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Top Five: Most Maligned Chicago Athletes (At The Moment)

We all have athletes we love to hate. But if someone asked you to name the five most maligned players on Chicago's big sports teams right now, how would you answer? I've canvassed Chicago's neighborhoods and plumbed the depths of every sports bar in the greater suburban area to come up with my picks. (OK, I've mainly just done a lot of reading on the Internet. But, please, read on.)

Keith Bogans of the Chicago Bulls loses his man shortly after scoring his customary three points for the game. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Keith Bogans of the Chicago Bulls loses his man shortly after scoring his customary three points for the game. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Haters. They're everywhere -- and no one likes them. Well, except when they happen to say or write something you agree with. Then they're hilarious, allowing you to vent all of your anger about that one player who's driving you crazy.

And every team does have a guy who everyone loves to hate, right? Sure they do. Why even your favorite Chicago sports team probably has a name or two on its roster that makes you cringe. A guy you would trade for a bag of balls (or pucks, as the case may be). Who you would drive to the airport. Who you just can't quite understand why he keeps showing up to play everyday when you ... hate him ... so... much!

But hate is such a strong word. Let us not traffick in the politics of negativity. Let us instead say "maligned." After all, these guys are just athletes, trying to do a job. They don't want to play poorly or block other, in many cases younger players from a spot on the team. They're just struggling a bit right now. And by "right now," I mean "all season" or perhaps "several seasons" in some instances. Who are they? That's the topic of this week's Top Five.

1. Chicago Bulls

Suspect's name: Keith Bogans

Background: Drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft, Bogans is a thirty-year-old guard in his eighth season in the league. He is the veritable definition of a journeyman. After making his debut with the Orlando Magic on Nov. 7, 2003, Bogans has bounced from the Magic to the Charlotte Bobcats to the Houston Rockets, then back to the Magic before moving on/back to the Bucks and then the San Antonio Spurs. On Aug. 11, 2010, he signed a two-year deal as an unrestricted free agent with the Bulls.

Alleged offense: Yeah, exactly. The guy doesn't score. As of this writing, he's averaging a criminally low 3.6 points per game. Not exactly what a contending team needs from one of its starting shooting guards. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has been known to trumpet Bogans' defense, implying that it's better to hold on to higher energy players such as Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver for use off the bench as the game goes on. But most fans would agree that No. 6's defense is adequate at best on good nights and doesn't make up for his lack of scoring on bad ones.

Exhibit A: Basketball Prospectus just named a stat after Bogans -- and it's not a good one.

Statement from the defense: C'mon, fellas, what's the big deal? The Bulls are 35-16, undefeated in their division and in third place in the Western Conference. We're only a half a game behind LeBron Lame and his South Beach Beatles Tribute Band. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And who you gonna trade for? Carmelo Anthony? Fuhgedaboutit.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

Suspect's name: Nick Boynton

Background: The now 32-year-old defenseman was drafted twice: Once by the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft and again as a reentry in 1999 by the Boston Bruins in the same draft. Boynton in his 11th NHL season, having spent six seasons in Boston before moving on to the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers and the Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks acquired him from the Ducks on March 2, 2010, and then re-signed him to a one-year deal as an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.

Alleged offense: For a veteran of Boynton's tenure, he remains inconsistent to a maddening extent. He's not a scoring threat and his defense this season has been lackluster throughout. Many Blackhawks fans have been screaming for head coach Joel Quenneville to bench Boynton, if for no other reason than he's blocking the younger, quicker Jordan Hendry. For a team scratching and clawing for the opportunity to defend its Stanley Cup, Boynton is the personification of the rusty link in a long chain of misfortunes slowing down the team's progress.

Exhibit A: As reported here, Boynton injured teammate Marian Hossa in practice back in November. If there was ever an occurence that perfectly, comically, tragically represented a player hurting his team through ineptitude or misfortune (take your pick), this was it.

Statement from the defense: Let's be reasonable. Boynton was a depth signing and never intended to be a difference maker. And speaking of making, he earns a relative pittance of $500,000 this season, so it's not like he's killing the salary cap. And his numbers -- a plus-minus rating of +2, 8 points -- ain't bad all things considered. He's also a single dad with two kids.

