Yordano Ventura was punched in the face on Tuesday, and the Internet applauded. I'm not saying that makes it right. I'm not saying it's anything but ghoulish to want another human being to suffer physical harm. Just pointing out the facts. If there's a master list of disliked baseball players, Ventura is on it. He tends to hit other baseball players with baseballs.
But his unpopularity might make him even more popular with Kansas City Royals fans. As in, he's not robbing banks and throwing puppies out of a moving car. He's disliked in a baseball context that we're intimately familiar with. If Ventura didn't exist, we would be forced to invent him. And it's kind of fun when he's on your team.
He is, my friends, one of baseball's greatest and most important heels.
If you don't know what a heel is, here's Wikipedia:
In professional wrestling, a heel (also known as a rudo in lucha libre) is a wrestler who is villainous or a "bad guy", who is booked (scripted) by the promotion to be in the position of being an antagonist.
This isn't about hobgoblins and abusers like Jose Reyes or Hector Olivera, whose horrible actions transcend their sport. This is about the mustache twirlers who make you so mad when they beat your team. You don't like them, not one bit. And if they joined your team, why, it would take days to get used to the idea and start rooting for them. Weeks, even!
Here is a team of Major League Baseball heels. It's not a bad thing to be a heel, not always. Some players even embrace the role. Some players, such as ...
C - A.J. Pierzynski
Transgressions: Being arrogant. Kneeing a trainer in the icy hots. Looking like A.J. Pierzynski.
We're at the point where Pierzynski is an elder statesman, where it's getting harder to summon actual anger and easier to give him begrudging respect. The guy has been a catcher for approximately six decades, and he's been remarkably consistent the entire time. That's hard to do.
But he still gets booed. And he loves it. If you don't think he doesn't understand his important role as a heel, here he is literally hitting someone over the head with home plate in a wrestling match:
It was the role he was born to play, and he loves it. I can respect that.
1B - Albert Pujols
Transgression: Being good? Making a lot of money? Extensive charity work?
Look, I don't have any problems with Pujols. I know there are NL Central fans who got tired of him pummeling their teams, and I know he isn't the most charismatic fellow, but is this the best we have at first? The other choice was Mark Teixeira and his Dockers, which didn't seem like a grave enough offense to win a spot on this important team.
Here, you look at the first basemen. There might be players who annoy you, but there aren't any true heels.
No, we'll need a ringer. We'll need to shuffle some people around the diamond to make the best team.
1B - Alex Rodriguez
Yesssss, now we're cooking with gas. Unlike Pierzynski, A-Rod isn't quite sure about his role as a heel. Most of the time.
That was after Ryan Dempster threw at him for being Alex Rodriguez, which is against baseball's unwritten rules, and the best part was the deliberate point to the sky at :20. You can hear the boos intensify.
He might be the captain, if only because he thinks we're building a team of popular, well-liked players, and it makes it funnier if he's actually leading a team of baseball super villains.
2B - Chase Utley
Transgressions: Breaking a dude's leg, forever crossing the line between hard-nosed and reckless.
A true heel is beloved by his hometown fans. There are still Philadelphia Phillies fans who will cut you if you dare besmirch Utley. He's not dirty; he's hard-nosed. He's not dirty; he's hard-nosed. He's not dirty; he's ...
... uh ... listen, you won't understand until he's on your team.
SS - Manny Machado
Transgressions: Being better than everyone else, flippin' bats, chuckin' bats.
Oh, Machado isn't blameless. Lost in the fact that Ventura has been provoking people for years is that Machado ran out and hit another human being with his fists. That is not polite, Manny Machado!
It's a weak shortstop field, really, unless you want to pretend people know and/or care who Yunel Escobar is, which they generally don't. As such, we give it to the preternaturally talented and impetuous young star who seems to be in the middle of these fracases.
3B - Brett Lawrie
We'll just go with some headlines:
Brett Lawrie wants people who haven’t played pro ball to ‘shut ur mouths’
That doesn't seem nice.
Brett Lawrie is a disgrace to baseball
Dumb it down for me, you're getting too complex.
Lawrie’s bullheaded act wearing thin with Blue Jays
Is this reputation deserved or not? I don't know the man. Can't say. But that doesn't mean he isn't a heel. It's not about what's in your heart. It's about the volume of the boos directed at you.
LF - Ryan Braun
Transgressions: Performance-enhancing drugs. Lying about PEDs. Blaming other people for PEDs.
Baseball needs a PED user for other fans to hate. When the San Francisco Giants play the Milwaukee Brewers, fans in Barry Bonds jerseys heckle Braun for using PEDs. I love that so much.
CF - Bryce Harper
Transgressions: Playing hard, being a redass, being better than everyone else.
This guy's been targeted since he was 15 because he knows that he is more talented than just about every other baseball player who ever lived. His reputation didn't improve in the minors, when he did things like this:
So even as he gets out and mellows a bit, he still gets, you know, choked. He can't win.
The good news is that he's embracing the role, like Pierzynski. Make Baseball Fun Again.
RF - Jose Bautista
Transgression: Flippin' bats.
It's not just the bat flips. It's the remorselessness. It's that he's doing it against your team. It's that he knows that he's good.
That's it? Apparently. But people sure don't like Bautista. This makes him feel lonely, which is why he follows everyone on Twitter. It's a classic, tragic tale as old as time.
SP - Yordano Ventura
Transgressions: Throwing baseballs at people over and over and over again.
Recently, inside the Kansas City Royals’ clubhouse, Yordano Ventura was talking about how he planned on hitting Jose Bautista with a pitch the next time he faced him. The people around Ventura rolled their eyes, tired of the bluster, done with the immaturity, hopeful he was playing fugazi instead of the on-field arsonist they’d seen too many times for their liking.
People rolled their eyes at Ric Flair, too. They just didn't understand him.
SP - John Lackey
Transgressions: Looking like a lost O'Doyle kid from Billy Madison, yelling at teammates, general saltiness.
There is absolutely no way that Lackey hasn't stuffed at least one nerd into a locker in his life. Those are my people, John. And I speak for all of them when I say, "No more, sir. I stand up to you and say ... owwww quit it what are you doing staaaahhhp."
His teammates seem to like him, even if he does scowl at fielders when they make errors. But he has a clear heel reputation, and he's a fine No. 2 on our team.
SP - Madison Bumgarner
Transgressions: Yelling at opponents for breaking different unwritten rules that include, but are not limited to: flipping bats, being mad at just missing a pitch down the middle, staring at home runs, running the bases too slowly, popping gum incorrectly, preferring creamy peanut butter, looking like maybe thinking about staring at a home run one day.
Hey, he's my favorite, don't get me wrong. He's a big ol' ursine freak of nature, and he has a dry wit that the rest of the country doesn't get to see. But he sure yells at people for just the dumbest things, and he has quite the reputation for it.
Here he is yelling at Wil Myers:
What happened with Myers? Bumgarner: "Nothing, I just wanted to get mad for a minute."— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) May 18, 2016
What actually happened was that Myers was looking at the scoreboard to check the velocity of the pitch, Bumgarner thought he was being stared down, so he double-stared back and Myers said, "Hey, don't stare me down," which ... oh my goodness is writing this down really what I do for a living what have I become this is so stupid.
That is, ha ha, Bumgarner yells at people. He'll be a heel until he doesn't do that.
SP - Mat Latos
Transgression: Being snarly.
I thought it was just a San Francisco thing with Latos, as he broke an announcer's car window and started signing baseballs with "I hate San Francisco." But, no, he's the Pierzynski of pitching. Kind of looks like Pierzynski if you squint. And it's not like I'm going to pass up a chance to use this for the 40th time:
The Los Angeles Dodgers traded for him last season, and that got old after about two weeks before dumping him. He's struggling again after a strong start in Chicago, and it can't be too long until even more grumbling starts.
RP - Jonathan Papelbon
Transgressions: Choking teammates, antagonizing fans, looking like a swollen cartoon henchman.
Closers usually have post-game antics, from Brian Wilson's elaborate tribute to his dad to Fernando Rodney's flaming arrow. But Papelbon is the chap responsible for this:
The only reason he doesn't throw the book you were reading out of an airplane window is because he can't figure out how to open an airplane window. He just sits and stares at the window the entire flight, wondering, "I don't understand how these are supposed to open." Makes him an outstanding seatmate, really. But know that he would toss the book if he could and yell something about you being a word nerd.
Just a guess, of course. And we would all watch a Mystery Science Theater 3000-type show where Lackey and Papelbon had to watch every episode of Downton Abbey.
MGR - Joe Maddon
Transgression: Being most self-satisfied man to ever manage a baseball team.
He might still be baseball's cool dad to you, and that's fair. We all went through that phase. His players love him, and the fans of whatever team he's managing love him. That's all that really matters.
If you're a rival, though, he's constantly complaining about the transgressions of other teams.
Very proud of our effort 2nite. What occurred in the 9th reeked of intent. Was ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, incompetent, cowardly behavior.— Joe Maddon (@CubsJoeMadd) May 26, 2012
He is nature's subtweet, a bespectacled well-actually in the wild. He's the kind of guy who can overhear someone talking about movies at a party from three miles away, which allows him to climb through an open window and tell you why Ozu was overrated.
He's the perfect manager for this team, bless him. It had to be somebody.
There are all of the best heels in baseball right now. We don't have a Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds in there, but you can't deny there are some Heel of Famers who will be inducted five years after retiring. To honor this team of all-heels, I spent hours and hours designing a uniform just for them.
This team would go 96-66, by the way. They have power and depth, and they would crush your hopes and dreams. I'm sad this team doesn't actually exist. The 30 for 30 documentary would be transcendent.