Sports

Revisiting The Funniest Play In Sports History, When Jose Canseco Head-Butted A Home Run

The year is 1993. The Texas Rangers are in Cleveland to play a three-game series against the Indians. Light-hitting infielder Carlos Martinez has just lofted a fly ball toward right-center field. Jose Canseco, the right fielder the Rangers’ acquired the year before in a trade with the Oakland A’s, is drifting back toward the fence. He appears to have a bead on it. But as he gets to the warning track, either because he lost sight of the ball or because he was closing in on the wall, he puts his head down and takes his eye off the ball. The ball hits him square on the top of the head and proceeds to bounce over the fence for a home run.

It is my position that this is the single funniest play in the history of sports. My reasoning for this rests on three primary factors, which I will now present.

1. It happened to Jose Canseco

It cannot be overstated how much funnier this is because it happened to Jose Canseco. Don’t get me wrong, a routine fly ball — and let’s be clear here, this very much should have been a routine fly ball — bouncing off someone’s head and over the fence is funny, full stop. But the fact that it happened to Jose Canseco really takes it to another level. You know how I know this is true? Because a ball bounced off the head of Padres outfielder Wil Myers for a home run last year and no one cares. It exists as barely a blip on the internet. The official YouTube video of the play is sitting at under 15,000 views as of this writing. I had totally forgotten it happened until I Googled ‘ball bounce off head home run’ looking for the Canseco thing and stumbled across it as I scrolled down.

No, this had to be Canseco. Had to be. Just think about his career trajectory.

  • Won a World Series
  • Became the first 40-40 player in MLB history
  • Dated Madonna
  • Wrote a book about steroids in baseball that was discredited and laughed at until it — a book written by Jose Canseco! — became a New York Times bestseller and actually did kind of blow the lid off baseball’s steroid scandal
  • Was invited to testify before Congress about the book
  • Fought to a draw with Danny Bonaduce in a Celebrity Boxing match

Also, there’s this:

That’s why this play is No. 1 all-time. It’s just… it’s kind of perfect, right? And it really had to be to take the crown, because on a level playing field, stripped of context, the Buttfumble is way funnier than this play. Way funnier. Like, if you found someone who had not seen either play and asked them, “Okay, which is funnier: 1) A fly ball bouncing off an outfielder’s head and over the fence for a home run; or 2) A quarterback’s panicky attempted scramble ending with him smashing his face into his own lineman’s butt, fumbling, and then watching the defense return the fumble for a touchdown?,” they would choose option two 100 times out of 100. It has everything the first one has plus it is literally called “the Buttfumble.” An almost insurmountable advantage.

The thing is, you can’t strip either of context. Mark Sanchez is just not as funny as Jose Canseco. (The Jets are funnier than the Rangers, but that’s not enough to tip the scales.) I’m not sure any quarterback in the NFL is or has ever been. The only way the Buttfumble catches the Canseco play is if it happens to, well, Jose Canseco. Someone please put together a celebrity football game.

2. The ball hit him on the head

BONK! RIGHT ON THE MELON!

I really don’t have much to add to this one. The ball hit him right on top of the head. It probably would have been less funny if it hit him in the face, because there might have been blood if the ball hit him in the face, and then we get into slightly more dicey territory, comedically. Still funny, sure, but a little bit sad. This way is cleaner. There’s a harmlessness to it, almost like watching a character in a cartoon get thwapped on the head with a skillet. Every time I watch it, I half expect him to take off his hat and reveal a fast-rising red lump that pokes up three inches through his hair.

But Jose Canseco getting bonked on the head by a fly ball, while undeniably funny, isn’t enough to catapult this play to the top of the list. It needs something else to push it over. Something like…

3) The ball bounced off his head and over the fence for a home run

It did! It really did! It bounced off his head and over the fence for a home run!

Imagine, for a second, being an Indians fan at this game, seeing it live. Imagine watching the ball rise up toward the right field alley, looking like maybe — maybe — it might clear the fence. You’d be so excited, especially considering Martinez hit only five home runs that entire season. This was power from an unexpected source. A bonus. But then the ball starts falling, and it looks like Jose Canseco is settling under it for an easy out at the warning track, and then… BONK.

I want you to think about your reaction to seeing that and how long it would all take to sink in. Really think about it. What would you do first, cheer or start laughing? Or would you kind of break into a weird, awkward cheerlaugh? Would you cry? It’s okay if you would. This is beautiful.

Okay, so you have that picture in your head. Let’s raise the stakes a bit. Now, instead of imagining yourself as a generic fan somewhere in the stadium, I want you to imagine being the guy in the red jacket in this screencap (possibly a stadium employee), standing by himself in the otherwise empty bleachers.

Think about his story for a bit. Because there’s a good chance he didn’t know what happened. Canseco might have disappeared in his line of sight, followed by the ball, and then POP there it is flying over the fence. He must have been so confused, with no one around him to get an immediate answer from. And this happened in 1993, which was both pre-internet (like, good internet) and the last year the Indians played in the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. To the best of my Googling, the stadium never upgraded to a replay-capable scoreboard. It just had one of those old black ones that did animations and graphics with little yellow lights. So our guy here didn’t even get to see exactly what happened until SportsCenter or the local news that night or the next day. This fascinates me. I wish he had written a book about it.

Add it all up and you have, in my opinion, the single funniest play in the history of sports. Will something ever top it? I don’t know. Maybe. The future is an unknown. Things are going to have to break damn near perfectly in a bunch of ways for that to happen, though. I can’t even dream up something that would dethrone it on my list, and I’ve been thinking about it for a good 10 minutes. But I don’t know if I could have dreamed up this play, either. It’s almost too wonderful to exist. But it does. And we are all blessed for it.

As for the man himself, well, he seems to understand its lasting value, too.

Yeah. Never being topped.

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