3. Chicago White Sox

Suspect's name: Mark Teahen

Background: A first-round pick in the 2002 amateur draft, selected by the Oakland Athletics, Teahen is a 29-year-old infield/outfield utility player with a Twitter account and a cute dog. He made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals on April 4, 2005, playing five seasons with that tragically futile franchise until he was traded to the White Sox for Josh Fields and Chris Getz on Nov. 6, 2009.

Alleged offense: South Side GM Kenny Williams hasn't made many missteps in his tenure thus far, but this particular trade still has many fans scratching their heads. Teahen did have an excellent 2006 season (.874 OPS, .376 wOBA, 3 WAR) for the Royals and was decent in 2007 (.763 OPS, .333 wOBA, 2.4 WAR), but his drop in productivity was pretty staggering thereafter -- and well before the Sox traded for him. Could it have been a classic instance of a trading for the guy who kills you? Teahen put up good career numbers against the White Sox (.806 OPS) before joining the team.

Last year, his first season with the White Sox, was marred by a finger injury, limited to 77 games and resulted in unspeakably low production at the plate (for those statistically inclined, below replacement level). And he's signed through 2012 on a three-year, $14 million contract. Ouch.

Exhibit A: In a Sept. 8 game against the Detroit Tigers, Teahen made a critical throwing error that opened the door to a four-run fourth inning. Any hopes of regaining some stature with already-cynical Sox fans were crushed.

Statement from the defense: Um, he's still only 29 years old with some decent tools? As a multi-positional player, he's not useless? He'll push prospect Brent Morel to exceed expectations? If nothing else, Teahen comes across as honest and self-effacing on Twitter. Suffice to say, he'll have a lot to prove in spring training, which could turn to be for the Sox benefit.

4. Chicago Cubs

Suspect's name: Alfonso Soriano

Background: Among the many unusual things about Ol' No. 12 is that he was never drafted by an MLB team. He began his professional playing career in Japan in 1997. But he didn't dig the Nippon scene too much and eventually finagled his way to U.S shores as a free agent in 1998. The specific shore was the east one; Soriano made his major league debut with the New York Yankees on Sept. 14, 1999. He played parts of the 1999 and 2000 seasons with the Bronx Bombers and was their starting second baseman from 2001 through 2005.

On Feb. 16, 2004, the Yankees traded him to the Texas Rangers for some guy named Alex Rodriguez. Yeah, I've never heard of him either. Certainly not the kind of ballplayer to date a movie star. In any case, a little less than a year later, the Rangers traded him to the Washington Nationals for three players, including Armando Galarraga (the pitcher who almost threw absolutely did throw a perfect game last season for the Detroit Tigers). Soriano became a free agent in October 2006 and signed an eight-year contract worth about $136 million with the Cubs.

Alleged offense: Go back to the previous sentence: Eight years, 136 million smackers. For that kind of dough/time commitment, a player better put up monster numbers while passing out free beers from his spot in the outfield. And, believe it or not, Soriano did do that in his first year with the Cubs. (Well, OK, not the free beer thing.)

In 2007, Alfonso hit 33 home runs and, by some statistical measures (wOBA and WAR), had the best season of his career. Yes, better than his 40-40-40 (home runs, doubles, stolen bases) season in 2006! He was precisely the kind of impact player General Manager Jim Hendry hoped he'd be, helping propel the Cubs to the top of their division and a playoff berth.

But therein lies the rub. The Cubs were bounced from the '07 playoffs by the Arizona Diamondbacks in three games. And, though Soriano had another decent season in 2008, when the team once again made the postseason, he suffered a nasty-looking leg injury that limited his playing time. (He had leg issues in 2007 as well, but they didn't affect his playing time as much.) And the Cubs were three-and-out in the 2008 NLDS once again. Since then, Soriano's impact potential has dwindled. He played through an injury for most of 2009 and had one of the worst seasons of his career. He rebounded somewhat in 2010 but, again, that contract demands impact. And, at 35 years old, Soriano is less and less likely to put up production commensurate to his deal.

Of course, any discussion of Alfonso Soriano must also look beyond his numbers. Or, perhaps, above them -- taking into account how he appears superficially. Along with hating the size and duration of his contract, many Cubs fans despise Soriano because he strikes out a lot, appears to strike out on the same pitch repeatedly (slider, low and away) and often seems distracted and tentative, if not downright terrified, in the outfield. He's also gotten the reputation with some fans for being selfish, lazy and a bad teammate, though there's been little to no credible evidence of such charges.

