History and Violence: Tomjanovich, Big Unit and Rick Barry

Sports History Tomjanovich Barry Randy Johnson

While sports may have seen its share of brawls across playing fields, from a bat-wielding incident via baseball great Juan Marichal—who clubbed Johnny Roseboro with a bat, resulting in 14 stitches—to what might be the most devastating incident resulting from a brawl in pro sports history.

Playing for the NBA’s Houston Rockets in the 1970s, Rudy Tomjanovich was a decent player. And when his team faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 9, 1977, little did Tomjanovich know that before the game was over, his career would be tragically altered. After a brawl broke out on the court, Tomjanovich ran in to play peacemaker. Instead, he would only receive a sucker punch courtesy of LA’s Kermit Washington.

The punch was so incredibly hard that it crushed Tomjanovich’s face, leaving him with life-threatening injuries. Ultimately, he was out of commission for five months. He would retire four years later at the age of 33.

Now over the past week or so, a few of these entries dealt with death. Specifically, death on the field. So we’re going to go there one more time. Only this time, it was not human.

Baseball fans know full well that Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson was one of the hardest throwers in MLB history. Tell that to the unlucky dove that happened to fly in front of a Johnson fastball on March 24, 2001.

On that day, Johnson’s team—the Arizona Diamondbacks—were facing the San Francisco Giants in a spring training game. Suddenly, in the seventh inning—and in a split-second—a dove flew in the path of Johnson’s pitch to Calvin Murray. The bird never stood a chance. How many of you have seen the video? Murray’s description of the incident:

“It exploded, feathers and everything, just ‘poof! There were nothing but feathers laying on home plate. I never saw the ball, nothing but feathers. For anyone that found humor in the bird killing, Randy Johnson was not one of them: I didn’t think it was all that funny.”

Sports History Tomjanovich Barry Randy Johnson

And finally…

While this next “oddity” may seem, well, odd, it’s more about style than an event that took place. It is the style that Rick Barry put to use as a pro with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA. Whenever Barry stepped to the free throw line, his shots to the basket were not the conventional type. Instead, Barry would make his shots using an underhand tossing style—something almost never seen on any level of basketball.

The uncanny part? He had a career free throw rate of 89 percent. His highest single-season mark came in during the 1978-79 campaign, when he shot 94 percent from the charity stripe.

What was your favorite sports oddity during this series? For more from Harv Aronson, visit his website! And, check out past entries from this series below:

History and Tragedy: Peter Gray and Ray Chapman

History and Tragedy: Roy Riegels and Eddie Gaedel

History and Violence: Seles, Gamboa and Tyson

History and Tragedy: Herb Washington, Dock Ellis and Chuck Hughes

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