Who Are the Weirdest Athletes in Sports History?
People are strange when you're a stranger. Faces look ugly when you're alone. But that’s what Jim Morrison said.
Me? I say these are some of the weirdest, craziest, most bizarre characters in the wacky world of pro sports. Read on to see just how weird.
30. Kevin Rhomberg
Career: 3 seasons (1982-84)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1982-84)
Bottom line: Romberg is the best career .383 hitter that nobody heard of. Instead, the guy is known for one of the weirdest rituals in baseball history — he had to touch anyone (or any object held by said person) that touched him first. Ohhh-kaaay. If a perpetrator eluded him, he would send a letter that said, “This constitutes a touch.”
Fortunately, he retired after 41 games before things really got out of hand.
29. Hunter Pence
Career: 2007 (14 seasons)
Teams: Houston Astros (2007-11), Philadelphia Phillies (2011-12), San Francisco (2013-18, 2020), Texas Rangers (2019)
Bottom line: There was a reason why Pence played baseball like a mad stork with his wings tied. He had a spinal disorder that limited flexibility. Yet there’s no logical way to explain why so much else was strange about the guy, from his bugged-out eyes to goofy facial expressions to unorthodox on-deck ritual to unusual mode of transition to the home game — an electric scooter.
28. Moe Berg
Career: 15 seasons (1923, 1926-39)
Teams: Brooklyn Robins (1923), Chicago White Sox (1926-30), Cleveland Indians (1931, 1934), Washington Senators (1932-34), Boston Red Sox (1935-39)
Bottom line: Berg may be the most intelligent player in major league history, not that he has a lot of competition. Weirder yet, the Princeton product doubled as an undercover spy who spoke 15 languages. “Strangest man ever to play baseball,” New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel once said of him.
Ol’ Case was an authority on the subject, you know.
27. Frenchy Bordagaray
Career: 9 seasons (1934-39, 1941-45)
Teams: Chicago White Sox (1934), Brooklyn Dodgers (1935-36, 1942-45), St. Louis Cardinals (1937-38), Cincinnati Reds (1939), New York Yankees (1941)
Bottom line: At a time when baseball was more serious than an IRS audit, Bordagaray was one of the few flakes around. When he showed up at training camp with a mustache and goatee, the first in the bigs to do so in two decades, Dodgers manager Casey Stengel nearly had a coronary. After the outfielder failed to slide because he had cigars in his back pocket, Stengel docked him $100. He next slid into every base after a home run the next day. After his trade to the Cardinals, he played fiddle and washboard on Pepper Martin’s Mudcats band tours.
26. Darryl Dawkins
Career: 14 seasons (1975-89)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (1975-82), New Jersey Nets (1982-87), Utah Jazz (1987-88), Detroit Pistons (1987-89)
Bottom line: Dawkins claimed to hail from planet Lovetron, where the four essential elements were love, love, love and love. That this came from a man who played in Philadelphia was nutty in itself. The big lug is the league leader in most career dunks with self-imposed nicknames. The list includes the Get Out The Wayin', Backboard Swayin', Game Delayin', If You Ain't Groovin’, You Best Get Movin' dunk, the Left-handed Spine-chiller Supreme and the Turbo Sexophonic Delight, of course.
25. Manny Ramirez
Career: 19 seasons (1993-2011)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1993-2000), Boston Red Sox (2001-08), Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10), Chicago White Sox (2010), Tampa Bay Rays (2011)
Bottom line: Ramirez pulled all kinds of stunts that enablers blew off as “Manny being Manny.” Like the times the knucklehead would suddenly disappear into the Green Monster at Fenway Park while the game was in progress. When you’re a geeked-up slugger who can consistently hit a baseball really, really far, you tend to get away with such trivial things.
24. Larry Eisenhauer
Career: 9 seasons (1961-69)
Teams: Boston Patriots (1961-69)
Bottom line: Eisenhauer was known as Wildman. Need I write more? He once pranced in his birthday suit on the field prior to a game in Kansas City, Missouri. On another occasion, he jumped into a hotel pool near butt naked to the delight/horror of patrons. His pre-game routine included repeated head butts of locker room walls. Just a guess, but that might have accounted for some of his behavior.
23. Clinton Portis
Career: 9 seasons (2002-10)
Teams: Washington Redskins (2002-03), Denver Broncos (2004-10)
Bottom line: Portis showed up at news conferences dressed up as an alter ego in a wig and shades. Remember Dolla Bill and Sheriff Gonna Getcha? More recently, the two-time Pro Bowler pleaded guilty to fraud charges in a healthcare benefits scheme. The sheriff got Dolla Bill, all right.
