Guest Column: Jim Rockford on the Ten Worst Sports “Divorces”

Editor’s Note: Mr. Rockford is a private detective based in Malibu, California. We here at Dubsism have retained Mr. Rockford at his standard rate of two hundred dollars a day plus expenses to investigate matters of crime and other general shadiness in the world of sports, then report back to us when needed. If you would like to contact Mr. Rockford, at the tone, leave your name and number and he’ll get back to you

Divorces in sports don’t necessarily have to be the actual and messy kind, like the matrimonial train wreck to which Frank and Jamie McCourt treated us. There have been plenty of on-the-field relationships that exploded in various states of severity, ranging from the “we can still be friends” style break-up like the one Peyton Manning and the Colts had.  Or, it can be the “domestic violence waiting to happen” split as in the case of Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox.

As a private investigator, I try to avoid domestic cases. But, to be honest, I’ve had to re-finance my trailer five times in the last ten years, and let me tell you those “balloon payments” can put a major skid on the wallet. That means whether I like it or not, I’ve peeked through more keyholes than I care to admit. That’s why J-Dub asked for my thoughts on ten notable sports divorces.

10) Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers

If you thought the Indianapolis Colts wouldn’t run Peyton Manning out of town, you forgot about the 1993 divorce between the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana.

Yep, Joe Montana, the four-time Super Bowl champion, back-to-back NFL MVP in 1989-90, and arguably the most beloved athlete in the history of San Francisco got handed a suitcase by the 49ers.

It all started after a “should-have-killed-him” hit by the New York Giants’ Leonard Marshall in the 1990 NFC title game.  The 49ers were on their way to an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl, but Marshall’s jarring blow blew out  Montana’s elbow, which not only ended his stint in this game; it would be almost two full seasons before Montana would see the field again.

The trouble is by then the 49ers had become enamored with Montana’s replacement, Steve Young. Not only that, but Young had entrenched himself as the starting quarterback and was the reigning NFL MVP when Montana was ready to return for the 1993 season.  49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo and coach George Seifert gave Montana the “run-around” as to whether he’d get a shot to compete for the starting  job,  so he demanded a trade.

At 37, Montana landed in Kansas City, where he had two good seasons; he took the historically insignificant Chiefs to the AFC Championship game in 1993. Young finally escaped Montana’s shadow by leading the 49ers to a  Super Bowl win the next season.  The story did have a “happy” ending as through a one-day contract, Montana had the opportunity to retire as a member of the 49ers.

9) Bobby Hull and the Chicago Blackhawks

In the annals of NHL history, Bobby Hull will be best remembered as the first player to light the lamp 50 times in a season and the first guy to hold a gun to the head of ownership for a big payday. Hull went for the big dough twice; first for $100,000, then later for $1 million.

The “Golden Jet” was the Gretzky of the 1960′s; he led the NHL in goals seven times that decade and took the the Chicago Blackhawks to the 1961 Stanley Cup.  In 1962, Hull matched previous standard for hitting the twine with the 50 goal tally of Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion in 1962, then Hull used his legendary slap shot to become the sole standard bearer with 54 goals in 1966.

With that level of success, it should come as no shock to current-day sports fans that Hull decided he wanted more money.  He demanded $100,000 a year in 1968, and threatened to quit if he didn’t get it. in 1968.  That tactic worked, and it encouraged Hull to do it again in 1972, only this time the price escalated.  Hull used the fledgling World Hockey Association (WHA) as leverage, but this time he wanted $1 million, which was a ridiculous amount at the time.

However, the Winnipeg Jets jumped at the chance to land a superstar; they were more than happy to pony up $1 million per year in a 10-year deal.  Hull had four more 50-goal seasons in Winnipeg, including what was a then-professional record of 77 goals in 1975.

In one fell swoop, Hull made a huge payday, solidified the WHA to the point it would eventually merge with the NHL, and became a major reason the Blackhawks would need 50 years to win another Stanley Cup.

8 ) Manny Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox are notorious for bad marriages; they could be the Elizabeth Taylor of sports.  It’s always amazed me how they ran Terry Francona out of town after he led that franchise to two World Series championships in four seasons after the Red Sox had gone 86 seasons as a bridesmaid and never a bride.  But the list of bad Boston marriages could be it’s own blog.

Let’s focus on Manny Ramirez also fits that bill, but a good case of “Manny Being Manny” helps to explain why what should have been a New England honeymoon turned into a Boston bitch-fest.  Manny took a swing at local hero Kevin Youkilis.  Manny shoved 64-year-old traveling secretary Jack McCormick to the ground.  Manny even pulled himself out of multiple games citing a knee injury that many thought was an act of protest because he was upset with his contract.

