Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sports' Villains Are So Diabolical, They're Lovable after All, Bad Guys Make It More Fun to Attend the Games

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sports' Villains Are So Diabolical, They're Lovable after All, Bad Guys Make It More Fun to Attend the Games

Article excerpt

Some heinous villains are actually great for sports.

No, not the offensive owners, officials and executives who are so hard to retaliate against. The Bill Bidwills, Don Denkingers and Judge Ed Houstons of the world can punish you with impunity.

(Cleveland Browns boosters did hound National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and drive Baltimore-bound owner Art Modell into hiding, but few fans have the stomach for long-range attacks.)

The villains you have to love are those hot-dogging, finger-pointing, trash-talking bad guys playing for rival teams.

Think of some of the foes you have come to loathe. Last year, it was chatty, showboating San Diego Padres outfielder Rickey Henderson. Wasn't it fun rooting against him?

These characters add more than color to sports - they give outraged fans an emotional stake in the games. You want to see these people suffer grisly fates at the hands of your home-team heroes.

You want to see them brought to justice, humbled, left whimpering. When hated enemies are vanquished, grown-up fans start whooping like Surge-fueled preschoolers at a Barney party.

Who could forget former San Francisco Giants outfielder Jeffrey "Hac Man" Leonard. Also known as "Penitentiary Face," ol' No. 00 taunted the Cards with his "one flap down" home-run trot in the '87 National League Championship Series.

Four homers, four "one flap down" trots. What an outrage! Invective spewed and spittle flew from the Busch Stadium bleachers. When the Cards won the series despite Leonard's long-ball assault, the triumph was all the sweeter.

What was the Hac Man thinking? "I've done some crazy things - slid home, dove home, did the bump at home. I did a lot of things," Leonard would later say. "I guess the playoffs got the recognition, I don't know."

As for the booing and the hate mail, Leonard wasn't hurt. "I was flattered, man," he said. "I didn't take it in a negative way."

Who could forget Detroit Red Wings ruffian Bob Probert? With his long rap sheet, formidable fighting skills, toothless leer and dangerously short fuse, Probie ran roughshod over the National Hockey League.

In a 1990 playoff series against the Blues, Probie snapped and slashed Garth Butcher (no crime there) and then slugged harmless goaltender Vincent Riendeau. …

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