Starkey: Jagr, Bonds ... who else?
By Joe Starkey
Published: Thursday, December 29, 2011
In the spirit of the season, we shall hereby attempt to identify Pittsburgh's most-hated athletes of the past 40 years.
OK, hate is an objectionable word.
Let's go with least liked.
The criterion is simple: The athlete had to have played in Pittsburgh. Whether the public vitriol erupted while he was here (Dave Parker) or when he left (Marian Hossa) is immaterial.
We will not include coaches (Todd Graham), general managers (Dave Littlefield) or owners (Bob Nutting). We certainly will not include college athletes (insert Pitt quarterback of your choice).
Ultimately, we will whittle the list to four in creating our very own Mount Rushmore.
Given the bitterness and rage these men have inspired, we shall call it Mount Cuss More.
Several casual conversations, combined with the magic of Twitter, helped narrow the list. I even contacted two of the grand pooh-bahs of Pittsburgh sports — Stan Savran and John Steigerwald.
Steigerwald cited a Steelers quarterback named Bill Nelsen from the 1960s and Penguins defenseman Ron Stackhouse from a decade later. Nelsen was run out of town, only to become an All-Pro with the despised Cleveland Browns.
"Classic example of a good QB getting all the blame on a terrible team — a regular occurrence in Pittsburgh," Steigerwald said.
Needless to say, Steigerwald vehemently defended Kordell Stewart, a sure-fire finalist for Mount Cuss More. Nearly every Steelers quarterback has spent time in the town frying pan — from Terry Bradshaw to Bubby Brister to Tommy Maddox to the incumbent, Ben Roethlisberger.
Savran started with Jaromir Jagr, whose appearance tonight at Consol Energy Center — in a Filth-a-delphia Flyers jersey — inspired this project. He also mentioned Barry Bonds and long-ago Steelers quarterback Cliff Stoudt.
"Actually, they loved Cliff Stoudt," Savran said, "until he threw his first pass."
Tweeters dropped dozens of names, from those who meant no harm (Sid Bream) to those who innocently wound up in rival cities (Rod Woodson, Max Talbot) to a multitude of horrific Pirates acquisitions.
They mentioned Tom Barrasso, Rashard Mendenhall, Tim Worley, Joggin' George Hendrick, Derek Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, Bobby Bonilla, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Aki Imamura (and his knee brace), Limas Sweed and even poor little Chris Bourque.
Some barely escaped Mount Cuss More. Bream, for example, was spared because whenever his winning slide from the 1992 NL Championship Series comes up, fan fury immediately turns to Bonds (more on that in a minute).
Bell put a face to what is now a 19-year Pirates losing streak with his "operation shutdown" rant in 2002. But he was only here for 156 at-bats.
Hossa's sin — snubbing the Penguins' lucrative offer, going to the team that had just vanquished them in the Cup Final and delivering a verbal shot on his way out — was avenged the following year.
Enough. Let's get to it. The Final Four.
Envelopes, please ...
1. Bonds. He might not make the Hall of Fame, but he is a first-ballot inductee on Mount Cuss More (please see attached photo).
Bream, of all people, said it well in a recent radio interview: "Barry certainly had an air about him a lot of people didn't like, even in the clubhouse."
Bonds might have been the greatest player in franchise history. He also was a world-class jerk and a playoff failure. Perhaps undeservingly, he became the enduring symbol of the Pirates' ruination. Blame it on the throw that failed to nail Bream and an acrimonious departure via free agency.
I say undeservingly because the Pirates never offered Bonds a deal. And his throw really wasn't that bad (emails accepted at email@example.com).
2. Jagr. The Penguins' version of Bonds, except that he produced in the postseason.
Jagr's qualifications are impeccable. First, he soiled the sacred franchise captaincy — his immediate predecessors were Ron Francis and Mario Lemieux — by asking to be traded when the going got tough.
More disturbingly, he flirted with the Penguins last summer only to blow them off just when people were ready to forgive and forget.
To hear fans tell it, the problem wasn't that Jagr signed elsewhere. It was more that he swore, through agent Petr Svoboda, that his "heart" was here — yet Svoboda didn't bother getting back to GM Ray Shero before the latter's reasonable 11 a.m. deadline on free-agent day.
Fault the agent, if you like. Jagr is the agent's boss.
3. Neil O'Donnell. I asked Savran to help break a tie between O'Donnell and Stewart. We devised a test: If both names were uttered, which would evoke a more visceral negative reaction among fans?
We agreed it would be O'Donnell — all because of two interceptions in Super Bowl XXX, one of which probably wasn't his fault.
4. Stoudt. Though few would recognize his mug, he is a mortal lock. One unfortunate afternoon made it so.
After leaving the Steelers, where he'd been Bradshaw's ridiculed successor, Stoudt joined the USFL's Birmingham Stallions. The Stallions' second game in 1984 was at snowy Three Rivers Stadium against the Pittsburgh Maulers — an event that sold out on account of locals dying to torture Stoudt.
They pelted him with boos and snowballs.
"Fortunately," Stoudt once told me, "not many of them had good aim."
Jagr should be glad Thursday night's game is indoors.
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.