Tom Lohr is an avid baseball fan and has visited every Major League Baseball park . . . twice.
One Man's Weird Is Another Man's Superstar
The 1970s was a weird time. There was the disco music debacle, platform shoes, men's hair styles that made every guy look like one of the Doobie Brothers, and a peanut farmer became president. As for fashion, take a glance at the Houston Astros' uniforms of the era; it makes people seasick just by looking at it.
Aside from the comical, softball uniforms that major league baseball teams wore for several years in the 70s, the sport had its share of wackos. Baseball players are superstitious by nature, which some would consider weird for players in the 20th century, but there were a few “extra special” goofballs on the field that were not only at the top of their game, but had entertaining personalities as well.
While there were certainly more than five eccentric players during the 1970s, five of the certified weirdos were marquee ball players that, despite their odd behavior, that any team would love to have had on their team.
When a pitcher has a nickname like “The Mad Hungarian,” you know there has to be a reason. Al sported a horseshoe mustache that gave him a bit of a crazy look when staring down batters from the mound. But it just wasn't his looks that made him zany. Before pitching to a batter, he would walk from the mound to second base, rubbing the ball and talking to himself the entire time. When he finally turned to face the batter, he would slap the ball into his glove and scare the bejesus out of most batters.
Al played a few years for the Royals and Braves, but is mostly known for his long stint with the St. Louis Cardinals. He claimed that relief pitching was mostly mental and his odd behavior was part of a routine to rattle whoever the opposing team sent to the plate. It made for great television in an era when you didn't have to have cable to watch a game.
After his departure from the field, Al remained part of the game as a broadcaster. He is still part of the Cardinals' broadcast team today.
If you remember “Fernandomania” in the 80s, then you have a good idea how baseball felt about Mark Fidrych for a few years in the mid-70s. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Mark became an overnight sensation with his pin-point accuracy that earned him a minuscule ERA and the Rookie of the Year Award.
Fidrych was tall, thin, had gangly legs and a head full of long curly hair. His likeness to the character Big Bird on Sesame Street earned him the nickname “The Bird.” And he was just as wacky as Big Bird. Like Habrosky, he was prone to talking to the ball. He also strutted around the mound in circles after striking a batter out, as well as kneeling and manicuring the mound dirt with his hands to his liking. He would also refuse to let ground crews groom the mound during the game.
The Bird was the embodiment of the word “phenom.” His quick rise to baseball superstardom was so popular that he make the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine; a feat few musicians have accomplished. Fidrych remains the only baseball player to date to have graced the cover of that magazine. It seemed, at the time, everyone was talking about the bird. His odd answers to questions during interviews also helped propel his status as a talented oddball.
Unfortunately, he was also the embodiment of the phrase “flash in the pan.” Mark had one more decent season, and then an arm injury made him all but irrelevant. His antics during his few years in the majors is what most fans remember him for, despite having one of best rookie seasons for a pitcher in MLB history.
After baseball, Mark owned and operated a large truck, hauling things like gravel. In 2009 he was killed while performing maintenance on his truck.
Dock is probably best known for pitching a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates while tripping on LSD. He claimed he sometimes could not see the catcher's glove, and that the hitter's bat would change sizes. As far as we know, he is the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter under the influence of a hallucinogen. He also claimed that he never pitched without taking some sort of amphetamines.
While Habrosky and Fidrych were weird in an entertaining way, Ellis was considered crazy for his abrasive antics. While in the minors, he chased a heckler in the stands with a baseball bat. He was also known for pitching with curlers in his hair and he was maced by security at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium for refusing to show a security guard his ID. At the time (the early 70s) the Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds were the the Pirates main rivalry. The Reds lineup included baseball greats like Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, George Foster and others. Just to show the Reds that the Pirates were not intimidated by them, Dock intentionally hit the first three batters. He walked the next, and then was pulled for trying to hit the next batter.
Shortly after retiring in 1980, Dock entered rehab and cleaned up his act. He became a drug counselor, as well as doing some similar work with prisoners. Ellis died of cirrhosis in 2008.
A journeyman pitcher who was on the staff of eight different major league clubs, Gaylord had an exceptionally long career that spanned 21 seasons, as long as many knuckleballers. During those 21 seasons, he amassed enough wins and strikeouts to earn a ticket to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Perry's odd behavior comes from cheating. He was known to doctor the ball with vaseline and other substances. He called it a spitball, and used all sorts of products to get some extra movement on the ball. His catcher once stated that sometimes the ball was so greasy he could not throw it back to Perry. He also threw a “puff ball,” a pitch in which he would load up his hand with rosin from the rosin bag to the point that when the threw the baseball, it would produce what looked like a puff of smoke.
The word got out that Perry was doctoring the ball, and the umpires began watching him closely, and he was ejected for it a few times. While some pitchers might feel shame, Perry made a career out of it. Just before throwing a pitch, he would run the fingers of his pitching had behind his ear, across his brow, along his neck and other places. The idea was to make batters think the he “might” be getting ready to toss a spitball. What looked like neurosis on the mound, was just Gaylord freaking batters out.
He also made one of baseball's most famous predictions. Perry was always a lousy hitter and said there would be a man on the moon before hit hit a homer. He smacked is first dinger on July 20, 1969; just hours after Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the moon.
After baseball, Gaylord was a farmer and a college baseball coach.
Primarily a relief pitcher who spent most of his career with the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos, Bill was not considered eccentric for what he did, but for what he said. Considered an intellectual for a baseball player, he was quick witted and managed to say things the would bend the reality of the original idea. For example, he was once asked how he felt about mandatory drug testing. His answer: “I've tried just about all of them, but I wouldn't want to make it mandatory.” He also claimed that smoking marijuana made him immune to bus fumes while jogging to work at Fenway Park. With Lee, it was one quip after another; to a point that people looked forward to his interviews. How far out were his Leeisms? His nickname was “Spaceman.”
His antics did not stop after he was pretty much booted from baseball for clashing with both the Red Sox and Expos management. He wrote four, mostly humorous, books and ran for president (as a candidate of the Rhinoceros Party, and for governor of Vermont in 2016. He is also the subject of two songs; fittingly, one recorded by Warren Zevon; better known as the “Werewolves of London” guy.
The Good and the Bad
Who says crazy isn't fun? But it can also be confrontational as was the case of Dock Ellis. Baseball currently has an attendance and popularity problem. Dubbed “The Thinking Man's Game,” many consider baseball too boring to be interesting. Major League Baseball could use an infusion of Spaceman Lee and Al Habrosky. In the end, baseball is about entertainment, and the 1970s had its share.
Nella DiCarlo from Guelph, Ontario on September 09, 2021:
Enjoyed this fun and informative article!