Top 20 Bizarre Incidents in Sports History

Normal is boring. Being weird is much more interesting. And the people who comprise this list may justifiably be called a lot of things, but they can never be called dull or dreary. They are the brightly odd colors on the vivid spectrum of life. And they will certainly not be forgotten any time soon. From Dennis Rodman’s wedding dress to Pedro Martinez tossing aside an elderly man to Ron Artest going into the stands, these events are seared into the public consciousness.

Webster’s Dictionary defines bizarre as: “strikingly out of the ordinary; odd, extravagant, or eccentric in style or mode; or involving sensational contrasts or incongruities.” Eccentric, sensational, odd- these are just mere words that attempt to describe these incredible events from the realm of sports. Some involved long-standing feuds between bitter rivals (Piazza v. Clemens or Harding v. Kerrigan) and some were two creatures whose fates simply intertwined at exactly the wrong moment (Randy Johnson v. Dove or Manu Ginobli v. Bat).

This list is supposed attempted to be light-hearted and humorous, but some of these events do not have happy endings. Bizarre events involve things that have gone slightly awry and amiss. Diehard animal crusaders will not be pleased. Anyone in a marching band may find himself or herself offended. And fans of certain lunatic sports interlopers will be none to be pleased. But for everyone else, sit back and enjoy the hilarious antics and peculiar tales of the world of sports.

A few years back, a friend of mine had a memorable summer tryst with a beautifully odd creative writing student. She always told him that normal was boring and its better to be a little off. She was right.

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20 Dennis Oddman & The Dictator

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‘The Worm’: ex-lover of Madonna & ex-husband of Carmen Electra; winner of Celebrity Mole and winner of a triple Razzie Award. Rodman would famously wear a wedding dress to promote his autobiography and smashed into a cliff wall after a stunt went very wrong. All this, however, pales in comparison to his visits to the pariah state of North Korea, where Rodman ‘the diplomat’ made nice with reclusive, evil dictator Kim Jong Un. Rodman has called the despot “a great dad” and “a friend for life”. He received widespread condemnation after suggesting that the political prisoner Kenneth Bae was responsible for his own unjust imprisonment (Rodman later stated he had been drinking). The U.S. Treasury Department is reportedly conducting an ongoing investigation into whether Rodman violated international sanctions by bringing Kim lavish gifts.

19 A Bird’s Eye View

You never want to get hit with a Randy Johnson fastball and one poor creature discovered this the hard way. On March 24th, 2001 in the 7th inning of a spring training game against San Francisco, Johnson struck a dove, killing it instantly. The play was ruled as a “no pitch”, even though the bizarre incident is not covered by the MLB’s official rules.

When a situation is not covered, Rule 9.01(c) comes into play, [which] gives the umpire authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in the Rules [and] the umpire is instructed to use ‘common sense and fair play’. As a side-note, MLB Regulations do cover a batted or thrown ball (but not a pitched ball) touching an animal: ‘If a batted or thrown ball strikes a bird or other animal on the playing field, consider the ball alive and in play, the same as if it had not touched the bird or animal.’”

18 Batman

Manu Ginobli became a hero to the fans of the AT&T Center (and earned the ire of PETA) after swatting and capturing a bat with his bare hand. With the Batman theme song blaring afterwards (no joke), Manu earned the applause of the fans and his opponents. However, it wasn’t all laughs for Ginobli who admitted, “… it wasn't a great idea. Not only for the fact that bats are great part of the ecosystem, but also, because some carry rabies, which is an incurable disease. That's why I had to get vaccinated today [and it wasn't just one shot!]." Fitting that the game took place on Halloween night, Ginobli didn’t have to pick his costume that year.

17 Batman Part II: Gladiators Edition

The Yankees versus the Mets: a Subway Series that hearkened back to the epic rivalries of the 1940s & 50s. It was the first game since Clemens had beaned Piazza in the head and, as Piazza writes, “the boroughs were bloodthirsty… they wanted a cage fight…[But] I sincerely believed that, with all the hype surrounding the showdown, Clemens wouldn’t dare throw at me again.”

When Piazza’s bat exploded, Clemens picked it up and threw with vigour towards his nemesis. He would later state he thought it was the ball. Piazza writes that he held back because “… there had been so much public clamoring to see Clemens and me go mano-a-mano, such a loathsome display of bloodlust… It had evolved into a gladiator mentality. It's my job to feed the mob? I had no interest in being the people's puppet. Never did.”

The broken bat recently sold at auction for $47,800 (US).

16 Bobby Knight vs. Chair

Bobby Knight was always known for his vicious temper and over-the-top antics. However, on a frigid evening in Indiana back in 1985, “The General” crossed the line. With his Hoosiers getting dominated on their own court and the referees calling foul after foul, Knight simply lost it, picking up a folding chair and tossing it across the court. The building was at a standstill and every eye in the place was trained on the cantankerous coach, who once tossed an opposing fan into a garbage can and was convicted for assault on a police officer in Puerto Rico during the Pan Am Games. He eventually calmed himself, and yet that immortal image of a chair being hurled across the court was engrained into the national consciousness for decades to come.

15 “The Play”

“They get it back now to the 30, they're down to the 20... Oh, the band is out on the field!”

Joe Starkey’s epic call of “The Play” captured the truly bizarre essence of the moment. During a last second kickoff return in 1982 between California and Stanford, the Golden Bears stunned the crowd with a last-second, lateral-filled, nearly impossible winning play. While some Stanford fans still remain seething over what they saw as illegal forward passes and missed calls (akin to the Music City Miracle), a deeper analysis by Sports Illustrated in the years following found very little substance to the controversy. All I can think about is that poor trombone player who joined the band to avoid football’s brutality and yet ended up taking one of the hardest hits of the game.

14 Height Advantage

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Eddie Gaedel (3-foot-7) became the shortest player to ever participate in a major league game. Eddie, who wore the number 1/8 (just in case he forgot his value in this charade) made only one plate appearance in his entire career, was walked on four consecutive pitches and was replaced by a pinch runner on first base.

He was given stern instructions by owner Bill Veeck not to swing at a single pitch. "I'm going to be up on the roof with a high-powered rifle watching every move you make. If you so much as look as if you're going to swing, I'm going to shoot you dead.” Veeck claims he took out a one million dollar life insurance policy, just in case.

Gaedel was eventually beaten to death by an unknown assailant and, due to its scarcity, his autograph is valued higher than Babe Ruth’s.

13 Leon Lettdown

In Super Bowl XXVII, Leon Lett (and Dan Beebe) proved why you never give up on a play. Even though Dallas would force a record nine turnovers en route to smashing Buffalo 52-17, it was Lett’s lazy turnover that everyone would remember. After the Bills fumbled, Lett recovered the ball at the Bills' 45 and had almost 10 yards on the nearest Buffalo player. Instead of running full steam, Lett would stop running before the end zone and get stripped. This, however, pales in comparison to his bone-headed turnover during the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game the following season against the Dolphins. There, instead of giving up a meaningless touchback, Lett cost the Cowboys a guaranteed win after he pointlessly tried to pick up a blocked field goal. “Not Leon Lett!” cried the Dallas announcer.

12 Balls to the Walls

Talk about going to the extra mile. Rodney McCray of the Vancouver Canadians smashed his way into the record books in one of the most memorable baseball moments in history. On May 27th, 1991, McCray ran through the right field wall after initially making the catch. Perhaps, most embarrassingly, he dropped the ball. McCray was good-natured about the play, eventually being honoured with his very own ‘Bobblefence Night’.

"I couldn't feel the warning track. Next thing you know, I'm through the wall. I just wish I had run through something like a Coca-Cola sign so I could have gotten endorsements. Instead, I ran through a local sign.” At least he’s still got his priorities in order.

11 R.I.P. Chuck Hughes

AP Photo/Jim Mone

On October 24th, 1971, the Detroit Lions’ Chuck Hughes became the first and only player in NFL history to die on the field during a game. With the Lions in their two-minute offense, trailing the Bears 28-23 late in the fourth, the wide receiver Hughes came on to the field, ran his route and collapsed on his way back to the huddle. It was later discovered that Hughes suffered from advanced arteriosclerosis and that his family had a history of heart trouble. To honour Hughes, the Lions posthumously retired his jersey number 85.

10 Martinez vs. Zimmer

In 2003, at the pinnacle of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the two AL East division adversaries fought one of the closest seven game series in league history. During the series, the Yankees only outscored the Red Sox 30-29 and won on a seventh game, walk-off home run in the 11th inning. This epic contest was marred by a bizarre incident during Game 3 when, with tensions boiling over after some high fastballs, Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer (72 years young at the time) charged Pedro Martinez, who easily tossed the septuagenarian to the ground. The late Zimmer, who passed away last year, eventually offered a tearful apology.

9 Royalty Loyalty (Gamboa)

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On September 19th, 2002 Kansas City Royals’ first base coach Tom Gamboa fell victim to a brazen, unprovoked attack by a violent father and son duo. The father and son eventually plead guilty and were sentenced to probation and, unsurprisingly, failed to keep themselves out of jail for very long. Gamboa suffered permanent hearing damage from the attack. "I felt like a football team had hit me from behind. Next thing I knew, I'm on the ground trying to defend myself. It just happened so fast."

Take me out to the ball game… I don’t care if I never come back, indeed.

8 Mike Tyson gets an Earful

In one of the most highly anticipated rematches in boxing history, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson got back into the ring in June of 1997 after Holyfield had knocked out Tyson the previous year. In the third round, Tyson, aggravated by what he saw as Holyfield’s continued use of illegal head butts, bit down and ripped off a piece of Evander’s ear. He was promptly disqualified and almost started a brawl with security. The two premier boxers eventually reconciled, shooting a comedic Foot Locker commercial together. Tyson even presented Holyfield into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame this past year.

