take his place. All that mattered was that he was at shortstop and Ripken was at third, and baseball life as I knew it had changed. It didn’t help that Bordick had the worst year of his career at the plate in 1997, which looked even more awful in a lineup surrounded by the big bats of Brady Anderson, Roberto Alomar, and others. My teenage mind couldn’t understand the value of Bordick's defense and the fact that the Orioles didn’t need him to be a big bat; it only understood that he was an automatic out.
My dislike for Bordick cooled as he spent the next few seasons in an Orioles uniform. His hitting got better, his defense stayed good, and I grew up a bit. But in 1997, ooh, my blood boiled at the sight of that guy.
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I will claim there was nothing irrational about it; he was a terrible player for his season with us, but I sure hated Kevin Millar. Still do. Part of it was how we were told that the team would be "10 games better" because of his "clubhouse presence." TV guys went on and on about how great a teammate he was. It wasn't until after he left the team that we started to hear that he wasn't such a great guy and spent all of his time complaining about being a Blue Jay and telling everyone how great it was when he was with the Red Sox. It would have been nice if he was ten games above replacement in the clubhouse, because he was several games below replacement on the field.
The fact that he was a favorite of manager Cito Gaston's only made matters worse. Cito would play Millar over some of our young players who really could have used the experience. Moreover, I banned Millar's idiotic catchphrase "Cowboy Up" on Bluebird Banter; no one was allowed to use the c-word. So they used other c-words, like "Cucumber Up," "Chrysanthemum Up," etc. That part wasn't Millar's fault, but I kind of blamed him for it anyway.
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There's definitely no consensus among Rays fans on this, but Casey Kotchman inspired a surprising amount of vitriol and hatred in 2011 despite having a fantastic year for the Rays. He was the most productive first baseman that the Rays have had since Carlos Pena could actually hit, but there was just something about him that led to outrageous, inflamed arguments. Either you loves Kotchman or you hated him, and even if you liked him you ended up hating him because of the amount of time you wasted arguing on his behalf.
There's just something about the dispassionate, un-athletic, slow, constantly stretching Kotchman that really irked people. Maybe it was that he was so good and so lucky at the same time. Maybe it was that everyone credited the removal of "eye puss" to his dramatic turn-around. Maybe it was the hat tip to Derek Jeter. Maybe it was the fact that he has literally no personality. Whatever it was, he was one unliked dude.
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