CLOSE
Original image

Bruce Jenner, John Wayne and a Newborn Baby: 18 Curious Draft Picks

Original image

It's a guarantee that in this year's NFL Draft, a future Hall of Famer will be selected after someone who never plays a down in the league. What we can say with equal certainty (well, almost) is that no team will try to draft a newborn baby, select a Hollywood movie star, scout from the back of a trading card, pick a Nutri-Systems doctor/poker buddy or even a barefoot kicker at the top of the first round.

On occasion, teams have gone to great lengths to get it right and failed. Other times, long ago, there were so many rounds in the draft and so few serious candidates.

A look back at some highlights from pro sports drafts gone by:

1. Bruce Jenner

The Kansas City Kings picked Olympic decathlete champion Bruce Jenner 139th in the 1977 NBA draft. Jenner never played basketball beyond high school and -- as ESPN.com points out -- is regrettably remembered for sinking a basket in the "YMCA" sequence of the film flop Can't Stop the Music in 1980.

2. Carl Lewis

The Chicago Bulls picked the great Olympic sprint and long jump champion Carl Lewis in the 10th round of the 1984 NBA draft. For some reason, Bulls' fans prefer to remember 1984 as the year their team picked Michael Jordan No. 3 overall, one spot behind Portland's choice of 7-1 center Sam Bowie. In Portland, they remember it but refuse to talk about it.

3. Dave Winfield

While Lewis was also drafted in the 12th round by the Dallas Cowboys, Dave Winfield is the only athlete ever drafted by four leagues -- the NFL, NBA, ABA and Major League Baseball. Drafted fourth overall by the San Diego Padres, Winfield chose wisely and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

4. A baby

Atlanta Hawks GM Pat Williams and his wife had their first son on draft day 1974. To celebrate the event, Williams drafted the boy in the 10th round that night. The NBA voided the selection.

5. A pharmacist

Philadelphia Sixers owner Harold Katz amused himself in the 10th round of the 1983 draft by selecting 49-year-old Norman Horvitz from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Many have since debated whether Horvitz was a poker pal of Katz's or a doctor with his Nutri-Systems company. Or both.

And now you know why the draft was shortened from seven rounds to three to two.

6. Russell Erxleben

via

The woeful New Orleans Saints picked barefoot kicker/punter Russell Erxleben No. 11 in 1979. It's one thing to take a kicker that high -- no team ever has -- but two picks later the San Diego Chargers picked great tight end Kellen Winslow. Erxleben kicked four field goals in his NFL career.

7. Trading card favorites

To get a read on the NBA expansion draft class in 1970-71, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Bill Fitch gave assistant coach Jim Lessig $20 to buy bubble-gum trading cards. Yep. They studied the player bios on the back to help them in their assessments.

"We laid them all out on Bill's living room floor," Lessig told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

For that but mostly for other reasons, the Cavaliers lost their first 15 games that year, won one and then promptly lost 12 more.

8. Bobby Garrett

The Cleveland Browns made Stanford All-American quarterback Bobby Garrett the first overall pick in the 1954 draft. A few weeks into training camp, Browns coach Paul Brown curiously traded him to Green Bay.

Turns out Garrett had a severe stuttering problem -- not conducive to calling plays in the huddle.

"We had to crack him on the back so he could spit out the play," former Packers fullback Fred Cone told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Garrett played only nine games in the NFL.

9. David McDaniels

In 1968, the Cowboys chose David McDaniels in part for his outstanding time in the 40. When he was unable time and again to match his speedy effort, the Cowboys did some investigating and determined McDaniels had run 38 yards instead of 40.

So they traded him to Philly.

For Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka.

"I don't think the Eagles ever asked about his time, and we sure didn't tell them," Dan Reeves told Michael Knisley of The Sporting News in 1985. "We knew they were looking for a wide receiver. It was after that that Gil Brandt made sure the scouts measured off the full 40 yards."

10. Ricky Williams

As head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Ditka traded his entire 1999 draft for Texas running back Ricky Williams. And his first and third picks in the 2000 draft, too, apparently just to show he meant it.

Williams and Ditka appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine dressed as a bride and groom under the headline: "For Better or For Worse." Guess which one it was. Hint: neither lasted in New Orleans.

11. Bill Bene

Yahoo

The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted righthander Bill Bene No. 5 in 1988. Was he wild? You could say that. One batter couldn't though.

At one point, Class A Bakersfield took Bene out of the rotation after he walked 29 in 13 innings. According to Sports Illustrated, coaches thought Bene would benefit from pitching simulated games. He hit the first batter he faced.

Plan B: Dress a plastic mannequin in Dodger blue and prop it up in the bullpen, so Bene could pitch without anyone getting hurt.

SI reports "Bene took to the idea -- drawing a mustache on the doll and dubbing it Harold. He even started getting the ball over the plate."

Not so much. Bene struck out 502 in 516 innings in his minor league career. He walked 543.

12. Art Schlichter

via

The Colts picked Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter No. 4 overall in 1982. That clipboard he carried on the sideline as a backup? He wasn't charting plays. That's how Schlichter, a notorious compulsive gambler as everyone learned over and over again, kept track of games he'd bet on. Between 1994 and 2006, Schlichter spent time in 44 different jails and prisons. He is under investigation for fraud in an alleged sports ticket scheme.

13. Eli Herring

BYU offensive tackle Eli Herring told NFL teams in 1995 not to bother drafting him. He had no intention of playing in the league because Sunday is a holy day for devout Mormons. The renegade Raiders -- now, there's a surprise -- went against the grain and picked him anyway. Herring didn't play.

14. Cal Rossi

UCLA halfback Cal Rossi was the ninth overall pick of the Washington Redskins in 1946. Except he was only a junior and ineligible to play in the league. Having wasted that pick, the Skins drafted him again in 1947. Glitch No. 2: Rossi never had any intentions of playing in the NFL.

15. Norm Michael

Norm Michael was the 18th round selection of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1944 NFL draft, a fact he learned 57 years later when he happened to be reading a list of drafted Syracuse players throughout the school's history.

16. No one

The Vikings blew their seventh overall pick in 2003 because they let their 15-minute allotment expire. Jacksonville and Carolina got their picks in at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, before the Vikings snapped out of it.

17. John Wayne

The Atlanta Falcons selected John Wayne in the 17th round of the 1972 draft. According to ESPN.com, NFL Films showed coach Norm Van Brocklin yelling to his staff, "Do we want the roughest, toughest s.o.b. in the draft?!"

Pete Rozelle, apparently no fan of True Grit, disallowed the pick.

18. A fictional player

This last story was told by Adam Raymond in the March-April issue of mental_floss magazine:

Like many hockey players drafted in the 11th round of the 1974 NHL Draft, Taro Tsujimoto never actually made it to the big time. But unlike the other players drafted with him, Tsujimoto didn’t exist.

His name is in the record books because of Punch Imlach, the former general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. Imlach was so fed up with tedious late rounds of the draft that he decided to poke some fun at the league. He pulled a Japanese name from the local phone book and made up an imaginary team. Then, he simply told NHL President Clarence Campbell that his draft pick was Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas. Sure, no one had ever heard of Tsujimoto, but that didn’t stop the NHL from making the selection official.

Several weeks later, Imlach revealed his prank, but Sabres fans didn’t care. For years after the draft, Buffalo crowds would break into chants, demanding “We want Taro!”

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated. 

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES