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9 Major League Badasses Who Shook Up Baseball

From pint-sized pitchers to street-fighting catchers – and guys who were just plain mean – baseball’s never been lacking in badasses

Ted Williams; Red Sox; Willie Stargell; Pete Rose

Subject: Ted Williams batting. Cleveland, Ohio May 1954 Photographer- Yale Joel Time Life Staff Merlin-1139960

Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Sure, NHL players won't let a puck to the face keep them off the ice, and tough-guy rhetoric is the official language of the NFL, but when it comes to pure badassery, Major League Baseball has them both beat.

That's because MLB badasses seem to come in all shapes and sizes, from pitchers who don't break six feet to catchers that appear to be made out of poured concrete. There's also the fact that – for whatever reason – no sport is able to match baseball's assortment of antagonists and ne'er-do-wells, the kind of guys who are, well, actually bad. And with the new MLB season underway, we've penciled in a starting nine of baseball badasses…the kind of guys who don't need shoulder pads to do damage.

Pedro Martinez; Red Sox; Baseball

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Boston Red Sox's pitcher Pedro Martinez throws during the 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees 24 May, 2001 at Yankee Stadium in New York. Martinez record dropped to 6-1 as he suffered his first loss of the season. The Yankees won their fifth straight game against Martinez. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty

Pedro Martinez

The diminutive Dominican – who stood just 5-foot-11 and weighed 170 pounds – struck out 3,154 batters over the course of his 18-year MLB career, and gave zero fucks while doing so. Unless you pissed him off. We all remember the 2003 ALCS, or the time he battled through an aching back to clinch the '99 ALDS with six hitless innings of relief against the Cleveland Indians. But the best Pedro game may have occurred on August 29, 2000, when he plunked the Tampa Bay Rays' first batter, Gerald Williams (who charged the mound), then then retired the next 24 batters – 13 by strikeout – before finally giving up a hit to start the ninth. It was the only one he'd surrender in a complete game victory. Sure, he won Cy Young Awards, a World Series ring and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the sheer WTF-ery of that Tampa game will stand as the true testament to his off-kilter brilliance. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Ted Williams; World War II; Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams (9) socks one of his 521 career home runs during a game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium circa the late-1950s. (Photo by Tony Tomsic/WireImage) *** Local Caption ***

Tony Tomsic/WireImage/Getty

Ted Williams

Some players are totally badass on the field, and as one of the most feared hitters of all time, Teddy Ballgame was definitely a bad man between the basepaths. But he was also a badass off the field, putting his burgeoning career with the Red Sox on hold to enlist in the Navy reserve during World War II. He missed three whole seasons while training as a Naval Aviator, but he proved to be an ace pilot, setting records for barrel rolls, target hits and shooting from wingovers. To this day, Williams still holds a student gunnery record. He never saw direct combat during World War II, and returned to baseball – only to be called back from inactive reserves in 1952 to fight in the Korean War. As a member of the first Marine Air Wing, he flew numerous combat missions and was hit by enemy fire on more than one occasion. He'd return to Boston and play seven more seasons after that, and remains the last player to hit .400 in a season. But don't call him a badass: "Everybody tries to make a hero out of me over the Korean thing," Williams once said. "I was no hero. There were maybe 75 pilots in our two squadrons and 99 percent of them did a better job than I did."

Jim Abbott; Baseball

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 2, 1996: Jim Abbott of the California Angels stands on the mound during the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Anaheim Stadium on June 2, 1996 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty

Jim Abbott

Flint, Michigan native Jim Abbot pitched for a decade in the majors, winning 87 games for the Angels, Yankees, White Sox and Brewers. Just making it to baseball's biggest stage is an accomplishment, let alone doing it when you were born without a right hand. Abbot never let his disability stop him – in college, he became the first baseball player to win the James E. Sullivan Award, bestowed on the nation's top amateur athlete ever since 1930. He also helped the U.S. win an unofficial gold at the 1988 Summer Olympics (when baseball was still a demonstration sport) and was voted Big Ten Athlete of the Year in 1988 while at the University of Michigan. In 1991, he won 18 games for the Angels – finishing third in Cy Young voting – and pitched a no-hitter in 1993. Oh, and did we mention that in his final MLB season (his only in the National League), he had two hits and 3 RBIs in 21 at-bats?

Pete Rose; Baseball

(Original Caption) Pete Rose of Cincinnati Reds during spring training, April 1964.


Pete Rose

Ah, good ol' Charlie Hustle. Despite being MLB's all-time hits king, he'll probably never make the Hall of Fame, but at least he's earned a place in the triumphant hall of the baddest of the bad – and we don't necessarily mean that as a compliment. Sure, he racked up almost every accolade imaginable, starting with being named Rookie of the Year, then winning two World Series championships and an MVP with Cincinnati's Big Red Machine before heading to Philadelphia (where he'd win another championship with the Phillies). He'd break Ty Cobb's career mark for hits in 1985, and would retire as MLB's leader in games played and at-bats, too. But there were moments like the 1970 All-Star Game, when he barreled over Indians' catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run – separating Fosse's shoulder in the process ("It still hurts," he'd say 45 years later), or the time he shoved umpire Dave Pallone in 1988, earning a 30-game suspension for his antics. And, of course, there's the matter of him betting on baseball both as a player and the manager of the Reds, which earned him a lifetime ban from the game. Rose denied the accusations for nearly two decades – until finally coming clean in his 2004 autobiography.

