Brian Wilson and the All-Crazy Team: The 22 Most Eccentric Athletes of All Time
With his appearance as a gray-bearded "seaman" who hates water on "Lopez Tonight," Brian Wilson has added to his portfolio as the strangest cat in sports.
From his odd outfits to his introduction of the bondage character "The Machine" to the collection of baseballs he's warmed up with that he keeps in his locker—"I don't date them. I just go by smell," he told USA Today—Wilson may be putting us all on.
But even if it's an act, it's a straight-up crazy act. He's baseball's performance artist, its Andy Kaufman.
Wilson's not the first and probably not the strangest eccentric who ever suited up professionally. Here's a rundown of some of the oddballs, nutjobs and not-always-intentional comedians who have lived in the world of sports.
22. Bill Lee
Before there was Wilson, there was Bill "Spaceman" Lee.
A pretty good left-handed pitcher for the Red Sox and Expos from 1969 to 1982, Lee shocked the straitlaced baseball world when he told reporters that he liked to sprinkle marijuana on his morning pancakes because it made him impervious to bus fumes as he jogged to work at Fenway Park.
He was seen as a freak for his counterculture lifestyle and leftist political positions, but he was also a baseball traditionalist, railing against the designated hitter and artificial turf, among other modern atrocities.
21. Zack Follett
We'll call this a provisional ranking, as it's based on a single, wingnut-tastic video the Detroit Lions linebacker posted this week.
Follett used the word "china doll" to describe his team's quarterback, often-injured Matthew Stafford, and when he got blowback for it, he took to the Internet to explain not that it was just a poor choice of words, but that it was Satan's work.
"Lately Satan has been making his ploy of an evil battle," Follett says. "We need to strap on the armor of God when Satan makes his ploy, because he will come with flaming arrows—and these Twitter feeds are flaming arrows, you feel me?—just come and attacking me."
Follett explains that Satan attacked him through the power of lust, but he resisted: "I went to bed last night not even trippin', you know what I mean, off of lust thought." So Satan turned to making the media take his remarks out of context.
Follett's response? "Satan, that's all you got? That's all you got, bro?"
20. Darryl Dawkins
He never quite lived up to his billing after the 76ers took him with the fifth overall pick out of high school in 1975, but Darryl Dawkins did perfect the art of shattering backboards.
Playing at a time when the slam dunk had only recently become the NBA's signature play, and on the same team as dunk artiste Julius Erving, "Chocolate Thunder" took to naming his dunks. There was the "Yo-Mama," the "In-Your-Face Disgrace" and the "Turbo Sexophonic Delight," among others.
He named his most famous dunk, which rained glass on Kansas City Kings forward Bill Robinzine, "The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-I-Am Jam."
Dawkins claimed to live in the offseason on the planet Lovetron, where he practiced interplanetary funkmanship.
19. Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez's eccentricities have earned him not only his own catch phrase—"Manny being Manny"—but their own Bleacher Report slideshow.
From bathroom breaks in the Green Monster to high-fiving a fan in the middle of turning a catch-and-throw double play, there is never a dull moment when Manny is, well, being Manny.
18. Jimmy Piersall
Manny got his own catch phrase, but Jimmy Piersall got his own movie, with Tony Perkins—of Psycho fame!—playing him.
The birdlike Perkins was nothing like the brawling All-Star outfielder, but the movie did capture Piersall's most famous moment: He ran around the bases backward after hitting his 100th career home run.
Piersall also once came to bat wearing a Beatles wig and was thrown out of a game for running around in center field and waving his arms to try to distract the hitter—former teammate Ted Williams.
He was known for ducking behind the monuments in Yankee Stadium's center field to talk to Babe Ruth. The movie Fear Strikes Out is a Hollywood version of his book about his struggle with bipolar disorder.
17. Stephon Marbury
For a long time, Stephon Marbury just seemed kind of dumb, a point guard who somehow put a long NBA career together without ever making a single smart decision on the court.
But in the summer of 2009, "Starbury" let loose with an epic, daylong live video feed of crazy, assuring viewers along the way that he was not on drugs.
Not long after, Marbury turned down a contract offer from the Celtics and announced he would take a year off of basketball to attend to his business interests.
He's playing in China now, and he says he plans to be there for decades.
16. Ricky Williams
Ricky Williams is in the NFL's top 50 all-time in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per game, but he'll probably be best remembered as the guy who did interviews with his helmet on early in his career and walked away from the game temporarily after he kept testing positive for marijuana.
Diagnosed with clinical depression and social anxiety disorder, Williams has settled into a surprisingly extended life as a journeyman running back for the Dolphins.
15. Jorge Paez
When "El Maromero"—Spanish for the Acrobat—wasn't in the ring, he was, well goshdarnit, he was an acrobat, and a clown, in the family circus in Mexicali, Mexico.
He was a clown in boxing too. His 1990s-looking "official website" is called "Jorge Paez: Clown Prince of Boxing." He goofed at press conferences—a favorite move was to pretend to lick interviewers' microphones as though they were ice cream cones...at least that's one, G-rated interpretation—and, occasionally, in the ring.
Beneath the outrageous antics and colorful boxing duds, though, the featherweight could be a gritty fighter.
He won his first title by knocking down Calvin Grove three times in the 15th round of a brutal fight he'd been losing. It was boxing's last 15-rounder.
Paez's son, Jorge Jr., is a junior welterweight contender.
14. Turk Wendell
He was never much more than a decent reliever, but as an eccentric, Turk Wendell was inner circle.
Men's Fitness magazine named him the most superstitious athlete of all-time, which is really saying something.
