15 Great MLB Players That Were Terrible Human Beings
“I’m not a role model,” said NBA legend Charles Barkley. “I’m not paid to be a role model. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Those words came in a now-classic Nike commercial that originally aired in 1993.
Yet, many kids are impressionable, and often look up to pro athletes as bastions of nobility and hard work. A few names immediately come to mind Derek Jeter, LeBron James, Peyton Manning, etc.
These athletes starred in their respective sports, played honestly, and stayed out of trouble off the field. Too often, though, we discover that star athletes aren’t the squeaky-clean people we previously thought them to be.
This is especially true in baseball. Many MLB players are just as infamous off the field as they are famous on the field. The sport has been plagued by steroid use, gambling scandals, and domestic violence accusations, just to name a few. This list includes those transgressions, but goes a step further. Several great players have had their personal trials and tribulations overshadow their play, resulting in legal trouble and even jail time. There are bad apples in every bunch, and these are 15 such cases.
15 Great MLB Players That Were Terrible Human Beings
- JOSE CANSECO
Jose Canseco was one of the most famous (or shall we say ‘infamous’) athletes of the 1990s. The Cuban-American star hit over 450 home runs over his 17-year career, and was a four-time Silver Slugger.
Of course, as was the case with many power hitters from that era, Canseco’s career is forever linked with steroid use. However, his transgressions went beyond performance-enhancing drugs.
Canseco ratted out teammates in his books, and allegedly blackmailed certain players (like Magglio Ordonez) so as to keep their names ‘clear’ of public scrutiny. Canseco was eventually (but not surprisingly) cited in the December 2007 Mitchell Report.
Both of his wives have cited him for domestic violence, including a 1997 arrest for assault on his second wife, Jessica, after which he was forced to serve one year of probation.
He attempted an ill-fated mixed martial arts career in the late 2000s, losing his only fight by first round submission. I guess he finally got what he deserved.
- DWIGHT GOODEN
Gooden was a phenom pitcher for the New York Mets. He won the NL Cy Yong Award and the Pitching Triple Crown in 1985, and helped the team win a World Championship in 1986. I can’t fault Gooden entirely for the poor decisions that derailed his career and tarnished his reputation. Drug addiction is a disease and addicts are unfairly stigmatized.
However, Gooden’s many run-ins with the law don’t stem exclusively from his drug use. For instance, since his 2001 retirement, his arrest record includes charges of DUI (2002), driving with a suspended license (2003), misdemeanor battery (2005), and endangering the welfare of a child (2010). To endanger a child, especially after repeated arrests, shows Gooden hadn’t learned his lesson.
He also served time in prison for violating his probation in 2006. While his struggles with sobriety may have indirectly resulted in these arrests, they also speak to his inability to learn from his mistakes.
In August 2016, Gooden told The Dan Patrick Show that he was four years sober.
- ROGER CLEMENS
Clemens never needed steroids to enhance his career. By 1998, when he was first accused of juicing, he had already won four of his seven Cy Young Awards, and led the MLB in ERA in four separate seasons.
I guess it makes some sense, then, why the 11-time All-Star vehemently denied using PEDs in a 2008 hearing before a Congressional Committee.
It was HOW he defended himself that speaks to his character. He threw his trainer (and accuser) Brian MacNamee under the bus by defaming him and secretly recording conversations with him in a failed attempt at exoneration.
Numerous allegations of infidelity are a cherry on top of Clemens’ questionable moral choices. In 2008, New York tabloids reported on at least three extra-marital affairs Clemens had during his playing career, including a 10-year relationship with country singer Mindy McCready, who was 15 years old at the time. It’s one thing to cheat in baseball, but a whole other thing to cheat in one’s marriage.
- CHUCK KNOBLAUCH
I always remembered Chuck Knoblauch’s awkward batting stance, in which he practically floated the bat over the plate as he focused on the pitch.
Knoblauch spent 12 seasons in the majors with the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, and Kansas City Royals. He was a four-time All-Star and 1991 AL Rookie of the Year, but all that was overshadowed by two domestic violence incidents. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and served one year of probation after striking his ex-wife in 2010.
Knoblauch wasn’t done there though. In July 2014, the second baseman was arrested on assault charges on another one of his wives. He allegedly slammed her head against a wall and threw a humidifier at her after she refused to sleep in the same room.
- BARRY BONDS
Another All-Star who never needed steroids, Bonds was already a surefire Hall of Famer from his terrific all-around play with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a seven-time NL MVP, and a five-time Gold Glove Award Winner before he first started using steroids.
We often picture Bonds as the ‘yolked-out’ Giants’ power hitter who belted a record 73 home runs in 2001, but often forget his svelte build and base-stealing prowess during his Pittsburgh days.
Thus, the public reaction of his breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record was one of indifference instead of joy.
Bonds was also notorious for his contentious relationships with teammates and coaches, and public disdain for the media.
Bonds’ infidelity led to the end of his first marriage in 1994, and in 2009, faced another divorce from his second wife. In 2011, Bonds and his wife agreed not to take divorce proceedings to trial, and instead settled out of court.
- DENNY MCLAIN
Denny McLain’s pitching career was going strong in the late 1960s. The Detroit Tigers’ ace won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 1968 and 1969, and led the AL in wins during both seasons. He pitched to a career 3.39 ERA and was the last pitcher to win at least 30 games in one season. His brilliance on the mound made McLain feel he could play by his own rules, and he often clashed with teammates and coaches because of it.
However, by 1970, Sports Illustrated revealed stories about McLain’s involvement in bookmaking and connections to organized crime. His legal troubles and injury woes quickly deteriorated his career, and his playing days were over at age 29.
McLain retired deeply in debt, and turned to loan sharking to try and break even. He even smuggled a fugitive out of the country for $160,000.
In 1996 he was arrested for stealing money from a pension fund, and served prison time for embezzlement, money laundering, and mail fraud. He spent seven years in prison.
- KIRBY PUCKETT
Kirby Puckett is a Minnesota Twins legend. He was a 10-time All-Star who won two World Series Championships over an 11-year career. He is also the franchise leader in hits, runs, doubles, and total bases.
Yet, his pristine public image sharply contrasted with his turbulent private one. He faced allegations of infidelity and domestic abuse after his retirement. Most notably, in 2003, he was charged with felony false imprisonment, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and fifth-degree assault for allegedly dragging a woman into a restaurant bathroom and groping her.
Although the charges were eventually dropped, Puckett’s reputation took a hit, and he resigned his post as the Twins’ executive vice president the following season. It was an incredibly shocking development for someone who had built so much good will with Minnesota and baseball fans in general.
- AROLDIS CHAPMAN
When a star athlete plays for your team, you try to separate the person from their work. You try to focus on their on-field contributions and leave their personal problems by the wayside. Sometimes that’s tough. I faced that dilemma when All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman came to the Yankees in 2015. The hard-throwing left-hander was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing his gun off into his garage wall in an October 2015 rage.
Chapman insisted he was never physical, and charges were later dropped. We all know how domestic violence cases play out, though. Women are often discouraged from telling the full story or holding firm on their accounts due to fear of retribution from their abusers.
Despite the dropped charges, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Chapman for 30 games this season for violating the league’s domestic violence policy.
Chapman was later traded to the Chicago Cubs, where his dismissive attitude towards the case drew criticism from local media.