The Red Sox finally had a belly full of Manny and dealt him to the Dodgers in July 2009.  Ramirez showed exactly why the Red Sox had put up with him for so long.  Manny had such an impact with the Dodgers that despite the fact he only played in 53 National League games, he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. However, it was the next season when Manny’s reputation began it’s major slide when he got popped for the first of his suspensions for violating baseball’s drug policy.

7) Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers

It wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe who were battling over who was the leader of the team; the Lakers’ management was Pacific-deep in the same issue.  Owner Jerry Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak were dealing with two show ponies and felt they had to pick the one they were going to ride following the loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals.

In Shaq’s book, “Shaq Uncut: My Story,” he claims Kupchak promised him a contract extension during the 2003-04 season but then made comments that O’Neal’s future with the Lakers was up in the air.  During an exhibition game, Shaq yelled to Buss, “pay me.”

Shaq never had a good relationship with Kupchak, and matters only got worse when he replaced Jerry West as the Lakers’ general manager after the 2000 season.  According to Shaq, “Mitch looked out for two people: himself and Jerry Buss. The rest of us were afterthoughts.”  O’Neal was traded to the Heat during the offseason and oddly enough,  the next day Bryant signed a huge contract extension with the Lakers.

As an “afterthought,” Shaq won an NBA Championship the very next season with the Miami Heat.  But Kobe and the Lakers would outdo that by winning back-to-back titles in 2009-10 after acquiring Pau Gasol.

6) Eric Lindros and the Philadelphia Flyers

Just like Mary’s little lamb, everywhere that Lindros went, controversy was sure to follow.   After he flatly refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques,  his rights were traded to the Flyers.  Philadelphia gave away the moon and the stars, and possibly a few planets for the number one overall pick; the spoils of that trade and a relocation to Colorado morphed the quasi-lousy Nordiques into the championship Avalanche.

Lindros went on to become an All-Star in six out of eight seasons with the Flyers, yet by the time he left town, the City of Brotherly love had none for him.  The end of the affair began on April 1, 1999 when Lindros was misdiagnosed by Flyers’ medical staff with a rib injury. Later, Lindros’ teammate Keith Jones found him pale and cold in a hotel bath tub during a roadtrip. The Flyers told the trainer to put him on a flight back to Philadelphia, but Jones insisted Lindros go to a local hospital. He was diagnosed with a collapsed lung and internal bleeding.  Lindros’ father, who was also his agent, ripped the organization for its treatment of the injury and the two sides would never again be on good terms. get back on good terms.

Matters only got worse when Lindros suffered a series of concussions; Lindros heaped criticism on the Flyers after they performed yet another misdiagnosis regarding the bell-ringing he got in March 2000. After that incident, Flyers general and legendary asshole Bobby Clarke stripped Lindros of his captaincy and demanded he apologize to his teammates.  The concussion Clarke insinuated was no big deal kept Lindros off the ice for the rest of the regular season.  Lindros did skate again in the playoffs, but another head-shot ended his season, after which he was summarily shipped of to the New York Rangers.

Lindros did have a few more moderately successful season in New York, but he always maintained the Flyers’ medical staff helped to shorten his career.

5) Marcus Allen and the Los Angeles Raiders

Would everybody who had a feud with Raiders’ owner Al Davis please stand up? (Insert sound of floor creaking from everybody standing simultaneously).  Marcus Allen is in no way the first or last person to have a feud with Al Davis, but his was among the ugliest.  For the first few years ,  the marriage of Allen and the Raiders was of the story-book variety.  Allen was a Los Angeles from having been a Heisman Trophy winner at USC, and now he was tearing up the field of the L.A. Coliseum for the relocated L.A. Raiders.  Allen was Rookie of the Year and an NFL All-Pro in his first season.  If that weren’t enough, Allen trucked the Raiders to an NFL Championship in Super Bowl XVIII, picking the Super Bowl MVP honors via his 191 rushing yards.

Then, the honeymoon cruise hit the iceberg, and the marriage morphed into an ugly, California-style divorce.  Allen got into a contract dispute with the Raiders during which Davis called him a “cancer to the team.”  Suddenly Allen, arguably the premier running back in the league at the time, found himself on ass-duty on the Raider bench, due to Davis benching him and using the arrival of two-sport phenom Bo Jackson as an excuse.  Five years of this went by before Allen finally struck back in 1992 during a Monday Night Football halftime interview. Allen said Davis was out to get him and that he thought Davis was trying to ruin Allen’s chances of making the Hall of Fame.

