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The wild bunch

The 15 craziest athletes in Boston sports history
By MIKE MILIARD  |  March 4, 2009

Stephon Marbury is just the latest in a long and illustrious line of Boston athletes whose tenure here was marked by kooky, flamboyant, inscrutable, or bad behavior. Here, in chronological order — because who can quantify craziness? — is our top 15.

MIKE "KING" KELLY (BOSTON BEANEATERS, 1887–1889, 1892) Lured to this Boston Braves precursor for the then-astronomical sum of $10,000, Kelly was one of the early game's first superstars, inspiring the popular song, "Slide, Kelly, Slide!" He was as prodigious a run producer as he was a drinker. (Purportedly, one game was delayed because he was tippling with some swells in the box seats). He often tried to bend the rules of the game to his will, says Sports Museum of New England curator Richard Johnson. "He was a wild man! Sometimes he'd cut from first base across the infield to third. And with the crowd egging him on. And sometimes he'd get away with it! It was wild stuff." According to Kelly's Wikipedia entry, he "was often accompanied by a black monkey and a Japanese valet." (See also: "Home of the Braves?")

WALTER "RABBIT" MARANVILLE (BRAVES, 1912–1920, 1929–1935) Springfield's greatest shortstop, Rabbit Maranville — just 5-5 and 155 pounds — was one of the game's most beloved clowns. The Hall of Famer was "the Ozzie Smith of his day," says Johnson. "He would sit on the second base bag, take a relay toss, and fire strikes to home plate from a sitting position. People went crazy! They loved it. He was a showman." The fun continued off-field. "After a few drinks," reads, "he became the hotel-ledge walker, the goldfish swallower, the practical joker."

MICKEY MCDERMOTT (RED SOX, 1948–1953) Sort of a proto Nuke LaLoosh, this gangly flamethrower was as wild off the field as he was over the plate. He was the inspiration for Norman Rockwell's painting "The Rookie." He boozed and crooned in Boston's nightclubs. He borrowed Ted Williams's Kenmore Square apartment and Johnny Pesky's car to woo women. (He kicked out Pesky's back window while heavy-petting with a dame). In 1953, he told Jean Yawkey to "fuck off," thereby cementing his departure from the Sox. Later, playing in a Cuban league in 1958, McDermott was on the field — literally — when Castro's revolution commenced. He was pals with Sinatra and Kerouac. And later in life, after dying on the table (twice) during triple-bypass surgery, he won $7 million in the Arizona lottery. (See also: "A pitcher speaks.")

MO BERG (RED SOX, 1935–1939)Barstool Sports puts it better than I could: "Picture Doug Mirabelli if he was a Jeopardy! champion and our top spy in Iraq." Indeed, back-up backstop Berg, a double-Ivy (Princeton and Columbia Law) educated ballplayer, was also a spy for the CIA-precursor Office of Strategic Services during World War II — traveling to Europe to glean information about the German nuclear program and Nazi resistance groups. He purportedly spoke a dozen languages and read almost as many newspapers each day — habits that helped him when he later appeared as a successful contestant on the radio quiz show Information Please! But he ended life considerably worse off than he began it, penniless and alone. "Berg received many requests to write his memoirs but turned them down," says Wikipedia. "He almost wrote them in 1960, but he quit after the co-writer assigned to him confused him with Moe Howard of the Three Stooges."

JIMMY PIERSALL (RED SOX, 1950, 1952–1958) He brawled with Billy Martin. He spanked a teammate's son. He heckled umpires and fired water pistols at home plate. Soon, his erratic behavior got to be too much. And, after getting suspended and seeking treatment at Westboro State Hospital, the centerfielder was diagnosed with nervous exhaustion bipolar disorder, missing the rest of the 1952 season. Later in the '50s, his autobiography, Fear Strikes Out, was turned into a movie starring Anthony Perkins. Piersall later disavowed it, but he did have an interesting perspective on his mental travails: "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was going nuts," he said. "Who ever heard of Jimmy Piersall, until that happened?"

DEREK SANDERSON (BRUINS, 1966–1974) Renowned for telling a reporter that his pre-game meal was "a steak and a blonde," young "Turk" was a regular Huggy Bear about town — tooling around Boston in a Rolls Royce, draped in a fur coat, and flashing bling galore. Alas, the high life went to his head, and drugs, booze, and bad investments left him broke and in bad health. But he turned it around! Despite losing millions, he eventually found employment at firms like Street Global Advisors and Howland Capital Management in Boston. (Bonus points awarded for being Derek Jeter's namesake.)

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  Topics: Sports , Basketball, Boston Celtics, Men's Professional Basketball,  More more >
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