He'd brush his teeth between innings in the dugout—well, he had too, because he chewed black licorice whenever he pitched. And he didn't just avoid stepping on the foul line, as many players do, he leaped over it.
He was so fond of his uniform number, 99—adopted in honor of the "Wild Thing" character in Major League—that he once negotiated for his salary to consist of nothing but nines: $9,999,999.99.
13. Ron Artest
Ron-Ron first gained fame beyond NBA fans through his starring role in the Palace of Auburn Hills Brawl in 2004. But he'd already established himself as a different kind of guy.
As a rookie he applied for a job at a stereo store so he could get an employee discount. Not long before the brawl, he'd asked for a month off because he was tired from promoting the album of a group on his record label.
When the Lakers won the NBA championship last year, Artest thanked his psychiatrist in a TV interview from the midst of the on-court celebration. Since then Artest has become an advocate for mental health services.
12. Al Hrabosky
It turns out the Mad Hungarian wasn't all that mad. A left-handed closer for the Cardinals, Royals and Braves in the '70s and early '80s, Hrabosky would appear to meditate behind the mound, then slam the ball into his glove and charge up the mound, fearsome in his long hair and Fu Manchu mustache, before rearing back and firing his one good pitch, a fastball.
After his career ended, he admitted it was all an act, calculated to intimidate hitters. He's been a broadcaster for the Cardinals for years, and his on-air persona is friendly and conservative. The Fu Manchu is long gone.
11. Dock Ellis
Threw a no-hitter.
10. Ilie Nastase
The "Bucharest Buffoon" was one of the most talented athletes in tennis history, but he couldn't seem to focus enough to be among the all-time greats.
Nastase liked to mimic his opponent's movements on court and sometimes made animal sounds to mock his foe. He staged on-court sit-down strikes and screamed at umpires, but also delighted crowds by playing and flirting with them.
As his career progressed, his angry tirades, which, unlike those of rival John McEnroe, seemed to hurt his tennis, earned him the nickname "Nasty."
After he retired from tennis, he ran for mayor of Bucharest and lost. His former doubles partner, Ion Tiriac, said that was probably best for both Nastase and the city.
9. Chad Johnson
He's not Chad Ochocinco anymore. He's just Chad Johnson. For a while there he said it was going to be Chad Hachi Go—"hachi go" meaning "eight five" in Japanese, he said.
Johnson has annoyed the staid NFL with his end-zone celebrations. Early in his career, having been fined twice already for his post-touchdown antics, Johnson scored, then pulled a sign out of a snow bank that read, "Dear NFL: PLEASE don't fine me AGAIN!!!!!"
He was fined $10,000.
8. Mark Fidrych
He talked to the baseball. He hand-manicured the mound. He actually seemed to be having fun playing baseball. He looked like Big Bird.
For one year, 1976, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych captivated baseball, all the while driving a beat-up subcompact car and saying that if he wasn't pitching, he'd be working at a gas station in his Massachusetts hometown.
A bad shoulder kept him from repeating his magical year, and he settled into retirement as a gentleman farmer until his death in an accident in 2009.
7. Charles Barkley
Not only did the Round Mound of Rebound insist he was not a role model, he insisted he'd been misquoted.
In his autobiography.
6. Battling Siki
Battling Siki was born Louis Mbarick Fall in the then-French colony of Senegal in 1897 and grew up to become the light heavyweight champion of the world.
Known for his drinking and carousing, he used to walk his pet lion through the streets of Paris, and he'd signal to his two Great Danes that he wanted them to do a trick by firing pistols into the air.
He claimed he only trained by street brawling, which might not have been the best plan. He was found murdered, shot in the back at close range, in New York in 1925.
5. Clinton Portis
Clinton Portis had a brief run as an eccentric, but it was solid gold. In the mid-2000s, Portis gave press conferences in character.
There was Southeast Jerome—who eventually was a ghost—Coach Janky Spanky, Sheriff Gonna Getcha and the dance instructor Choo Choo.
With his career winding down, Portis has contended himself lately with doing things like dying his hair blond, then saying the rumors that he's gay, which nobody ever heard, weren't true.
4. Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige was one of the Negro Leagues' greatest players and easily its greatest showman. His strange but true baseball stories, things like waving in his fielders and striking out the side, were more showmanship than eccentricity, but he was very much his own man, and not just because he practically pitched, as his biography said he might, forever.
He liked to travel not on the team bus but in his own car, which was a problem because he was a terrible driver who always got lost.
He once said he thought he spent as much time in traffic court as on the mound. A cop who stopped him as he was driving the wrong way asked him if he knew he was on a one-way street.
Paige said, "I'm only going one way."
3. Rube Waddell
A big lefty who led the American League in strikeouts every year from 1902 to 1907 while playing for the Philadelphia A's, Rube Waddell was great as long as you could keep him in the ballpark.
He had a habit of bolting to chase passing fire trucks. Opposing fans used to try to distract him by holding up shiny objects. It worked.
He wrestled alligators, married more women than he could keep track of and was drunk a good deal of the time.
Modern observers have speculated that today he would have been diagnosed with some kind of developmental disability.
He died of tuberculosis in 1914.
2. Dennis Rodman
If Ron Artest and Lady Gaga could somehow have a son who was older than both of them, that son would be Dennis Rodman.
1. Brian Wilson
Is Brian Wilson the strangest, most oddball athlete of all-time? Maybe not, but he's dominating right now. He's the Gretzky of goofy, the Babe Ruth of bizarre.
Forget that World Series championship. This is the crown for Wilson to defend. There isn't anybody who looks poised to knock it off of him.