Strange things happen in both life and sports. Whether through random coincidence, an act of God, or just unlucky decisions, we’ve experienced some rather bizarre events in the world of sports. Most of the time these events are so strange they are singular occurrences, never to be seen again. Here are 10 of the most bizarre events to ever take place on the field of play.
10 Hitting a Bird with a Baseball
Baseball has been rather unkind to birds over the years. Randy Johnson once obliterated a dove which had the unlucky fortune of flying between the mound and home plate while he was in the midst of delivering a fastball. But Johnson’s not the only one to do this. Several players have turned routine fly balls into doubles or base hits by striking a bird in mid-flight. Most of these incidents are accidental but Dave Winfield once famously killed a seagull in Toronto with a warm-up throw, an act that got him arrested. And then there’s the case of Jae-kuk Ryu, a Korean player in the Cubs system in 2003 who took it to a whole new level. Ryu was accused of purposefully trying to hit (and ended up wounding) an Osprey nesting on a light pole in 2003, which led to a significant amount of trouble for him and his team.
9 The Vanishing Ball
One of the strangest events in baseball took place in one of the strangest baseball stadiums – the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. In 1984, Oakland slugger Dave Kingman struck a routine, albeit rather towering, pop-fly that went up towards the Teflon roof. It never returned. The ball somehow managed to strike a drain hole in the roof and became stuck between the two layers of fabric – though no one knew it at the time. The umpires, players and fans waited for a confused minute or two before Kingman was eventually awarded a double for his part in the missing ball.
8 The Death of Chuck Hughes
The NFL is an extremely violent game, so it’s a bit surprising that only one professional player has died on the field of play, especially considering the number of professional soccer players who have died during games. Hughes was drafted by the Eagles and played in Philadelphia for three years before a trade sent him to the Lions. On October 24th, 1971 Hughes, a wide receiver and special teams player, suffered a heart attack during a routine passing route. En route to the huddle after the play Hughes collapsed and died. It was later revealed that Hughes had a pre-existing condition (arteriosclerosis) and that his arteries were severely blocked, contributing to the attack.
7 Don Zimmer vs. Pedro Martinez
Yankees versus Red Sox is a classic rivalry and the 2003 ALCS proved that. During Game Three the two teams emptied their dugouts for a brawl that was like most baseball fracases – a lot of pushing and shoving. Unfortunately, 72-year-old Don Zimmer had other ideas. Zimmer rushed at Pedro Martinez in an apparent effort to attack him. Martinez casually threw Zimmer to the ground, where he would remain for several minutes as medical personnel attended to him. It’s rare for a coach to become too involved in these things, but a 72-year-old coach attacking a player is unheard of. Afterwards, Zimmer would give a bubbling press conference where he would apologize for his actions.
6 Grounding the Club
In golf, grounding is defined as “touching the club to the ground before swinging.” It seems a harmless enough thing to do, but it’s a two-stroke penalty when you do it in a hazard, such as a sand trap – as Dustin Johnson can tell you. At Whistling Straits in 2010 Johnson grounded his club in a bunker before taking his shot during the final playoff. Dustin didn’t know the rule and was assessed a two-stroke penalty and ended up finishing in fifth place. What made this even more strange was that Johnson didn’t know he was in a bunker. Johnson insisted the area off the course was a patch of trampled dirt the spectators had created – even though tournament officials had previously declared these areas to be hazards. Johnson finished out his round without knowing he was actually two-strokes down.
5 The Tripleheader
Since 1900 there’s been only one tripleheader played in Major League Baseball. It took place on October 2nd, 1920 – during the final week of the season between the Reds and the Pirates. A faltering Reds team made this scheduling possibility a reality when it was determined that four more losses and four more wins by the trailing Pirates would mean the Pirates would take second place and make the playoffs. Knowing his team was 3.5 games out and in need of finishing this head-to-head series after a series of rainouts, the Pirates' owner proposed a radical idea – play a tripleheader. It took some intervention from the National League, but it happened and to date it’s the only one ever played. They played the first game at noon in two hours and three minutes. The second game started immediately and went 18 innings, a feat they accomplished in just one hour and fifty-six minutes! They played the third game in record time (1:01). All told, the Reds and Pirates played three games in five hours.
4 Referee Tackles Player
During an LSU versus South Carolina college football game in 2008, a referee impacted a game in an unusual way – he attempted to tackle the quarterback. There was never an explanation given as to why this referee became so involved in the play. One must wonder as to his intentions or if he had some money riding on the game or just became startled during the action. During a broken play, the South Carolina quarterback tucked the ball and ran downfield into the open. The only person in his way is the referee who inexplicably steps up and shoulders the quarterback, who is then tackled by an LSU player.
3 Manu Ginobili and the Bat
It’s not unusual for animals to break into stadiums. There are numerous accounts of squirrels, dogs, birds and others living in the stadiums and even entering the field of play, but what happened in San Antonio in 2009 was rather unusual. A Spurs/Suns game was halted a couple times when a bat began doing flybys on the court. The referees were pondering how to handle this sudden interference when Manu Ginobili took matters into his own hands – literally. Ginobili swatted the bat out of mid-air as it flew by him. He calmly picked it up and walked it off-court and handed it over to a stadium employee – and play resumed as if nothing strange had happened.
2 Roger Clemens Throws the Bat
Whether an accident or not, the Mike Piazza versus Roger Clemens at-bat during a 2000 World Series game was a strange affair. In the first inning this game got strange when Piazza hit a foul ball which shattered his bat. By pure happenstance the barrel of the bat flew towards Clemens like a ground ball and popped up into his glove. Clemens immediate fired the bat off the field as Piazza was running down the line – nearly hitting him. Both benches emptied because of the incident. Clemens routinely claimed he was just throwing the bat off the field but considering the stage (the World Series) and the history (Clemens hit Piazza in the head once) it’s hard not to wonder if his actions were intentional.
1 Malice at the Palace
No event is more alarming and bizarre than what happened in Detroit in 2004. During a game which became tense and testy, Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest would notoriously spark what has become known as the “Malice at the Palace.” After a series of increasingly hard fouls and a technical foul or two, Ron Artest did something rather dumb. He climbed up and then laid down on the scorer’s table. While a relatively harmless act in itself, it came on the heels of a lot of pushing and shoving and a distinct lack of control on the referee’s part. A fan decided to toss a full cup of beer on Artest, sparking a rather unusual series of alarming events. Artest charged into the stands and began brawling with fans. He was soon joined by Stephen Jackson who was also fighting fans. Meanwhile, a melee broke out on the court. Jermaine O’Neal threw punches and some of the Pistons fled the court. The incident is one the largest black marks on basketball history. It led to major changes in how teams handle these affairs and highlighted a distinct lack of control on the stadium’s part to keep fans and players separate.