On Sunday, Chipper Jones was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an acknowledgement of his stellar career with the Atlanta Braves, where he was a World Series champion, an MVP and an eight-time all-star. But among his achievements, one that’s less discussed was his ability to drive New York Mets fans crazy.
For years, when Jones would travel to the Big Apple to play the Braves’ National League East rivals, he would hear it from fans in the stands, who would try their best to torment him by chanting “Laaaaaaaary” in honor of his real first name. (Hall-of-Fame Mets catcher Mike Piazza loved joining in on the heckling. “I call him Larry whenever he comes to the plate,” Piazza once said. “I’m not going to call a grown man ‘Chipper.’ Plus, it rattles him.”) The back-and-forth between Jones and the Mets faithful was epic — so much so that, reportedly, Jones named one of his kids Shea after the Mets’ former stadium.
But that’s just one instance of baseball players getting into it with a rival fan base. Of all sports, baseball is perhaps uniquely suited to these types of long-running showdowns. For one thing, a baseball season is long (162 games in all), which means that teams face each other plenty over a six-month span. Also, because of the relative downtime that occurs during a game, fans can while away the hours by heckling the hell out of the other team when they’re on defense standing around waiting for something to happen. We’ve got to fill that time somehow — why not jeer a guy we can’t stand to see if he’ll react?
With that in mind, here are five of the most infamous ballplayer/fan feuds. And because feuds need to have a winner and a loser, we’ll declare a champion in each case.
Darryl Strawberry v. Red Sox Fans
What Happened?: The 1986 World Series was a thriller between the Mets and the Boston Red Sox that went seven games. Boston hadn’t won the Fall Classic since 1918 — including 1986, they’d won the pennant four times since — and they were facing a very talented, very young Mets team led by emerging superstars such as Dwight Gooden and Strawberry. Unfortunately for Strawberry, he blew a play in the outfield in Game 3, the first game to take place in Boston, and the fans came up with a unique way of mocking him, chanting “Daaaaaryl,” in a slow, taunting way in an attempt to get in his head.
“At first I thought these people were crazy,” Strawberry said years later. “It sounded so weird. They kept it up every game we played here.” But soon the chant wasn’t confined to just Red Sox home games. “The next year, I heard it in every park in spring training and every park in the National League,” he recalled. “We were a wild team, and fans on the road used to love to boo us. It got to a point where we wanted them to boo us because that meant we were winning. I’d rather be booed than hear that chant, to tell you the truth. I even heard it at Shea sometimes when the fans in New York wanted to get on me.”
Who Won the Feud?: As Strawberry always loved to point out, the Mets won that World Series, coming back from being down two-games-to-nothing. (They were down in both Game 6 and Game 7 but emerged victorious, with Strawberry homering in the clincher.) As for the chant, well, it’s as important to his legacy as any play he ever made on the field. And Strawberry was a decent sport about it, even when The Simpsons referenced it in the immortal “Homer at the Bat” episode.
Jose Canseco v. One Yankee Fan
What Happened?: Early in his career, Canseco was a mammoth power hitter, part of the famed Oakland A’s teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s that went to three straight World Series, winning one. But he was also supremely thin-skinned.
During the 1991 season, Canseco had reconciled with his estranged wife Esther, but in May, he was photographed leaving Madonna’s New York apartment in the early morning, inspiring tabloid rumors that they were an item. The A’s were in town to face the Yankees, and in the first inning, the home crowd let Canseco hear it — specifically, Canseco believed, a 30-year-old fan named Kenny Shabs, whom the slugger insisted was saying derogatory things about his wife and ethnicity. After Canseco flied out, he made a beeline to Shabs to confront him.
“Everybody in the section was screaming at Canseco [when he was in the on-deck circle],” Shabs later told journalists. “Everybody. It was, ‘Hey, where’s Madonna? Where’s your wife?’ … I didn’t say a peep to Canseco. I’ll take a polygraph. I’m not a drunken slob. I’m just an average, ordinary middle-class guy trying to enjoy the ballgame.”
Canseco had to be restrained by teammates, and Shabs was ejected, maintaining that he hadn’t heckled the player. According to Shabs, Canseco told him, “Any more racial remarks out of you, and I’ll bash your head in.” Later talking to reporters, Canseco said, “I don’t think the ticket says you’re allowed to use profanity. … [He said things] so disgusting, you can’t even write it.”
Who Won the Feud?: Canseco’s woes didn’t end there: A couple months later, he challenged a fan to a fight in Baltimore after he was heckled. Because he’s such a blockhead in general, it’s hard to ever take his side, but it’s worth pointing out that baseball players, like athletes in most sports, do have to deal with a lot of racist garbage from ignorant rival fans.
Barry Bonds v. Padres Fans
What Happened?: Bonds is one of baseball’s greatest hitters. But because of his alleged steroid use, he’ll always be seen, in the eyes of many fans, as a cheater. As the 2006 season began, he was third on the all-time home run list, behind only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. But Bonds was also chasing doping allegations: In March of that year, Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports was published, laying bare the slugger’s alleged use of PEDs.