Thurman Munson; Baseball

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30, 1977: Catcher Thurman Munson #15 of the New York Yankees flies out to endò-l]ÙW[5<u>™ÅM5¡–5ÕêÒoPä·¤-­~~¿ãî{Šyb3õóP½t}͂H


Thurman Munson

An undeniable talent – and a take-no-bullshit leader – on the field? Check. A legacy of winning that stretched back to his high school days? You bet. An epic mustache? And how. Munson was the embodiment of a blue-collar badass, the son of a truck driver who starred as the captain of his high school baseball, football and basketball teams, he rose through the Yankees' farm system, won Rookie of the Year honors in 1970 and an MVP Award. But more important, he established himself as the heart and soul of the wild Yankees teams that would win a pair of World Series titles in the late Seventies. So respected was Munson that, in 1976, he was named the team's first captain since Lou Gehrig retired in 1939. Oh, and he hated Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, and their rivalry was front and center when one of baseball's best rivalries burned brightest. When he was killed in a 1979 plane crash, the entire Yankee team attended his funeral, retired his number and kept his locker unoccupied at Yankee Stadium, until the park closed in 2008.

Willie Stargell; Baseball


Willie Stargell

"Pops" was beloved in Pittsburgh, playing his entire 21-year career with the Pirates, and leading the team to two World Series titles and six N.L. East crowns during the Seventies. He was the larger-than-life leader of the "We Are Family" Buccos, but never lost sight of his humble beginnings, which saw him rise above segregation during stints with farm clubs in the South – and worse. While in Texas, Stargell was once accosted at gunpoint by a man who threatened to kill him if he played that night (he did anyway). It's no wonder he would go on to be as famous for his prodigious home runs – "He doesn't just hit pitchers," the Dodgers' Don Sutton once said, "He takes away their dignity" ­– as he was for his father-figure status within the Pirates' clubhouse and throughout Major League Baseball. Simply put, "Pops" was the man.

Texas Rangers; Mets; Texas Rangers

ARLINGTON, TX - 1993: Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rangers delivers a pitch during a game in 1993 at Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Rich Pilling/MLB/Getty

Nolan Ryan

All hail the Ryan Express! Baseball's all-time strikeout king (5,714!) first saddled up for the Mets in 1966 and wouldn't ride off into the sunset until 1993 (!!!) Over the course of his 27-year career, he pitched a staggering seven no-hitters (the last at the tender age of 44), struck out a total of seven father/son MLB combos and, during his final season, beat the stuffing out of a 26-year-old Robin Ventura when the young buck dared charge the mound (score one for the old dudes!) Durable as they came, Ryan stressed toughness as an exec for the Texas Rangers, making a point of bringing in pitchers that could go deep into ballgames – dude was even a badass in his Golden Years.

Carlton Fisk; Red and White Sox; baseball

Carlton Fisk, catcher for the Boston Red Sox, smiles during spring training in Winter Haven, Florida in March, 1973. (AP Photo)


Carlton Fisk

"Pudge" donned both sets of MLB Sox – Red and White – over his 24-year career, and he lands on our list of indelible badasses thanks to his talents behind the plate and his gruff attitude. Sure, we can talk about how he was the first player to be unanimously voted American League Rookie of the Year, the home run he waved fair in the 1975 World Series, or the fact that both of his numbers – 27 and 72, respectively – are still iconic in Boston and Chicago. But Fisk was also a fiery competitor (his is the rare athlete's Wiki page to include an entire section dedicated to "Notable Feuds") who warred with everyone from Thurman Munson to Deion Sanders. This was one badass who was built to last.

AJ Pierzynski; Atlanta Brave

Kevin C. Cox/Getty

A.J. Pierzynski

Love him or hate him – probably the latter – Pierzynski's unapologetic approach to the game may have earned him a spot on this list…but it hasn't earned him many friends (in 2012, his fellow major leaguers voted him the "most hated" player in the game). The current Atlanta Brave often toes the line between badass and boorish, readily admitting to drinking before – and during – games ("Sometimes you're just really struggling and you just say, 'Hey, you know what, I need something to calm me down and let's have a beer") and mouthing off to umpires with aplomb. Oh, and what about the time he brawled with fellow catcher Michael Barrett? Or reportedly kneed the S.F. Giants' trainer in the groin to illustrate a point about pain? No matter so many dudes want to hit him in the face. But, hey, sometimes we need bad guys – and Pierzynski seems more than willing to reign as MLB's top heel.