United we brawl

The Baltimore Sun

Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, journeyman post players for the Washington Wizards, don't particularly like each other. In fact, some would argue that dislike has been elevated to the level of seething, unabashed hatred. After The Washington Post reported last week that the duo came to blows in practice for the third time in the past two years, it's obvious that Thomas and Haywood are on the road to becoming the sports equivalent of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston. Two lost souls, inexplicably linked, creating headlines because of their penchant for fisticuffs, not their talent.

But it also got us thinking: Sharing a locker room with someone isn't all that different from sharing a marriage. When it's good, and when it works, the emotional bond and joint goals can produce magical moments and memories that last generations. And when it's bad, when a smirk or a smelly pair of socks left on the floor at the wrong time can send someone into a hair-pulling rage (as it did for Haywood in November when he allegedly yanked out two of Thomas' dreadlocks after Thomas beat him out for the starting job), then no amount of counseling or "hugging it out" will ever make it work. And so in the spirit of Haywood-Thomas III, we bring you our five favorite teammate feuds of all time.

Keith Hernandez vs. Darryl Strawberry -- It's hard to believe it now, but years ago, well before Rafael Palmeiro got caught singing like a mob informant and giving up the location of Miguel Tejada's B-12 stash, guys with mustaches were the epitome of cool. (Think Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck.) And few were cooler than Keith Hernandez, a first baseman for the New York Mets. But Hernandez, who would one day use his impeccably coiffed mustache to seduce Elaine Benes in a classic episode of Seinfeld, was no friend of Strawberry's. In 1989, while posing for the team picture, Strawberry took a swing at Hernandez and connected. Sadly for Mets fans, it was one of Straw's few good swings all year. He hit just .225 that season, with only 29 home runs and 77 RBIs.

Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O'Neal -- Like Lennon and McCartney, when Shaq and Kobe played off one another, it didn't matter that they weren't best friends. All that mattered was the final product, which more often than not was greatness. The two Alpha dogs couldn't coexist forever, and when ego drove them apart, it was Kobe who received most of the blame, despite the fact that Shaq appeared to weigh 400 pounds and was refusing to play defense. Now they exist in separate worlds, even though they'll someday probably realize how much they truly needed each other. Shaq's title with the Heat should go down as his "Imagine," the one defining song Lennon wrote without McCartney. Kobe, meanwhile, languishes on his own version of Wings, a Laker team where he doesn't have to share the spotlight with anyone, and gets to enjoy years and years of mediocre, soulless basketball.

Thurman Munson vs. Reggie Jackson -- Munson, the mercurial Yankees catcher from 1969 to 1979, was the kind of guy who, if he wanted, could have a feud with a barcalounger. Jackson's ego was only slightly smaller than Queens. It was a marriage made in sportswriter heaven. George Steinbrenner once had to physically separate the two in the middle of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Denny's restaurant. And though they mostly ignored one another in the two years before Munson died in a private plane crash, their feud did produce one of baseball's most famous quotes, courtesy of Jackson. It's also the only famous sports quote that sounds like a grammatically incorrect bartender guide. "I'm the straw that stirs the drink," Jackson said. "It all comes down to me. Maybe I should say Munson and me, but he really doesn't enter into it. Munson thinks he can be the straw that stirs the drink but he can only stir it bad."

Jimmy Jackson vs. Jason Kidd -- Sultry R&B; crooner Toni Braxton, who was born in Severn, soared to the top of the charts in the mid-1990s with her most successful album Secrets, but one of the worst-kept secrets in NBA history is the silent, simmering feud that occurred between Kidd and Jackson in 1995 over Braxton. Kidd and Jackson denied several published reports claiming Braxton was the reason they stopped speaking, but Braxton let the rumor, and the Mavericks' dirty laundry, twist in the wind by refusing to issue a denial. It wasn't exactly Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller competing for Marilyn Monroe's affections, but it torpedoed any chance the Mavericks had to emerge as a power in the Western Conference. And for better or worse, the continued downward spiral of the franchise eventually led to Mark Cuban purchasing the team.

Roger Dorn/Eddie Harris vs. Rick Vaughn/Pedro Cerrano -- We like these two feuds so much, it hardly matters that they took place in the movie Major League instead of in a real locker room. As far as we're concerned, Charlie Sheen's performance in Platoon, and his implausible marriage to Denise Richards, are nothing compared to his virtuoso performance as Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, the flame-throwing Cleveland Indians pitcher who unknowingly sleeps with teammate Roger Dorn's wife on the eve of the biggest game of the season. The religious bickering between veteran Christian pitcher Eddie Harris and voodoo-worshiping slugger Pedro Cerrano provided less drama, but much more humor. Cerrano, trying to solve the beguiling mystery of the curveball, tries to sacrifice a live chicken in the Indians clubhouse near the end of the film before he's thwarted by his teammates, who hand him a bucket of KFC. PETA notwithstanding, the Orioles might want to think about going through with Cerrano's ritual. After nine losing seasons, a little voodoo can't hurt.

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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