Now we move to the strange. Does the name Herb Washington ring a bell? If not, he was signed by the Oakland A’s in 1974 as Washington came off a highly successful track career without any experience playing baseball. The reason for the signing? To become a “designated runner.” That’s right, the A’s felt his speed would be good as a pinch-runner. His short baseball career lasted just two seasons and he finished with 31 stolen bases. Yet, not a SINGLE at-bat. He also was picked off as a pinch-runner in the World Series.
Would you like something stranger? How about a place kicker in the NFL that kicked only with a bare foot? That would be Tony Franklin, a kicker for the New England Patriots for years. But he did so without wearing a football shoe on his kicking foot. Franklin’s career began as a running back in high school but because of an injury to his left ankle—and not wanting to give up football—he turned to kicking.
From Franklin’s own words, this is how the idea to kick with a bare foot began: “I was working out with a shoe and was kicking about 40 yards and I don’t know why I did it. I just said, ‘Well, I’m going to take my shoe off and see what happens.’ Right away I started hitting the ball 50 yards and making the kicks. I stayed with that, wearing a sock, all through high school.”
Once he made it to Texas A&M for his college career, there was no more sock. The Philadelphia Eagles were intrigued when his Aggie career was done and they drafted him. But in 1984, he was traded to the Patriots and even hit a 59-yard field goal… barefoot.
Earlier, I provided you with a baseball player who essentially died on the diamond. There has also been a player in pro football who tragically lost his life during a game on the gridiron. That was Chuck Hughes, a member of the Detroit Lions who on October 24, 1971 while playing wide receiver for Detroit, collapsed after a play when returning to the huddle. Hughes had a heart attack and died.
Subsequently, his jersey number (85) was retired by the Lions. And, he remains the only player in the history of the NFL to die on the field of play.
Now back to the bizarre. Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 63 because of a liver ailment, long-claimed that he was high on LSD on June 12, 1970 when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. He once described what took place:
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the catcher’s glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters, and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes, I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him.
“I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.”
For more from Harv Aronson, visit his website! And, check out past entries from this series below: