One of the reasons we love sports so much is their capacity for producing chill-inducing, iconic moments. There are players whose names are etched in history for what they did on one play. What about the wrong end of those plays, though?
How about some respect for the guys who made these moments possible, even if it was thanks to their ineptitude? Many of them had solid careers that were overshadowed by one low moment. Let’s give them their due and take a look at some of the “other guys” in sports history.
Well, someone had to hit the ball that produced Willie Mays’ iconic World Series catch in 1954. That someone was Indians outfielder Vic Wertz, whose 440-foot drive went all for naught. He wasn’t just the forgotten end of one of the greatest defensive plays in baseball history, though. Wertz overcame polio in 1955 and hit 266 home runs with 1,178 RBI in a 17-year career.
It’s bad enough to give up a home run in the World Series. It’s worse to give up a home run when the batter allegedly calls his shot. Root was the pitcher for the Cubs in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series when Babe Ruth purportedly pointed out to center field after taking two strikes in his at-bat, then drilled a homer on the next pitch. Did it happen? Who knows. It did obscure the career of Root, who won 201 games and posted a 3.59 ERA during a 17-year career.
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In the entire history of the New York Jets, there are two iconic images: Joe Namath, index finger in the air after pulling off a massive Super Bowl III upset over the Baltimore Colts and Mark Sanchez, face full of posterior on the infamous “Butt Fumble” play. Moore was a durable lineman, starting 137 consecutive games to end his career, but nothing he did on the field will ever eclipse the role he and his derriere played in one of the NFL’s all-time lowlights.
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Take your pick for Park. He was the pitcher who gave up Barry Bonds’ record 71st home run in 2001, but before that he was infamous for giving up two grand slams in one inning to the Cardinals’ Fernando Tatis. Ignominious moments, both of them, but Park had a solid career, winning 124 games in a 17-year career that included stops with seven different teams.
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Speaking as someone whose greatest-ever high school basketball performance (18 points, go me!) was overshadowed by being dunked on in spectacular fashion, you never want to be on the wrong end of a posterizing. Frederic Weis was, and his career never recovered. Vince Carter permanently damaged the reputation of the entire Weis family by leaping directly over the 7-foot-2 Frenchman and tomahawk dunking in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Anything Weis did after that play became irrelevant, because it is all he will ever be remembered for.
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The Dream Team completely annihilated the competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, but their run was not without controversy, as Charles Barkley infamously elbowed Coimbra, of the Angolan national team, in a game and refused to apologize for the incident. Coimbra took the whole thing in stride and managed to actually strike up a friendship with Barkley afterward. The U.S. beat Angola, 116-48, by the way.
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One of Derek Jeter’s most iconic career moments would never have happened if Giambi had simply slid into home. In Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS, with the A’s up in the series 2-0 but down 1-0 in the seventh inning, Jason’s younger, less accomplished brother instead tried to score standing up on Terrence Long’s double. He didn’t, Jeter made a brilliant flip to Jorge Posada, and he saved the day (and the series) for New York.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s medal stand demonstration at the 1968 Mexico City Games is one of the most famous images and moments in Olympics history, but there was a third man on the medal stand. Norman, an Australian, became a lifelong friend to Carlos and Smith, as he expressed solidarity for their gesture and cause and wore a human rights badge on his jacket. Norman’s career suffered as a result, as he was not chosen for the 1972 Summer Olympics, and his silver in 1968 was his only Olympic medal.
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Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 World Cup remains one of soccer’s most iconic, infamous and controversial moments, with Maradona’s hand clearly knocking the ball in the net. The goal stood despite the vehement protestations of Shilton, England’s goalkeeper and captain in the game. While his role on the play will never be forgotten, he played more games for England’s national team than anyone else and played 1,005 games at the club level.
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Dyson made magic for the Titans once in the 1999 playoffs, as he did most of the work, easy though it was, in the Music City Miracle. He couldn’t replicate that in the Super Bowl, coming up a yard short of the end zone after St. Louis’ Mike Jones made a sure tackle to keep the Titans from tying the game on their last gasp. Dyson’s career spanned six years, and he posted 178 receptions, 2,325 yards and 18 touchdowns.
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Mark Sanchez’s Butt Fumble might be the most inglorious play in modern NFL history, but it has nothing on Jim Marshall’s blunder. In 1964, Marshall picked up a fumble against San Francisco and ran it all the way to the end zone — the wrong one. The play ended up a safety, and Marshall’s place on blooper reels was secured forever. He did have a fantastic career, retiring with the career record for most consecutive games played and started, with 282 and 270, respectively.
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Moorer was a slick, undefeated southpaw who won the WVA, IBF and lineal heavyweight title by beating Evander Holyfield. Most experts figured he’d handle George Foreman, who was making a comeback at age 45 and scarcely resembled the fearsome physical presence he was 20 years prior. On Nov. 5, 1994, Moorer outboxed Foreman for nine rounds and was comfortably ahead on the scorecards when Foreman dropped him with a devastating short right hand to regain the heavyweight crown. Moorer would regain the IBF title by beating Axel Schulz nearly two years later, but the Foreman loss is the defining fight of his career.