Exhibit A: Watch it and weep. Soriano has had a number of such defensive incidents in his time with the Cubs.

Statement from the defense:When healthy, Alfonso Soriano is a good hitter. He's shown that throughout his career. As such, he does bring some value to a baseball team. Should the Cubs trade him? If possible and under the right circumstances, yes. The team has some good, young outfielders on the way up, and a contract like that for a player who can really play nowhere else besides left field really limits flexibility. But, the recent Vernon Wells trade aside, that's unlikely to happen.

So there are worse players to be stuck with. Soriano has a slim, athletic build that at least gives him a good shot at staying in playing shape throughout his contract. And, though many fans would scream in outrage at the mere suggestion, he may not be as bad defensively as our naked eyes would tell us. Granted, I tend to cringe reflexively when anything but the easiest of fly balls goes out to left field. But, for his career, Soriano still rates highly by a couple of well-regarded defensive measures: Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Total Zone (TZ). Go figure.

Lastly, I almost spared Soriano and chose backup catcher Koyie Hill as the most maligned Cub at the moment. A guy with ghastly career offensive numbers, the arb-eligible Hill recently agreed to a one-year, $850,000 deal to the team. Although Hill is an unassuming, grinder-type who's earned praise from manager Mike Quade, fans have taken a deep disliking to him because of his aforementioned ineptitude with the bat and the fact that he's apparently blocking younger catchers (such as Welington Castillo) from getting playing time.

5. Chicago Bears

Suspect's name: Todd Collins

Background: Drafted in the second round of the 1995 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, Collins is pretty much a career second string quarterback. He did play a full season with the Bills in 1997, going 5-8 in the games he started and garnering a moderately respectable passer rating of 90. His career high-point may have been a streak of games in December 2007 for the Washington Redskins in which he passed for 888 yards and a 106.4 QB rating. The Redskins went 4-0 in those games. The Bears signed the 39-year-old as an unrestricted free agent to a one-year deal on Aug. 23, 2010.

Alleged offense: I realize the obvious answer to "Who is the most maligned Bear?" might seem to be Jay Cutler. But I just don't see it that way. Granted, Jay isn't exactly Mr. Personality and, depending on how you look at it, he either does absolutely nothing to brighten his public image or goes out of his way to darken it. Still, he's the most talented quarterback to walk Halas Hall in many years, so who really cares about his off-the-field attitude as long as he stays in every game and does everything he can to win? And let's not even get into the NFC Championship game. He got hurt; he wanted to play; he did everything in his power to play; but he couldn't make it happen. Many, if not most, fans now seem to understand that.

Which brings us to Todd Collins. In all fairness, it's probably not justifiable to despise Collins -- at least not rationally. He was just a guy trying to do his job; in the wrong place at the wrong time; pick your cliche. And perhaps it's not realistic to suggest that he should have asked Lovie Smith to leave him as the third string quarterback after Collins was briefly demoted there following the second of his two dismal regular season showings (though the Bears did win the second one).

And yet the sight of his stiff, shambling, Frankensteinian form stumbling uncertainly onto Soldier Field on that tragic January day likely sealed Todd's fate as one of the most ignoble Bears ever to wear the uniform. As soon as he took the field, many of us could feel, deep in our bones, that our luck had run out. And that's not to say that the team's success in 2010-11 was purely good fortune. They were a solid team that took their breaks where they could get them and made a number of their own. But when you're faced with the task of beating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the thought of doing so with Todd Collins as your captain is black comedy. Had Caleb Hanie been the No. 2 and in the game a little earlier ... who knows. Victory would have hardly been assured but ... well, it's water under the bridge at this point.

Exhibit A: OK, this is just mean. (And rather old.)

Statement from the defense: "I like our evaluation of our quarterbacks. You have a No. 1, if he goes down, you have a No. 2. If that doesn't work, you're able to go to your No. 3. We were able to do that and end up with our No. 3, and he was able to put us in a position to possibly win that game. I like our evaluation of our quarterbacks right now." ~ Lovie Smith, Jan. 24, 2011 (Not much of a defense, frankly.)