The next year Allen finally got out of Los Angeles by joining the one of the Raiders main rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs.  In Kansas City, Allen earned NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors while helping Kansas City reach the conference championship game.

In 2003 when Marcus Allen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Allen buried the hatchet by thanking Davis in his induction speech.

4) Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens

Roy’s downfall in Montreal was almost Paterno-esque in both it’s quickness and shock value.  Roy was a two-time Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe winner, a three-time Vezina Trophy winner and a native son of Quebec. This meant Roy was beloved for most of his time in Montreal; the fans loved his brash and combative spirit and for 10 years he was a hero on skates for Les Habitants.

That was until December 2nd, 1995.  On that night against the Detroit Red Wings, Roy got smoked like a convenience store cigar; he gave up 9 goals on 26 shots. When th score plummeted to 7-1, the crowd sarcastically cheered after Roy gloved a routine save. Roy responded by mockingly lifting his arms in celebration. After the socre hit 9-1, Canadiens’ coach Mario Tremblay finally gave Roy the hook, after which Roy stormed directly up to the face of president Ronald Corey and essentially demanded a trade Denis Lemieux-style. Naturally, this led to a shouting match in the locker room, and the next day Roy was suspended and the Canadiens announced they would trade him. One night, and the marriage was o-v-e-r.

Four days later, Roy was on a plane to the Mile High City, thanks to a one-sided trade with the Colorado Avalanche. In Denver, Roy would go on to lead the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup and Tremblay would only last one more year in Montreal.  In 2001,  Roy and the Avalanche won a second Stanley Cup as Roy took home his third Conn Smythe trophy.  Before Roy left, the Canadiens were the greatest franchise in hockey. Since then, then have won a total of six playoff series.  Some fans call this “The Curse of St. Patrick.”

3) LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers

Here’s another case of hometown hero turned prodigal son who just ain’t coming back.  LeBron and the Cavaliers had a warm, loving relationship right up until the end. There was no posturing and no public squabbles between the two sides in LeBron’s last year in Cleveland. The Cavs loved LeBron and seemingly did whatever they could to appease him, and he rewarded them with two MVP seasons and the NBA’s best regular season record in both 2009 and 2010.

However…

LeBron clearly had his eyes on another suitor, and really nobody can blame him for wanting to leave. After all, Cleveland did nothing to live up to their end of the marriage which was based on winning a championship. LeBron lived up to his end of the deal, the Cavaliers did not.  All you have to do is look at the supporting cast the Cavaliers put around James.  If LeBron had simply left the marriage, nobody would have faulted him.

It was how he did it that killed him. If one were to imagine hosting a birthday party for a cancer-stricken wife, laden with friends and family, knowing full well this may very well be her last one as evidenced by the little pink turban where her hair used to be, and one used that opportunity to a) announce one is  leaving, and b) introduce Tiffany, the 22-year old surgically built fuck-toy for which one is  leaving, and c) stating Tiffany “sucks it” way better than the wife ever did and one can begin to understand why every Cavalier fan everywhere will hate LeBron James until the day he dies.

2) Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers

Farve dicked over three teams, but for purposes opf brevity, we will stick the the first one, if for no other reason, he was a legend in Green Bay. On the frozen tundra of Lambeau field (fuck you, Chris Berman), Favre was a three-time NFL MVP who set nearly all meaningful passing records while never missing a start.  He took the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowls and brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay since the man for who it was named patrolled the Packer sideline.

For that, given enough time, he will again be venerated in Titletown…once everybody who remembers his douche-tastic departure is in the home drooling on the armrests of their wheelchairs.

For years, Favre left the Packers hanging either by threatening to or actually announcing his retirement,  only to come keep coming back.  But after Green Bay’s loss to the Giants in the 2007 NFC title game, largely thanks to another late-game Favre interception, the Packers management had had enough and told Favre in no uncertain terms to either shit or get off the pot.  Green Bay was ready to had the future to Aaron Rodgers, who had been patiently playing understudy to Favre for three seasons.

In what should have surprised no one who hadn’t been living under a rock at the bottom of the deepest crater on the dark side of the moon, Farve dished more waffles than an IHOP.  He retired,  but once again changed his mind, which led to an acrimonious and public spat with Packers’ general manager Ted Thompson, who both told Favre he couldn’t have the starting job back and at the same time refused to grant Favre his unconditional release, thus dooming Favre to the bench. Green Bay even went so far as to file tampering charges against division rival Minnesota fro talking to Favre about coming to Minnesota.

