We baseball fans are a funny lot.
Fans who appreciate the game’s history and recognize that a certain decorum should be maintained when playing the greatest sport in the world are quick to admonish anyone who tarnishes the game with bad behavior.
Yet, we absolutely love it when somebody loses their shit.
There’s a reason a video of Wally Backman going absolutely bananas as the manager of South Georgia Peanuts in the Independent Southern League has nearly four million views on YouTube.
We love seeing Lou Piniella chuck a base, Billy Martin kick dirt on an umpire and Earl Weaver “motherfuck” every last person wearing an umpire uniform.
There have been plenty of tirades in the game’s history, some of which even resulted in physical altercations, but not many can measure up to Cubs manager Lee Elia’s famous rant early in the 1983 season. There’s a general rule in professional sports that you can’t win against the fans. Whenever a player or manager speaks out against those who pay good money to support their team, it’s an absolute losing battle.
Elia might be the only person to take on his hometown fanbase and win. He didn’t just complain about the Wrigley faithful, he absolutely lambasted them for a solid three minutes, pretty much attacking their very existence for booing the Cubs. Maybe it was because he was sticking up for his players or it could have been that it was so perfect that all you could do is respect it, but Lee Elia’s rant is now embraced as part of Cubs lore by everyone including Elia himself.
It was only his second season at the helm of the Cubs and he didn’t make it through the summer. Elia was fired in August of 1983. He managed just 285 games for the Cubs over one and a half regrettable seasons, and likely would have gone down as a forgotten footnote if it wasn’t for his enduring rant.
Baseball might not have the etiquette of Wimbledon or The British Open, but the game is expected to be respected. That is, unless you totally want to blow your top. For then, the fans shall cheer you.
The Braves only spent 13 seasons in Milwaukee, winning the 1957 World Series and birthing Hank Aaron in the process. However, the team was sold in 1966 and shipped to Atlanta where they have remained for 56 years. They’ll need to stay there another 27 years to surpass Boston as the franchise’s longest-tenured home.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
280. Frankie Frisch traded for Rogers Hornsby (1926)
279. Dwight Gooden’s 1985 season (1985)
278. Lefty Grove’s 300th win (1941)
277. Jimmie Foxx’s lost home runs (1932)
276. Boston Braves move to Milwaukee (1953)
And now, here’s Episode XXVI of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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Lee Elia Tirade (1983)
On April 29, 1983, Cubs manager had a few words for the media. 444 words to be exact. Considering that 35 of those words were either the f-word or some version of it, you could tell that Elia was a little ticked off. What could have possibly set him off so early in the season? Cubs fans booing the home team. Nine f-bombs flew in just the first two sentences as Elia uttered the classic quote, “Fuck those fuckin’ fans who come out here and say they’re Cubs fans…” Elia’s tantrum is one of the greatest manager meltdowns in the sport’s history and it was all in the name of sticking up for his players. The Cubs finished 71-91 that year, so the fans might have had a point in booing them. For his part, Elia has embraced the legend of his eruption and has had a great sense of humor about it over the years. That’s to say he has come a long way since attacking the Wrigley bleacher creatures as such: “The motherfuckers don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the fuckin’ game. They oughta go out and get a fuckin’ job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a fuckin’ living. Eighty-five percent of the fuckin’ world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here.”
You can hear the (very) NSFW rant right here.
John Rocker Sports Illustrated profile (1999)
Every great baseball rivalry needs a villain and when the Mets were trying to usurp the Braves for AL East dominance, nobody really stood out at first. Chipper Jones killed the Mets, but he was a likable guy. Could anyone really get mad at Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine or John Smoltz? They were dominant, but they’re basically a librarian, hockey player and golfer disguised as baseball players. The Mets—and the rest of baseball—finally found their antagonist on December 27, 1999. That was when Sports Illustrated did a profile John Rocker and the shit hit the fan. Without getting too much into it, here’s what Rocker said when asked if he’d like to play for the Mets or Yankees: “Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” The article continues on in that vein and even at a time when cancel culture was decades away from being a thing, Rocker took a ton of backlash, as expected. Today, Rocker does not shy away from the article and the persona he created as a player. The way he puts it, he was playing the role of a villain as a way to get an edge in a high-octane role of closer for Hall of Fame pitchers.
Roy Halladay dies (2017)
Talk about your shocking baseball deaths. Halladay’s career on the mound speaks for itself. He was a throwback workhorse starter with the kind of stuff that allowed him to win 203 games, two Cy Young Awards and earn a plaque in Cooperstown. He was beloved by the Blue Jays and Phillies fanbases and widely respected—and feared—in the baseball world. There wasn’t as much of a sniff of controversy surrounding Halladay over the course of his 16-year career. That’s why it was so stunning to hear that just four years after retiring, Halladay crashed a high-performance single-person aircraft into four feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico while flying erratically under the influence of multiple drugs. The circumstances around Halladay’s accident still do not tarnish all the good he did on and off the field when he was alive and he has been memorialized in many ways since that fateful day in November of 2017.
Greg Maddux earns 350th win (2008)
The 300-win milestone is rare enough and something we aren’t likely to see many more times in our lives. In this day and age, 350 wins seems absurd to even think of. It sounds like a number produced by a Dead Ball Era hurler or some steroid-enhanced giant, and yes that is a not-so-subtle swipe at Roger Clemens whose 350th didn’t land in The Stud 400. Maddux got to 350 wins with a recipe of movement, intelligence, hard work, health and playing on a team that consistently won for over a decade. The way the game is played today, you’ll find plenty of hard workers and you’ll even find your smart pitchers out there. But you’re not going to find a pitcher that puts all the ingredients in the soup the way Maddux did. Justin Verlander needs to pitch four more seasons until he is 43 years old, averaging 14 wins a year to reach 300 wins. It’s an entirely feasible scenario and it could make Verlander the last 300-win pitcher in a long time. As for someone reaching 350 again? There is nobody in baseball today with even a remote chance of reaching that. Maddux was the ninth to reach 350 and aside from the aforementioned Clemens and the ageless Warren Spahn, the others to do it are ghosts from the game’s early days.
Cubs hold Ron Santo Day (1971)
When you go down the list of beloved Cubs, Ron Santo is right up there with fellow Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg. In fact, he was so beloved, the Cubs formally honored him with Ron Santo Day in 1971, which was a little odd because those types of fetes are typically held for retiring players or those who have already hung up their spikes. Santo was just 31 and still an All-Star third baseman in his prime. He was showered with some pretty lavish gifts and was roasted by teammate Joe Pepitone and other friends at an event later that evening. What makes the ceremony notable though was Santo’s public admission that he had battled diabetes his entire life and it effected his playing career.
It may be hard to imagine in today’s 24-hour, insta-media world, but there was a time when we didn’t know every single thing about every athlete’s personal life. In addition, 50 years ago, there wasn’t much awareness around diabetes. It was pretty shocking to hear one of the great baseball players at the time come out and say he had been battling it, mostly in secret, all along. Santo played three more seasons before becoming a beloved broadcaster. His legacy in helping in the fight against diabetes is just as impressive as the mark he made as a ballplayer. He had been involved in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for 30 years and helped to raise $65 million for the fight against diabetes. The first steps were taken on August 28, 1971 when he used his platform at Ron Santo Day to bring public awareness to the disease and acknowledge that he had been fighting it for his entire life.
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Stay tuned for next week’s episode of The Stud 400 when we take the BallNine Time Machine back to when Ol’ Pete was Young Pete, check behind some shiny ears for a no-no and ask a slugging Hall of Famer what type of car home run-hitters drive.