Not surprisingly, he got a chilly reception from rival fan bases. On Opening Day, April 3, Bonds’ San Francisco Giants were visiting the San Diego Padres, and near the end of the game a fan threw a toy syringe onto the field, a reference to Bonds’ alleged steroid use. “Hey, if that’s what they want to do to embarrass themselves, that’s on them,” Bonds told reporters after the game, which also featured fans holding up signs, one that read “Cheaters Never Prosper.” “I’m just here to play baseball.”
Who Won the Feud?: Bonds was roundly booed the rest of his career during Giants’ road games. (And fans kept throwing things at him, including an incident a few weeks later at an Arizona Diamondbacks game, where a spectator tossed what appeared to be a toothpaste tube.) Major League Baseball even had to assign extra security for Bonds when the team traveled. And yet, he remained defiant, insisting he’d done nothing wrong. Despite his incredible stats, he has yet to be voted into the Hall of Fame.
David Ortiz v. Yankee Fans
What Happened?: The Yankees and Red Sox have long enjoyed a passionate rivalry, but it escalated this century as the teams have frequently battled for the American League pennant. (One of the two clubs has played in seven of the last 18 World Series.) It’s natural, then, that one team’s superstars will be loathed by the other club’s fans. But longtime Red Sox hero Ortiz resides in his own special sphere: Yankee fans hated him, which only made him enjoy trolling them more, which (in a weird way) actually sorta endeared him to the Pinstripe faithful.
The reason for fans’ hatred stemmed primarily from Ortiz’s magnificent performance against the Yankees during the 2004 American League Championship Series, in which the Red Sox came back from being down 3–0 to advance to the World Series, ultimately winning their first title in nearly 90 years. Ortiz, who was the ALCS MVP, was a big reason for their comeback, hitting a dramatic walk-off home run in Game 4 in extra innings that kept them alive in the series. (The next game, he once again hit the walk-off winner in extra innings.)
Ortiz retired after the 2016 season, writing a farewell note that said, in part, “Some players are born to be Yankees, you know what I’m saying? I was born to play against the Yankees.” No single modern-day Sox player has been more of a thorn in New York’s side. As a tribute to his retirement, a group of Yankee fans tried to organize an odd salute to their nemesis during his final game at Yankee Stadium, where the home crowd would moon him. Ortiz just thought it was funny: “Let me tell you something. If 50,000 people moon me, I promise you… I’m gonna laugh so hard I might start crying.” (The mooning ended up not happening.)
Who Won the Feud?: Honestly, everybody won this one. It’s actually a little sad watching Red Sox-Yankees games now that he’s retired — the guy created so many memorable moments that, no matter which team you liked, his presence at the plate was always high drama. And the bitter rivalry inspired a great 2011 bit in which a faux-sad Ortiz decides to walk around New York asking Yankee fans to give him a hug. And, actually, a lot of fans obliged him. The whole thing was like the original Billy on the Street.
Chipper Jones v. Mets Fans
What Happened?: When you have a favorite baseball team, there are certain players on other clubs you can’t stand simply because they absolutely murder your team. In the case of Mets fans, that guy was Chipper Jones. The Braves third baseman had incredible stats against the Mets, batting .309 in 245 games against them, clubbing 49 home runs and driving in 159 runs. Since the Braves and the Mets were in the same division, they played each other a lot during Jones’ 20-year career, and so, the Mets faithful quickly came to hate seeing him.
In turn, Jones enjoyed needling Mets fans, famously mocking them in 1999 by telling a reporter after a 4–3 victory, “This is the next best thing to a World Series win. … Now, all the Mets fans can go home and put their Yankees’ stuff on. You know they’re all going to convert.” Sore, Mets fans got their revenge when it came out that Jones really hates being called Larry. (His birth name is Larry Wayne Jones Jr.) And so, Jones was greeted with chants of “Laaaaaaary!” whenever the Braves would come to New York.
Jones provided his own odd tribute of sorts to his rivals, naming his son Shea. “I just love the name; my wife did, too,” he later told the New York Times. “A lot of people think I was doing it just to get at the Mets fans, but that’s not the case. My dad named me Larry, for Pete’s sake — give me something I can work with, you know? I could’ve played in the American League my whole career, and I still would have named him Shea.”
Who Won the Feud?: Near the end of his career, Jones got a warm farewell from the Mets during his last appearance in the Big Apple in 2012. And when, earlier this year, he was voted into the Hall of Fame, the New York Daily News honored him with a cover that read, “Go to Hall, Larry!” As for Jones, he harbored no ill will to the fan base he expertly tortured. “The people up here, they bleed orange and blue,” he said in 2012. “They’re going to do whatever they can to take the other team’s best player out of the game. It could be questioning the ancestry of your mother. I’ve heard it all, trust me, especially when I played left field out near the cheap seats.”
Awfully big of you, Larry.