Every good story has a villain. Baseball is a game built on stories. As such, there has never been any shortage of antagonists in baseball lore. For every trailblazing hero, there was a nefarious executive who tried to stop them; for every incredible comeback, a scapegoat who blew the lead; for every miracle season, years of managerial ineptitude or tanking that made it that much sweeter.
The 2023 MLB season has been thrilling so far, with the new rules adding some extra spice to a wide-open landscape full of contenders old and new. The traditional big-money “villains” of recent years — the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers, to name a few — have been mired with inconsistency, while small-market operations like the Rays, Orioles, and Pirates have taken the standings by storm in the early going. Meanwhile, some of the offseason’s biggest spenders — the Mets, Phillies, and Padres — have been downright bad for the most part. All that to say: the usual suspects aren’t living up to the billing. So where can we find our new baseball villains?
Well, my friend, I’m pleased you asked. After a week-long soul-searching journey, I’ve narrowed it down to these nine entities. Feel free to agree.
9. Rob Manfred
Now, I imagine you may be reading this and thinking, “Wait a minute. Didn’t you just praise MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s new rules? How can he be a villain, when he’s clearly made such a positive impact on the game this year?” To that, I say, good point. However, the fact of it is, he actually sucks. Rob Manfred is still the worst, and we hate him.
Yes, the new pitch clock, larger bases, and disengagement rules seem to have been positive changes so far. But let’s not pretend that those ideas came from Manfred’s brain. His job is to serve as MLB’s masthead, not captain the ship. His day-to-day includes making money, soothing the owners’ egos, and possibly kidnapping children (awaiting confirmation on this). He does not care about the fans, except when he has a chance to black them out from actually watching baseball on his app. He is, and will remain, the sport’s first name in villainy.
8. Jerry Reinsdorf
Speaking of ownership (or lack thereof), one of the most brutal storylines from the early going has been the shocking ineptitude of the Chicago White Sox. Despite playing in the worst division in baseball, the Sox have the third-fewest wins of any team through six weeks. They rank bottom-six in such notable stats as wRC+, ERA, xFIP, and fWAR, and they have the worst run differential of any team not named the Oakland Athletics. Did I mention that their roster is earning $186 million this year?
It’s not to say that this is entirely the fault of CWS owner Jerry Reinsdorf, but he is kind of in charge, and he has been for some time now. In the 42 years Reinsdorf has owned the club, Chicago has a total of seven playoff appearances. In the past decade, they’ve finished above .500 in a full season once. In other words:
“SELL THE TEAM” chants have started
Cc: Jerry Reinsdorf
— Barstool Chicago (@barstoolchicago) April 30, 2023
7. Marcell Ozuna
It’s been long enough that we don’t need to rehash the details of Ozuna’s descent from postseason hero to the most reviled pariah in Atlanta since Tom Brady. He served his domestic violence suspension in 2021, and as far as the league is concerned, that’s ancient history. Maybe you agree. Regardless, nearly everything that Ozuna has said and done since that incident — take, for example, his 2022 DUI arrest, or the fact that he’s been the single worst baseball player by bWAR with 600 plate appearances in that span — has made him less and less likable. As a fan of the Atlanta baseball club, I can attest that watching Marcell Ozuna swing a bat every week is like watching someone try to count backward from 1,000 while being repeatedly run over by a steamroller. It just hurts.
For the crime of continuing to do his job on my TV, I consider Ozuna a most sinister offender. Also, you know, for his actual crimes. Take your pick, really.
6. John Smoltz
On the subject of people being bad at their high-paying job… I present John Smoltz. Since he started calling games for Fox back in 2016, the Hall of Fame hurler has been hurling a different kind of heat: bad takes, complaining, and general malfeasance aimed at the sport that made his career (baseball). When Smoltz takes the mic on Saturdays, every other word is a new spin of the same old refrain — analytics are bad, new ideas are bad, and if you like any of them, you should feel bad. Whether or not you sympathize with his opinions, it’s a downright drag to listen to.
When asked about his negative reputation in a recent interview, Smoltz fired back with another classic: “They never played the game,” he says of his many critics. Ah, yes. because if you were good at playing baseball, then you must be good at talking about it, too. If that were true, how would you explain A-Rod?
Actually, I’m glad that Smoltz refuses to back down from his cantankerous stances. It makes him a much better villain. And wasn’t I just saying how important it is that we have those?
