By Frank Deford
March 25, 2009

Manny Ramirez. Terrell Owens. Stephon Marbury. Sean Avery. Each in that infamous quartet is a highly paid star on one of the four major team sports, and each is, on his own merits, a jerk of the first magnitude -- locker-room poison. And each has been banished by his team.

The conclusion: no matter how good he is, he ain't worth having around.

But, then again, each has been brought back, given another chance to, again, be a highly paid star ... and to, again, be a jerk of the first magnitude.

There are, it seems, two lessons here. First, the fact that the teams of Ramirez, Owens, Marbury and Avery were prepared to get rid of them no matter the cost may indicate that teams have finally reached a point where the concern for clubhouse spirit and cohesion has been accorded due emphasis.

And second -- notwithstanding No. 1 -- there will always be somebody prepared to hold their nose and write a check for talent.

The cases of our Four Horsemen of the Athletic Apocalypse -- selfishness, arrogance, narcissism and just-don't-get-it-ism -- all have to do with how one Boston Red Sox teammate described Ramirez: a "cancer." The New York Knicks were so sick of Marbury that they made the decision to kick him off the team at the cost of a $22 million salary, which, in current lingo, may describe him as a "toxic asset."

Avery reached such depths of tastelessness that he not only irritated his New York Ranger teammates, but also publicly insulted former girlfriends. Meanwhile, Owens wore out his welcome with the Dallas Cowboys, as has been his wont, insulting his quarterback and anybody else not attuned to his special needs.

The fact that all four of the vainglorious were deported hardly creates a groundswell, but I do wonder. For all the speculation about how the recession will affect sports financially, maybe these hard times have created a more significant attitudinal change. When folks are having difficulty making ends meet, maybe they're not quite as tolerant of wealthy athletes acting so thoughtlessly toward their teammates, and by extension, toward team fans.

I certainly have this feeling, watching sports on television, that the announcers, blinded insiders, don't appreciate how much fans get irritated by the "me, me, me" behavior.

I'd like to hear football analysts really criticize some goon hurting his team when he gets caught for gratuitous, unnecessary roughness, which is usually unnecessary dimwittedness. And with all those thousands of isolated cameras, I'd love it if just occasionally they showed us how conscientiously someone like Owens ran a route when he was not the primary receiver, but as a decoy to help his teammate.

And I'd like to hear baseball announcers make a point of criticizing hitters who stand at the plate instead of running hard to first. Boy, does that irk us. My hero is Charlie Manuel, the manager of the Phillies, who last season unceremoniously yanked the league MVP, Jimmy Rollins, out of the game when he didn't run hard.

Rollins is a team leader and a good sport. He accepted the blame and responded by playing harder. And it's the Phillies who are World Champions. A coincidence? Perhaps. But I heard that as a grace note amongst all the jerks beating their own drums.

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