Has there ever been any closer, coming into a season, that is hated by his team more than Jonathan Papelbon? In his 2 months in a Nats uniform, he didn’t really endear himself to the fan base. I have tried to think of any closer that was hated more than him, right before the start of spring training. So I did a little digging.
Here is what I came up with, my candidates for the closer most hated by his teams’ fanbase entering a season. I tried to add a scoring system to express the level of hatred for each one.
Jonathan Papelbon – 2016
Just a refresher: Papelbon arrived mid-season in 2015, at a time when the Nats clearly needed bullpen help. The problem was he demanded closer responsibility, and the Nats closer, Drew Storen, was one of the few relievers on the team pitching well.
By the end of the season, he wasn’t awful but he had some key blown saves, and he never looked like an elite closer. Storen, who had at least looked like an elite closer up until the trade (and for about a week after) soon turned into a guy that couldn’t pitch. Papelbon also threw at Machado in some weird old-school, “you are enjoying your HR” thing to Nats fans just shook their heads and Bryce Harper gave a pretty good dismissal.
And then, Papelbon went ahead and CHOKED BRYCE HARPER, THE BEST PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE – a guy who was on his own team, for not running out a popup… that he actually ran out. The manager didn’t help the situation by letting him pitch that game, but Papelbon’s apparent lack of any remorse for it – coupled by just who he is, his own history of not really caring about his team over himself – made it even worse. Nats fans want him gone, but nobody seems to want a $11 M closer who attacks his MVP teammates.
COME ON GMs, DON’T YOU WANT A CLOSER WITH SOME FIRE IN THE BELLY?
Jonathan Papelbon – 2015
Papelbon wasn’t a Phillies fan favorite entering last season, either. He had pitched well enough for them in 2014, but he a general nuisance that garnered the ire of Phillies. Yeah, that’s an easy thing to do, everyone know. But seriously. The year before he said, as the Phillies weren’t looking like such a good team anymore “I definitely didn’t come here for this”, which fans remember and helps build up the animosity into the next season. He made himself unavailable to pitch when the team thought he was being ridiculous, then went out and played a game on MLB network where he was throwing bottles. And finally, after another blown save, he famously grabbed his crotch in a gesture to the crowd.
He wasn’t a bad enough closer to be hated completely by the Phillies, and didn’t attack anyone while he was there, but he was still pretty well hated by the fans, not for his performance, but for his performances.
Armando Benitez – 1998
With the Orioles, there are three things I remember about Benitez. First, when he came up, he used to look at the stadium radar display and pump his fist if it read 100+ mph. Second was his playoff appearances. Third was the brawl.
The first is self-explanatory, so let’s talk about the brawl. He twice drilled Tino Martinez in the back after someone else hit a HR, both times resulting in a brawl, the second time resulting in an eight-game suspension for Benitez. You can tell he was a beloved player league wide at that point in his career when, a day after the 10 minute brawl he instigated ended, Joe Torre supported his players’ reaction, “It was good to see. You don’t like to see fights breaking out, but as far as a response to what happened, it was good to see.”
But it was the playoff failures that really irked Baltimore fans. In Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, Jeffrey Maier of course gets some credit, but Benitez was on the mound for that one. But that was only game 1, and it only tied it, and Maier receives the hate, not Benitez. In game 4, the O’s were still in it late before he gave up a 2-run shot to Strawberry to seal the game.
The next season, he was back at it. In game 2, with the O’s trying to take a 2-0 series lead and beating the Indians 4-2 in the 8th, Benitez started the inning. Here’s how it went: K, BB, K, BB, HR to Marquis Grissom. 5-4, Indians win. On to game 6, the next time in the series he pitched with a lead. The game went 11 innings, so probably had no choice but to put him in the game. It was scoreless, and fter getting the first two outs, he gave up a HR to the formidable Tony Fernandez. Indians win game 1-0, win series 4-2, Benitez has two of the losses. O’s fans, have to deal with him for one more season, I can’t imagine he was well regarded in Baltimore that spring.
In those two seasons, he managed a combined ALCS ERA of 10.13, with 4 HRs (ok, 3 1/2) in 5 1/3 IP.