5. Max Scherzer
Throughout his career, Max Scherzer has always been an antagonistic pitcher. It’s one of the qualities that fuel his success, along with his single-minded determination and bionic laser eye (again, don’t check me on this). He’s never backed down from an argument, either. Remember that time he was tossed from the dugout in a game he wasn’t even pitching? Or that other time, when he got Joe Girardi ejected simply by looking at him? It’s no surprise that last month’s “sticky stuff” fiasco prompted a strong reaction:
Max Scherzer has been ejected from today's game for using an illegal foreign substance on his glove
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) April 19, 2023
In this case, the ejection may not have even been his fault. But he played the part of the villain to a tee, and that’s what matters to me. He’s also pitching terribly so far this season, which lends even more credit to his case because Mets fans are starting to hate him too. Burn it all down, Max!
4. The Oakland Political Circus
No one who’s been paying attention to the will-they-won’t-they sideshow in Oakland these last few years was shocked to hear the announcement that the club is due to pick up its Kelly Green tote bags and move to Las Vegas. As The Athletic’s Marc Carig eloquently describes in his piece two weeks ago, this is no unhappy accident. It’s stuffed inside a sticky sandwich of stadium contracts, lawsuits, and failed negotiations, but at its core, this was always the plan. There’s more money in Vegas, and the A’s ownership wants that money.
A’s owner John Fisher — Rob Manfred (red flag!) — will have you believe this happened because fans wouldn’t show up. But as Carig points out, everything about the A’s ineptitude was orchestrated from the top. They say the worst kind of evil doesn’t see itself as evil, and that’s certainly true here. Business is business, right?
3. The A.L. Central
Presented without context:
The teams are in order pic.twitter.com/JekZPJ74Qs
— Céspedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) May 10, 2023
The A.L. Central is so bad, the A’s would be just 10 games out of second place — and they’re losing on purpose! It’s high time we as a baseball community aligned ourselves against this region as a whole, and see if we can’t get the whole thing relegated to Triple-A. I bet Reinsdorf would love that.
2. The Pittsburgh Pirates
If you’ve been following along to this point, you should understand that the MLB Villainy Index is about narrative more than anything (mixed with my own personal grudges). With that in mind, I couldn’t leave out the team whose very existence is definitionally villainous. Pirates rob, plunder, and pillage — it’s just what they do. The Pittsburgh variety even does it while wearing black, which is the most villainous of colors. Look at those swashbucklin’ fools!
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) April 12, 2023
I mentioned earlier that the Pirates are having a good season so far. It’s true, they currently lead the N.L. Central, and they’re doing so in the most fitting way possible: thievery! The Pirates lead MLB in stolen bases, with 48 as of Friday morning. This is a situation we’re going to have to continue to monitor, or else they may go ahead and steal their way to the Playoffs.
1. Bagel Minis Guy
Bear with me here, folks.
The thing about MLBtv that I love is how by purchasing it, I can watch baseball. The thing about MLBtv that I don’t love is the commercial breaks. That’s because, during said breaks, they play the same five commercials over and over. In one of those commercials — you may have seen it — a group of people at an auto shop decide to visit Dunkin’ Donuts. One of them declares his love for Bagel Minis (“they’re like bagels, but you know…”), and then they go buy some. That’s pretty much the whole video. Here, you can watch it for yourself:
It’s difficult for me to explain why this 15-second ad makes me seethe with rage. The first few times, I suppose, it was funny. Awkward humor is big these days, as the advertising industry is apparently just now catching up on the things that we laughed at in 2009. It certainly seems innocuous enough. The ad has a happy ending too, which is nice. But here’s the thing: I have no emotional connection with this man. His foibles don’t amuse me like Michael Scott in The Office; if anything I pity him, like Toby Flenderson in The Office. And after watching those same uncomfortable five seconds 20 times in one day (I watch a lot of baseball), the pity turns into anger.
Now that I’m angry, I think about it, and the scene doesn’t even make sense. Why is he in the auto shop to begin with? He clearly doesn’t work there. If his car is being serviced, then why would he volunteer so brazenly to go to a restaurant with these strangers? The only answer we’re given is that he likes Bagel Minis, and I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough for me. The man is so hungry he’s willing to risk public humiliation, and we’re supposed to empathize with that? For a MINIATURE BAGEL?
Look, I’m sure the Bagel Minis Guy is a nice person. I wish him well in his acting career, post-Dunkin Donuts run. But if he’s reading this, I want him to also know that he makes me want to gouge my eyes out on a regular basis.
In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.