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Michael Jordan has won NBA titles with last-second shots, but his most famous buzzer-beater merely dispatched the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989. Ehlo had the unfortunate distinction of being the other man in the frame, and while he played tough defense, forcing Jordan into a difficult double-clutch attempt, it went for naught. The moment overshadowed Ehlo’s solid career, one that spanned 14 seasons and four teams, and saw him average 8.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
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Another Jordan victim, Russell had the unenviable task of trying to defend the best pure scorer in league history in back-to-back NBA Finals. Never was his task more futile than when Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone, brought it down the court, pushed off on Russell and buried a jumper to win Chicago’s sixth NBA title. Russell was a solid player, playing 13 seasons, nine of them in Utah, and averaging 7.9 points per game, including a career-high 14.1 in 1999-2000.
Bill Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series for the Pirates remains the only Game 7 walk-off home run in the history of the Fall Classic. Terry has the unpleasant distinction of being the man to serve it up. While that was a low point, the rest of Terry’s career was more conventional. He pitched 12 years in the majors and led the American League with 23 wins in 1962, with a career record of 107-99 and a career ERA of 3.62.
Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” might be the most famous home run in baseball history. Brooklyn Dodgers hurler Branca served it up, and there are rumors that Thomson knew what pitch was coming because his Giants were stealing signs. Whatever the case may be, Branca’s connection to that play is permanent despite winning 88 games and posting a 3.79 ERA in 12 big league seasons. Note to all MLB managers: Don’t use pitchers named Ralph when a playoff series is on the line.
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Grant Hill with the inbounds pass. Christian Laettner with the catch, the shoulder fake and the turnaround jumper. Duke with the win on one of the most famous plays in college basketball and sports history. Thanks to their heroics, Sean Woods’ bank shot to put Kentucky ahead is lost to the dustbin of history. Woods averaged 8.7 points and 5.3 assists per game in his Kentucky career and has been head coach at Mississippi Valley State, Morehead State and Southern. By the way, for sheer degree of difficulty, the shot is worth a watch.
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The Lakers were an overwhelming favorite in their 2001 NBA Finals series against Philadelphia, but Allen Iverson wasn’t going to go down without a fight. After a vicious stepback move, Iverson drilled a pivotal jumper in Game 1 and then famously stepped over the unfortunate soul tasked with guarding him on the play. That soul was Lue, who played for seven different teams in an 11-season career. He enjoyed his greatest success with the Hawks, averaging 11 points per game in four seasons. He also coached LeBron James and won an NBA title, so there’s that.
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The home run chase of 1998 re-energized baseball a mere four years after the 1994 strike. Plenty of pitchers were victimized by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, but only one was going to end up giving up the record-breaking 62nd home run. That someone was Cubs starter Trachsel, who surrendered a screaming laser of a homer to McGwire. Trachsel went 143-159 in a 16-year career and, unfortunately, led the league in losses in 1999. He also had to watch his teammate celebrate with McGwire, which had to be strange.
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To this day, only one father-son duo has ever hit back-to-back home runs in a major league game. The duo was Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr., and the pitcher who served up the gopher balls was McCaskill. He pitched 12 years in the bigs, posting a 106-108 record and a 4.12 ERA and also leading the league in losses in 1991, with 19. Still, all he’ll ever be known for are those two pitches.
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is often held up as baseball’s most storied record as well as one likely to never be broken. It might have been even longer had it not been for Indians third baseman Keltner, whose diving stab and strong throw prevented DiMaggio from hitting in his 57th straight game. Keltner, pictured at far right, was a seven-time All-Star and hit .276 with 163 home runs over the course of a 13-year big league career.
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The 1972 Pittsburgh Pirates were three outs away from a trip to the World Series, as they held a one-run lead entering the bottom of the ninth in Cincinnati in the deciding game of the NLCS. A Johnny Bench home run tied things, and then, with the winning run on third, Bob Moose uncorked a wild pitch that won the pennant for the Reds. The man who scored that run was Foster, who was a five-time All-Star, the 1977 National League MVP and two-time World Series champion, not to mention a potent power hitter who finished his career with 348 round trippers.
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Mookie Wilson hit the dribbler. Bill Buckner had the dribbler go right through his legs in perhaps the most replayed gaffe in baseball history. It was Ray Knight who scored the winning run on the play, however, and he had an interesting career in his own right. Knight was the MVP of that 1986 World Series, went to two All-Star Games and hit .271 over a 13-year career spent with five different teams.
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Steve Bartman’s life was ruined after he interfered with Moises Alou in the 2003 NLCS, but Alex Gonzalez did just as much, if not more, to cost the Cubs the game. That same inning, Gonzalez booted an easy double-play ball that would have gotten the Cubs out of the inning with a 3-1 lead, and as a result, the Marlins stormed back to take the lead, the game and the series. Gonzalez ended up playing 13 years in the majors, spending time with six different teams on the way to a .243 career batting average and 137 career homers.