Armando Benitez – 2002
Another two time winner! Mets fans don’t have great memories of Benitez, either, although he wasn’t nearly as bad for them. In 1999, he pitched 2 innings and gave up 1 run in the series-deciding NLCS game 6. It was in the 10th after the Mets had scored in the top of the inning, but he was great all playoffs before that appearance. And Kenny Rogers allowed the final game winner the next inning.
2000 was a different story, though. As Amazin Avenue tells it in their assessment of whether it is justifiable to hate him (“Hate verdict: Justified”), he was shaky in the NLDS, unimpressive in the NLCS, and bad in the World Series. But it was the end of the 2001 season, when they didn’t make the playoffs, that the fanbase really was done with him. They most likely weren’t gonna win the division, but he was a key player in making sure that happened at the end. Yet, they still had to put up with him for another season and a half.
His ability to pitch well during the 1999 and 2000 seasons helped mitigate the hatred built up in the 2000 playoffs, the Mets missing the playoffs in 2001 probably kept the simmer a little lower. It probably wasn’t the worst of the bunch, but ask a Met fan today about Benitez, and watch them unleash a string of obscenities.
Mike Williams – 1999
No, not Mitch Williams, the Phillies traded him to Houston after the ’93 World Series. I’m talking about Mike Williams. The Pirates finished just below .500 in 1999, and looked to be improving. They had a good young team, with guys like Kendall, Aramis, Jason Schmidt and Kris Benson. A few FA signings could have made them contenders. But, since this was the Pirates in their era of cheapness, they did no such thing.
Mike Williams was pretty terrible in 1999, posting a 5.09 ERA. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “the closer job is up for grabs.” Pirates GM Cam Bonifay said that they’d try to find a replacement, he was quoted saying “We’ll look for a power arm from the right side. We’ll look for candidates to close.” During the offseason they went all in, signing big name relievers Josias Mazanillo and Jose Parra. Yeah.
He probably wasn’t hated as much as some of the other guys on the list, but the lack of addressing that position was symptomatic of the team not properly addressing any position. Fans mostly hated what the team was doing, he was just part of that.
Mariano Rivera – 1997
Hahaha just kidding. Seriously, though, John Wetteland had just finished a two year stint as the Yankees closer and won the 1996 World Series MVP award. Yeah, Mo finished THIRD in Cy Young voting that year, but I’d bet there were a bunch of people calling in to Mike and the Mad Dog going “Come on guys, the Yankees are just being cheap! This Rivera kid is a bum with one pitch who will get figured out. And he probably can’t even handle the pressure of closing. They should just pay Wetteland, or go sign Mel Rojas or Gregg Olson!”
Verdict: Come on, no
Drew Storen – 2015
I listed Drew Storen here although I don’t think he really belongs. He was never really hated by the majority of the fanbase, at least I don’t think he was. After the 2012 series, people were certainly pissed at Drew, but that game had a series of painful late inning jabs followed by a knockout punch. Storen deserves most of the blame, but I’m not sure if one game, with some blame to go around, is enough.
In 2014, if we didn’t know about 2012, it would’ve been just bad luck when Panda hit a ball 3 feet away from the strike zone into the LF corner. But we did. Hatred wasn’t what I saw, at least, though. It was a “time to move on” kind of thing, but maybe I’m misinterpreting.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that one Nationals fan hates him with the fire of a thousand suns, and has hated him since draft day. Needham’s hate for Storen doesn’t accurately reflect the rest of the fan base, but it’s strong enough that it might count for something.
Verdict: Weird mix of hatred, and trepidation
Rob Dibble – 1993/2011
Ok, so he wasn’t ever the Nats closer, and he was fired before 2011 started. But MAN, the Nats fanbase hates that guy. The Reds fanbase did, too. He was the Jonathan Papelbon of his era. He started brawls, he tried to throw a ball at a guy running down the first base line, and he got into a fight with Lou Piniella in the dugout. He also got so mad that he threw a baseball into the stands and hit a woman with it. By 1993, Reds fans were fed up with him, and he was awful for them. Probably because he pitched through an injury that he shouldn’t have, since he was so super tough. He was never good again.
With the Nats, Dibble was an all around bad color analyst, contributing nothing except occasionally being funny. He severely criticized Strasburg for missing a start due to injury. Dibble’s career ended after 5 seasons of being an elite reliever when he got injured and was never a good pitcher again. So he seemed kind of stupid on top of being wrong. Then he accused Strasburg’s parents of getting him fired.