Favre forced matters when he reported to training camp for the 2008 season, knowing he was persona non grata in Green Bay.  After an awkward standoff, the Packers traded him to the New York Jets.  It didn’t help matters that Favre finished his career in Minnesota.

1) Jackie Robinson and the Los Angeles Dodgers

It what may be my original reason to hate the Dodgers, no organization treated a hero worse than the Dodgers treated Jackie Robinson.  Not only was he unceremoniously traded after the 1956 season to the Dodgers’ arch-rival, the Giants, he was traded for essentially nothing after what he had done for baseball (the Dodgers got Dick Littlefield (a career 33-54 pitcher with a 4.71 ERA) and $35,000 for Hall-of-Famer and icon of the game.

The end of the relationship between Robinson and the Dodgers began ironically as an off-shoot of the dissolution of the relationship between Branch Rickey and the Dodgers. Remember, it was Branch Rickey who promoted Robinson from the Triple-A Montreal Royals in 1947 to break baseball’s color barrier. Unfortunately, Rickey lost a power struggle with Walter O’Malley for the ownership of the Dodgers, which led to Rickey leaving to accept the general manger position with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  O’Malley wasn’t terribly interested in Robinson’s achievements, and to be fair, had noticed that Robinson’s skills were on the wane due to age and his worsening diabetes.  However,  O’Malley would later be loyal to many iconic Dodgers (see Roy Campanella), but for some reason Robinson was not accorded the same favor.  Hence, Robinson was dumped.

In another indicator that the relationship ended badly, despite the fact Robinson had already decided to retire in favor of accepting an executive position the restaurant/coffee house chain Chock Full o’Nuts (good luck remembering that place if you are under 60), he took the trade so personally that he quietly cleaned out his locker at Ebbets Field and never set foot in it again before it was torn down, despite several events held there to honor the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Another give-away indicating the Dodgers and Robinson had mutually shunned each other was the fact his official retirement announcement was conducted through LOOK magazine instead of by the franchise for which he played his entire career.  The Dodgers never offered Robinson any role within the organization, and despite his iconic role, they let pitcher Ray Lamb wear his number 42 before they finally retired it merely months before his death in 1972.

Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s number across baseball in1997.  Players who wore that number before are grandfathered to the right to wear it. If Mariano Rivera ever pitches again, he should be the last player to wear it.   In comparison,  short of MLB’s Jackie Robinson Day where everybody wears number 42, it took the Dodgers 16 years to retire Jackie Robinson’s number.

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8 responses

  1. I hesitated scrolling down the bottom of the page, hoping to not find Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic ranked near the top. I was relieved not to find them but know deep down inside your list is inherently flawed without it.

    The earlier Shaq-Magic divorce set a precedent meaning if Dwight leaves town high and dry, which he’s said repeatedly he will, that leaves the poor Orlando Magic as a franchise nobody wants to marry.

    Perhaps it should join match.com to find its true center.

    1. Well, the Howard/Magic divorce is not yet final…

      And I really could have done the end of the Paterno/Penn State relationship, but as you know, I’ve already done that in detail.

  2. Oh, and I’m taking in your PSU/Freeh post and planning to comment. It’s just that, as you know, that one’s a doozy.

  3. I had no idea about Jackie Robinson’s ordeal with the Dodgers. It’s a wonder they haven’t been cursed more than the Cubs.

    1. Neither did I! Good info right there!

      That Marcus Allen one killed me…. And reminding me of Bo just made me sad too…

      1. Frankly, I damn near could have made an All-Al Davis version of this list:

        Al Davis and Lane Kiffin
        Al Davis and Jamarcus Russell
        Al Davis and Tom Cable
        Al Davis and Jon Gruden
        Al Davis and Pete Rozelle
        Al Davis and the City of Oakland (the 1982 version)
        Al Davis and the City of Los Angeles

        Who am I missing?

      2. Al Davis and the AFL vs. the NFL
        Al Davis and Rich Gannon
        Al Davis and Ken Stabler
        You could easily make a top 10 list with just AD!

  4. Al Davis vs. Depend Undergarments?
    Al Davis vs. Death?

    Sorry, had to jump in there.

    The only thing that I would have done differently is the Joe Montana thing would have been higher on my list. It’s not as shocking since they did have Steve Young as a backup, but it did really signify the beginning of the whole “you get hurt once and you could very easily lose your job even if you’re Joe Montana” era in the NFL. I can’t help but think about the Montana-49ers relationship everytime that I see Peyton Manning working out with the Broncos – they’re very similar.

    I’m sure that the Jackie Robinson thing had nothing to do with his race. (Said with heavy sarcasm, followed by fart noise)

    Meehan

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