7 “Lunatic on the Track”

Neil Horan wants you to know that the “End is Nigh”. In fact, the former Irish priest (eventually defrocked for his lunatic behaviour) went to great lengths to promote his earnest, yet extreme beliefs. During the 2003 British Grand Prix, Horan ran on to the track mid-race wearing signs promoting the bible and was only saved when a race official pushed him off the track and tackled him to the ground. He was convicted of trespassing and served two months in prison. Upon his release, Horan remained vigilant and tackled the lead runner at the time, Brazilian Vanderlai de Lima, during the 2004 Olympic Men’s Marathon, causing him to fall from first to third.

6 Lucky Day at the Track

AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

In July of 1933, Art Rooney Sr. paid the $2,500 NFL franchise fee, but his son Art Rooney Jr. kept the franchise alive after two impossibly lucky days at the track.

The details are somewhat sketchy, but according to Junior’s self-published autobiography:

“AJR picked as many as eleven straight winners in that two-day spree and won an indeterminate amount of money which may have totaled upwards of $380,000. Roy Blount, in his book about the Steelers and the Rooneys, said it was ‘probably the greatest individual performance in the history of American horse-playing.’ Nobody since has disagreed.”

The Steelers, then called the Pirates (a certainly cursed nickname that they eventually passed along to the Pittsburgh baseball team), never had a winning season in the 1930s and were likely only kept afloat from Rooney’s talents at the track.

5 Tonya Harding’s Meltdown

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In the weeks leading up to the 1994 Olympics, an anonymous attacker assaulted the much beloved Nancy Kerrigan. The assailant was later identified as a hit man hired by Tonya Harding’s husband Jeff Gillooly. It was never proven that Harding knew anything about the attack, in the same way that Nixon never knew anything about the Watergate break-in, though she eventually received a lifetime ban after interfering in the investigation and prosecution of the attack.

“The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan story played out like a Lifetime movie, and members of both the print and broadcast media ate it up like tabloid candy," wrote Emma Gray of the Huffington Post. "It had a catfight element that we love so much, and a class-war theme (even though Kerrigan also came from a working-class family).

I highly recommend Nancy Burstein’s documentary ‘The Price of Gold’ for anyone interested in questioning this somewhat oversimplified narrative. ‘The Reigning Ice Princess Taken Down By The White-Trash Wannabe." said Connie Chung at the film's premiere.

4 Ballsy Celebrations

There have been some incredibly creative celebrations in the annals of sports history. There have been ones that have deservedly and undeservedly earned large fines. And then there’s this. In 2001, Francisco Gallardo, a striker for Sevilla, was fined and suspended for breaching the standards of “sporting dignity and decorum” after he celebrated a teammate’s goal by biting him where the sun don’t shine. Even Luis Saurez never went that far. Gallardo later stated, "I am sure I didn't offend anyone. I don't think what I did was very noteworthy."

3 Dock LSD

Just say no to drugs, kids. Dock Ellis didn’t quite take this to heart and on June 12th, 1970 pulled off the most improbable no-hitter in MLB history, pitching while high on LSD after losing track of time during a weekend bender. Ellis claims he was so high that he couldn’t see which batter he was facing; just whether they were batting left or right. “I didn’t know if I was facing Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. I was just out there throwing a baseball and having a great time.”

His close friends have no doubts about the veracity of the story, except some believe Ellis never lost track of time and purposefully took the drugs on game day. Decades later, Ellis, who walked the straight and narrow and became a narcotics counselor, conveyed remorse about his actions. “Dock didn’t remember too much of the game. That was one of his major regrets. It was the high point of his baseball career, and it’s this black spot on his memory.”

2 The Fan Man

Riddick Bowe versus Evander Holyfield (a magnet for strangeness) in 1993 was supposed to be about revenge. Bowe had taken Holyfield’s crown and Evander wanted it back. But this fight was overshadowed by an, ahem, overblown incident involving a man and his fan.

James “The Fan Man” Miller parachuted into the ring during round 7, delaying the fight and leaving Miller severely bruised and battered after Holyfield’s entourage and fans beat him to a pulp. Miller joked afterwards, "It was a heavyweight fight, and I was the only guy who got knocked out."

If you’re going to parachute into an event to interrupt it, you may not want to choose a boxing match. Miller later claimed that his landing was an accident due to mechanical problems and, sadly, later committed suicide in the Alaskan wilderness due to a dehabilitating medical condition and skyrocketing medical bills.

1 The Fans in the Stands

Ron Artest (sorry Metta World Peace) may laugh it off now, but the Pacers-Pistons brawl of 2004 was undoubtedly the ugliest moment in NBA history. It eventually resulted in nine players being suspended a total of 149 games and cost them a combined $11 million in lost salary. But it cost the NBA its dignity. More so, it cost Detroit Pistons’ fans whatever remained of their self-respect.

Jemele Hill wrote in a column for ESPN.com: “As embarrassing as it was, the fight brought some fascinating issues to the surface, including the declining relationships between fans and players and, of course, the racial tensions created by a nearly all-black league being marketed, covered and consumed by a mostly white media and fan base.”

Perhaps part of this tension is that basketball players, unlike football and hockey players, can’t hide behind a helmet and, thus, are more recognizable and under the public spotlight. In the years following, both the NBA and its teams would completely overhaul their security protocols and reform the guidelines pertaining to alcohol sales.

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