22. Brian Wilson
Career: 9 seasons (2006-14)
Teams: San Francisco Giants (2006-2012), Los Angeles Dodgers (2013-14)
Bottom line: Wilson was talented and driven, cocky and out there. He was best known for his Mohawk haircut and long black beard, which he claimed wasn’t dyed but well-tanned because of day games. He wore all-orange spikes — until he was fined for “too much awesome on my feet.”
Dry humps frustrated him. That was his term for the times that he warmed up in the bullpen but never got the call. He also claimed to be an undercover ninja with psychic powers.
21. John Daly
Career: 35 years (1987-present)
Bottom line: What do you get when you combine a scattershot golfer with a few drinks and a short fuse? A fashion line named Loud Mouth, two packs a day, a pregnant gut, some really lousy scores, a refusal to sign scorecards, broken cameras and an untold number of balls purposely hit into the drink.
20. Turk Wendell
Career: 11 seasons (1993-2001, 2003-04)
Teams: Chicago Cubs (1993-97), New York Mets (1997-2001), Philadelphia Flyers (2001, 2003), Colorado Rockies (2004)
Bottom line: Relief pitchers are different by the very nature of their role. Wendell is Tug McGraw plus Roger McDowell squared. He treated the foul lines like they were third rails, drew three crosses in the dirt on the mound, squatted until his catcher did likewise, at which point he began to warm up, waved at the center fielder before his first pitch and insisted that said person waved back, brushed his teeth between innings to address a licorice addiction and never wore socks. More than one teammate hated the whole routine, managers especially.
19. Jesper Parnevik
Career: 36 years (1986-present)
Bottom line: Parnevik (nickname: Spaceman) is the Nutty Professor of golf. In addition to his sport, the Swede excels in things such as math and chess, but he has been known to get lost on the way to tournaments, check out early when he unknowingly makes the cut and accidentally take out caddies with his cart. The guy rates as the worst-dressed player on the tour if not all of pro sports, complete with hideous argyle sweaters and incredibly tight pants to limit hip movement on his swing. Now if he could only bend over to pick up the ball...
18. Mark Fidrych
Career: 5 seasons (1976-80)
Team: Detroit Tigers (1976-80)
Bottom line: The curly-haired kid known as The Bird had crazy stuff. His slider wasn’t bad for one season, either. He got down on both knees to smooth the mound dirt, gave pep talks to baseballs and slapped his glove while he shouted attaboys to teammates after good plays in the field. So mesmerized were Tigers fans by his goofy routine that they wore Bird Is The Word T-shirts. Sorry, but Bird was not the word. Weird was the word.
17. Casey Stengel
Career as manager: 25 seasons (1934-36, 1938-43, 1949-60, 1962-65)
Teams: Brooklyn Dodgers (1934-36), Boston Bees-Braves (1938-43), New York Yankees (1949-60), New York Mets (1962-65)
Bottom line: Stengel could double-talk a career politician. English was his second language — so much so that the term “Stengelese” became part of the baseball lexicon. Ol’ Case played so many off-the-wall hunches, that his deployment of pinch-hitters and relief pitchers often made no sense at all. Yet here’s the strangest fact of ‘em all: The guy managed the New York Yankees to nine pennants in 10 seasons. What?
16. Tim Rossovich
Career: 7 seasons (1968-73, 1976)
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles (1968-71), San Diego Chargers (1972-73), Houston Oilers (1976)
Bottom line: As a stud USC lineman, Rossovich was nutty before nutty had become a thing. You know, the usual — chewing glass, leaping naked onto a birthday cake, setting himself on fire, jumping off rooftops, driving motorbikes off piers. The first-round draft pick was equally reckless in the pros, after which he followed ex-roomie Tom Selleck to Hollywood as an actor and stuntman. The antics obscured the fact that the one-time All-American and Pro Bowler was a pretty good football player.
15. Rube Waddell
Career: 13 seasons (1897, 1899-1910)
Teams: Louisville Colonels (1897, 1899), Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-01), Chicago Orphans (1901), Philadelphia Athletics (1902-07), St. Louis Browns (2008-10)
Bottom line: Waddell was an eccentric who drank too much. He had a strange affinity for fire engines, occasionally blew off games to fish or play marbles with street urchins in his neighborhood, squabbled with fans and teammates alike. (Catch breath here.) He was implicated in the alleged fix of the 1905 World Series, wrestled alligators in the off-season and died of pneumonia not long after he assisted victims of a dam collapse. Despite all this, he was a helluva pitcher who merited a Hall of Fame plaque.
