In the end, the 2016 baseball season proved to be as magical as it was historic, with the Cubs ending their 108-year championship drought in storybook fashion, captivating the country along the way, even scoring a rare TV ratings-TKO over the NFL during the World Series.
But as always, the year produced its share of anti-heroes and dumber-than-dumb moments as well. And so, in the tradition that Bill Madden created in this column for so many years on Thanksgiving weekend, I give you the Daily News’ annual Top 10 baseball turkeys.
10. CHRIS SALE
This had to be a first: literally cutting up the team’s throwback jerseys only a couple of hours before he and the White Sox were supposed to wear them. I know what Sale said, that they were uncomfortable and he had told management he didn’t want to wear the jersey. Maybe he had a point, but for the millions they make, star players ought to be able to deal with a little inconvenience at times without throwing a child-like tantrum.
9. BILL CHASTAIN
I hate to include a fellow baseball writer in this group, especially since the hysteria over the recent BBWAA awards was over the top, starting with Kate Upton’s Twitter-rant. I’ll defend practically anybody’s right to vote as he or she sees fit, but sorry Bill, there’s no defending your decision to send in your AL Cy Young Award vote with a week remaining in the season. Especially considering how close that race was, Justin Verlander’s two dominant starts in that final week had too much impact to ignore. In general, baseball writers take great responsibility in researching and casting such votes, and Chastain, now at MLB.com, has built a credible reputation as a Tampa-area reporter over the years. Obviously this wasn’t his finest moment.
8. RANDY LEVINE
Back in late June, with media speculation about the Yankees’ eventual sell-off beginning to swirl, the team president huffed and he puffed and he loudly reminded reporters they weren’t nearly as smart or successful as him. “Nonsense” is what he called the speculation, and then, in his best condescending tone, Levine said the difference between reporters and him was that “most of you guys have never run anything, and we have a lot of history here of knowing what we’re doing.” Of course, reporters knew at the time that GM Brian Cashman was talking to teams about the trades he eventually made for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, among others. Presumably Levine knew too but he was against the idea of telling fans the Yankees were in rebuild mode. He lost that internal battle to Cashman, not to mention his share of credibility that day in late June.
7. TONY LA RUSSA
As I wrote at the time, in May, I still think La Russa should have been suspended — or, at the very least, publicly reprimanded — by Major League Baseball for his unprofessional bully-act back when he stormed into the Pirates’ TV booth with a game in progress to confront play-by-play man Greg Brown. La Russa didn’t like Brown speculating about whether his history of retaliation as a manager would be relevant in his role as Diamondbacks’ president, so he thought nothing of interrupting a telecast to give him a piece of his mind. As a manager LaRussa routinely tried to intimidate the media, but in his position as the highest-ranking official for a ballclub, he should be held to a higher standard. Fortunately for him, he has friends in high places in the MLB offices, and nothing came of his misconduct.
6. DJ LEMAHIEU
OK, technically it wasn’t his call to sit out four of the final five games of the season, and come out after going 0-for-2 in the one game he played, while trying to win the National League batting title as the Rockies played out the string. Manager Walt Weiss said it was his decision, which paid off with LeMahieu hitting .348 to Daniel Murphy’s .347, and insisted he only did it because Murphy was sitting at season’s end due to injury. But, come on, we know LeMahieu could have talked his way into the lineup if he wanted to. And if the batting title is that important to him, shouldn’t he want to play and deliver under some pressure to lock it up rather than win it sitting on the bench?
5. LENNY DYKSTRA
I guess you can’t be surprised by anything Dykstra does at this point, after going bankrupt and spending two years in prison for fraud, while completely alienating family members along the way, but in trying to sell his book this year the 1986 Met hero looked small taking some cheap shots. Worst was his accusation that manager Davey Johnson was “drunk every night” and hung over to the point that it affected his decision-making. Ron Darling said Dykstra was hitting “below the belt” with those comments, and Johnson, obviously referring to Lenny’s many highly-publicized problems, may have said it best: “He’s a tough one to be criticizing anybody else.”
4. BUCK SHOWALTER
This one pains me too because I have great respect for Buck, going back to the days of covering him as Yankee manager, and getting an up-close look at his tireless preparation and attention to detail. But there’s no getting around it: His decision not to use closer Zach Britton in the extra-inning wild-card loss to the Blue Jays is one of the great managerial blunders of any postseason, especially one that turned out to be a showcase for managers getting the most out of their best relievers, using them earlier and for more innings than they did during the regular season. Sticking to the old, save-your-closer-on-the-road until-you-have-a-lead philosophy may well have cost the Orioles their season.
3. JENRRY MEJIA
Speaking of that dumber-than-dumb moment I mentioned at the top of the column, it’s still hard to believe Mejia failed three drug tests in the space of a year, earning baseball’s first lifetime ban back in February. And he got nailed each time for using some form of the hardcore steroids that technology has long since made obsolete, at least for anybody who wants to avoid detection. Meanwhile, Mejia not only embarrassed himself but also the Mets, who should have had the good sense to cut the reliever loose after he failed two drug tests in 2015, the second while he was still suspended for the first. Finally, after the announcement of the third failed test, Mejia claimed that he was a victim of a conspiracy by MLB to ruin his career. It’s worth noting that he hasn’t been heard from since.
2. JEURYS FAMILIA
Yet another one that hits pretty close to home for me. Just about everybody who covers the Mets regards Familia as one of the nicest guys in the clubhouse, so it was at least somewhat shocking to hear that he was arrested for domestic violence last month. Personally, I became friendly with Familia last spring training. He helped me with a column I did on Bartolo Colon’s fitness routine, convincing Colon to talk to me — in English — about his nighttime workouts at LA Fitness near the Mets’ Port St. Lucie spring camp. From there I talked often with Familia and felt as if I got to know him a little bit, but his domestic violence incident is a reminder that we never really know what goes on with these professional athletes away from the ballpark. It doesn’t mean Familia still can’t be considered a nice guy. It does mean it will be hard to look at him quite the same way ever again.
1. CURT SCHILLING
Turkey of the Year. Yes, I realize the Familia situation is of a more serious nature. Then again, you can make a case that Schilling is dangerous in his own right, spreading his brand of hate seemingly any chance he gets. “Ok, so much awesome here,” he tweeted about a photo showing a supporter at a Donald Trump rally wearing a t-shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” It’s no secret that Schilling is a blowhard whose extreme right-wing political views have offended plenty of people and finally got him fired from ESPN in April, but he’s still a hero to many Red Sox fans, and by publicly applauding the idea of lynching people — he later claimed he was joking — Schilling was practically encouraging lawlessness.
Even fellow major leaguers were offended, as best exemplified by ex-pitcher Dan Haren’s response on Twitter. Referring to Schilling’s famous bloody-sock performance in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, Haren tweeted: “Ketchup. Sock. World Series. Some Assembly Required.” Hard to top that.