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Cleveland’s history of baseball heartbreak is well-chronicled, and no defeat may have been more painful than its 1997 World Series loss to the Marlins. Jose Mesa blew a 2-1 lead in Game 7, and Florida took home a title in just its fifth year in existence thanks to an Edgar Renteria base hit. Giving up that hit was Nagy, who pitched all but one of his 14 major league seasons with the Tribe, compiling a 129-105 career record with a 4.51 ERA as well as three All-Star Game appearances.
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The most cherished career record in baseball was Hank Aaron’s home run crown. As Barry Bonds mounted his assault on the mark in 2007, everyone wondered who would be the unlucky soul to be on the wrong side of history. It turned out to be Nationals lefty Bacsik, who put one in Bonds’ wheelhouse and watched as it was sent deep into the San Francisco night. Bacsik’s career outside of that moment wasn’t much more successful, as he only lasted five seasons in the bigs, going 10-13 with a 5.46 ERA in total.
It may have been the pre-social media and pre-internet era, but Roger Maris’ chase of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record had fans and media riveted. Stallard was the man who threw the pivotal pitch, as Maris set the record in the final game of the season. Stallard, like several others mentioned here, did not exactly bathe himself in glory during the rest of his career. He went 30-57 with a 4.17 ERA and in 1964 led all of baseball by losing 20 games for the New York Mets.
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Most every golf fan alive at the time remembers Jean van de Velde’s tale of woe at the 1999 Open Championship. Needing only a double bogey on the 18th hole at Carnoustie to secure an improbable title, van de Velde melted down, triple bogeyed and fell into a four-man playoff. Lawrie emerged from that playoff with the title, his only major, in the process setting a record for the largest final-round comeback in major championship history, as he started the day 10 strokes off the lead. Lawrie never won on the PGA Tour, and his best finish in any other major was a tie for 15th at the 2003 Masters.
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Carlton Fisk’s walk-off home run forced a Game 7 of the 1975 World Series, and the play is iconic for its dramatic visual quality, with the cameras catching Fisk animatedly begging the ball to stay fair before watching it hit the foul pole. The play wouldn’t have been possible without the “efforts” of Pat Darcy. Darcy went 11-5 that season, by far the best year of a brief three-year career that saw him go 14-8 with a 4.15 ERA.
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Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record was dramatic, racially charged and riveting to the nation. Aaron’s dignity and courage in the face of death threats and the general pressures of the chase were exemplary, and when he finally cracked the record-breaking homer, it was off the Dodgers’ Downing. Downing pitched for 17 seasons in the bigs, with a 123-107 career record and a 3.22 career ERA. His best season was 1971 when he went 20-9 for the Dodgers and finished third in the NL Cy Young race.
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Golf is a sport that prizes its rules and etiquette, but I’m not sure I’d want to win the Masters because the guy who actually tied me for the lowest score accidentally signed an incorrect scorecard. That’s what happened to Goalby at the 1968 Masters, though. His final round 66 put him at -11 for the tournament, and he should have ended up tied with Roberto De Vicenzo. However, De Vicenzo’s playing partner, Tommy Aaron, incorrectly marked De Vicenzo’s score on the 17th hole as a 4, not the 3 he actually logged, and because De Vicenzo signed it, the score had to stand, making Goalby the winner. The victory was the only major of Goalby’s 11 career titles.
Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 walk-off in the 1988 World Series is my pick for the most dramatic moment in baseball history, but he never would have stepped to the plate had Mike Davis not drawn a two-out walk immediately beforehand. Once at first base, the speedy Davis also threw off Dennis Eckersley’s concentration and eventually stole second ahead of Gibson’s dramatic blast. For his career, Davis hit .259 with 134 stolen bases, though ironically, his best seasons came with the Athletics, and the 1988 campaign, his first with Los Angeles, was also the worst of his career by far.
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Chris Davis took the ball 109 yards to pay dirt and a shocking win, spurring Auburn to the College Football Playoff and an eventual title game loss to Florida State, but the play wouldn’t have happened without freshman kicker Adam Griffith. Well, it wouldn’t have happened without Nick Saban trying the kick, which is why neutral fans really love the play, but still. Griffith shook off the horrors of that play to have a solid career in Tuscaloosa, finishing his time with the Crimson Tide with a 69.5 percent conversion rate on field goals. While he did have a few more big misses in his tenure, none was as disastrous as the Kick Six.
Pirates legend Roberto Clemente perished tragically in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve, 1972. He is the only player in MLB history to retire with exactly 3,000 career hits. The final hit of his career came off Matlack, at the time in the midst of his first full season in the big leagues, one that would see him win National League Rookie of the Year. Matlack went on to pitch for 13 seasons, splitting his time almost evenly between the Mets and Rangers. Matlack finished his career with a 125-126 record, 3.18 ERA and three All-Star Game appearances.
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Kirby Puckett’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series is one of the most famous home runs in recent baseball history. The raucous crowd at the Metrodome that evening had Braves hurler Charlie Leibrandt to thank for the jubilation, as he served up the pitch that Puckett drilled out to left. Leibrandt went 17-9 and won the 1985 World Series with the Kansas City Royals. A starter by trade, Leibrandt went 140-119 with a 3.71 ERA in 14 seasons, pitching for four teams in total.
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