14. Chad Ochocinco
Career: 11 seasons (2001-11)
Teams: Cincinnati Bengals (2001-10), New England Patriots (2011)
Bottom line: Welcome to the diva wide receiver portion of our program. The Pro Bowler Formerly Known as Chad Johnson changed his name — and played like Ochostinko thereafter. The guy admits to Red Bull/Mickey D’s addictions, has had cameos in all kinds of TV reality shows and pro sports (he was dropped in a four-round exhibition) and is known to mosey around casinos in briefs and gold -oe socks. As he once put it, “My life is about taking crazy chances and doing crazy stuff.”
Which brings us to...
13. Terrell Owens
Career: 15 seasons (1996-2010)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1996—2003), San Francisco 49ers 2004-05), Dallas Cowboys (2006-08), Buffalo Bills (2009), Cincinnati Bengals (2010)
Bottom line: T.O. claimed that co-conspirators bilked him out of most of his $80 million in career earnings, which might explain why he appeared without a shirt in a GQ photo spread. The drama king was never weirder than in a tearful defense of Tony Romo, his Dallas Cowboys sidekick. “It’s really unfair. It’s my teammate.” (Loud sniff.) “It’s my quarterback. (Feint sniff.)”
Why this guy didn’t pursue the daytime soaps beats the heck out of me. Which brings us to...
12. Antonio Brown
Career: 12 seasons (2010-present)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers (2010-18), New England Patriots (2019), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020-present)
Bottom line: What dunderheadedness can Brown do for you? He can broadcast a vulgar post-game talk by his head coach on Facebook Live. He can have a hissy fit at practice in advance of a big game and then sit out the rest of the week. He can be named in a civil lawsuit for sexual assault. He can throw furniture off a 14th-floor balcony and nearly kill a toddler below. He can play football with a fake COVID vax card. He can storm off the field half naked in the middle of a game and get himself fired for it. I don’t want to know what comes next.
11. Ricky Williams
Career: 11 seasons (1999-2003, 2005, 2007-11)
Teams: New Orleans Saints (1999-2001), Miami Dolphins (2002-03, 2005, 2007-10), Baltimore Ravens (2011)
Bottom line: Williams was extraordinarily good at tackle football before his career went up in smoke. Literally. His real passion was cannabis, which cost him millions in suspensions and later prompted his retirement. He also was big on Scientology-like cults that delved into his inner self. Once he took off to the Himalayas on a whim to hang out with someone named Mystic Steve for half a year. I do not believe that Mystic Steve and Saints coach Iron Mike Ditka ever met.
10. Dizzy Dean
Career: 12 seasons (1930, 1932-41, 1947)
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1930, 1932-37), Chicago Cubs (1938-41), St. Louis Browns (1947)
Bottom line: Dean was an all-time attention whore, spit disturber and general pain in the butt. Loud, stubborn and belligerent, Ol’ Diz needled opponents and umpires relentlessly. But because the guy could pitch — boy, could he ever — there wasn’t much that the higher-ups could do about his over-the-top behavior.
9. Gilbert Arenas
Teams: Washington Wizards
Bottom line: Ten years after Arenas hung ‘em up, Agent Zero is as bizarre as ever. Did you hear the one about the $330,000 lottery jackpot and a homeless man? (DuckGoGo it for details.) This is the same nut job who drew a 50-game suspension after he packed heat in a locker room, wore a sneaker 1.5 sizes too small because he didn’t want a rep for big feet, flipped a coin to determine his next team ... I could continue, but you get the idea.
8. Sean Avery
Career: 10 seasons (2001-2012)
Teams: Detroit Red Wings (2001-03 2002-07), Los Angeles Kings (2003-07), Dallas Stars (2008-09), New York Rangers (2007-08, 2009-12)
Bottom line: Avery (career goals: 45) was more than a psychopath. He was an alleged tough guy who elevated jerkdom to an elite level. Start with his weird stick fetish for New York Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, which led to the Sean Avery Rule. He chided another opponent about a previous bout with cancer, two more for “sloppy seconds” with his ex-wives. More recently, he abused his mother-in-law and a female neighbor and had a pair of run-ins with a man whose car mirror he smashed in a hissy fit. Pretty much what one would expect of a no-talent moron.
7. Bill Romanowski
Career: 16 seasons (1988-2003)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1988-1993), Philadelphia Eagles (1994-95), Denver Broncos (1996-2001), Oakland Raiders (2002-03)
Bottom line: Romanowski had the look of a serial killer even at practices. If the lunatic couldn’t punch or spit on an opponent, he would heave a football at their privates. “Romo gets so geeked up on game days, you can’t even talk to him,” a former teammate once said.
The guy spent nearly six figures on vitamins, minerals, supplements and (insert imagination here), which he would tote around in a suitcase whose contents were for him to know and you to find out.
6. Gilles Gratton
Career: 5 seasons (1972-77)
Teams: WHA Ottawa Nationals (1972-73), WHA Toronto Toros (1973-75), St. Louis Blues (1975-76), New York Rangers (1976-77)
Bottom line: Except for the money part, Gratton didn’t give a puck about hockey. This despite lots of natural talent and a way cool tiger goalie mask that was the talk of the league. So the believer in reincarnation decided to chuck it after 47 NHL games to pursue ... wait for it ... the meaning of life. As ex-teammate Paul Henderson said, “Man, he had a different outlook. But maybe it was because he smoked a lot of different stuff over the years.”
How much do you wanna bet that Gratoony the Loony is with Ricky Williams and Mystic Steve in the Himalayas right now?
5. Metta World Peace
Career: 18 seasons (1999-2017)
Teams: Chicago Bulls (1999-2002), Indiana Pacers (2002-06), Sacramento Kings (2006-08), Houston Rockets (2008-09), Los Angeles Lakers (2009-13, 2015-17), New York Knicks (2013-14)
Bottom line: I covered The Artest Formerly Known As Ron in his Bulls years, and he was a delight to be around. He also said/did a lot of things that made me go hmmmmm. Like drink Hennessy cognac at halftime, for instance. A chunk of his salary was devoted to an entourage so large in number that he didn’t know half of them by name. He is worst known for the Malice at the Palace, of course, one of the most infamous brawls in NBA history.
4. Jimmy Piersall
Career: 17 seasons (1950, 1952-1967)
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1950, 1952-58), Cleveland Indians (1959-61), Washington Senators (1962-63), New York Mets (1963), Los Angeles-California Angels (1963-67)
Bottom line: As far as I know, Piersall's the only one on the list who actually spent time in a mental institute. His battle with bipolar disorder played out quite publicly at a time when mental health was not discussed. In fact, his story was turned into the movie, "Fear Strikes Out," starring Anthony Perkins. That said, he had some episodes that can't go unmentioned. He threw an orange at the Comiskey Park exploding scoreboard, circled the bases backward on his 100th career home run, and rode fans, opponents and umpires like Northern Dancer in the ’64 Kentucky Derby.
While Piersall's behavior can be described as erratic at best, he got the treatment he needed and even wrote a few books about the experience. “Mr. Piersall’s courageous description of his struggles with manic depression, now called bipolar disorder, helped bring the disease and its treatments out of the shadows,” Dr. Barron H. Lerner, professor of medicine and population health at the New York University Langone Medical Center, wrote in The New York Times in 2015. “It was really a big deal 60 years ago.”
3. Mike Tyson
Organizations: WBA, WBC, IBF
Career: 17 years (1985-1991, 1995-1997, 1999-2005)
Bottom line: Here’s a Tyson sampler: “I want to kill people. I want to rip their stomachs out and eat their children.” “They called me a 'rapist' and a 'recluse.' I'm not a recluse.”
Look, I’m not sure how much of The Baddest Man on the Planet was about intimidation and how much of it was real, but I wouldn’t want to ask him. He might bite my ear off.
2. Bill Lee
Career: 14 seasons (1969-82)
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1969-78), Montreal Expos (1979-92)
Bottom line: There was a time when Lee would be No. 1 on this list, no questions asked. Sad to say, The Spacemen (yes, he has the same nickname as the previously mentioned Parnevik) isn’t as up there and out there in his mid-70s. See, he has this theory (actually, too many theories). He believes that Earth is so fluxed up, an inhabitant has to be at least half-baked to survive it. If you’ve been alive recently, you know there’s some truth to it. So, yeah, the guy really has lost his fastball.
1. Dennis Rodman
Career: 14 seasons (1986-2000)
Teams: Detroit Pistons (1986-93), San Antonio Spurs (1993-95, Chicago Bulls (1995-98), Los Angeles Lakers (1999), Dallas Mavericks (2000)
Bottom line: Know all those insane Rodman stories? This longtime Bulls beat writer assures you that virtually every one of them is true. I got drunk just watching him throw down shot after shot one night/morning in Salt Lake City, Utah. Between gulps, he invited me to join his entourage in Las Vegas on the eve of an NBA Finals game. From alcohol to head-to-toe tattoos to bad hair to who knows what the hell else, no athlete heaped more abuse on himself than this one. Hard to believe the Worm turned 60 this year. Frankly, I’m surprised that he was alive to celebrate it.