Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's Madness, I Tell You!

So, the sports world is currently being consumed with Madness, March Madness that is.  The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is all anyone seems to want to talk about.

I've never been one to get into college sports, so this excitement is lost on me.  Maybe it's because I don't feel any loyalty for schools which I never went to and my alma mater competes in the NAIA.

But, that doesn't mean there isn't any aspect of the tournament and it's history that intrigues me.  I heard a snippet about this topic on the radio the other day and it drew me in quickly.

There have been only two players in history who have competed in the Final Four and also a World Series.  Plus, they just so happen to have played for the Cubs (not in the World Series though *sigh*)

Kenny Lofton was both a well-traveled MLB speedster AND a backup point guard on the University of Arizona Wildcats.

In fact, for his first two years in college, his primary sport was basketball - he didn't go out for baseball until his junior season.

In 1988, he backed up Craig McMillan and future Bulls star Steve Kerr as the Wildcats made it to the Final Four, before being bounced by Oklahoma in the semi-finals, 86-78.

So close - almost as painfully close as being the center fielder for a Cubs team that was 5 outs from the World Series...

*Happy thoughts, happy thoughts!*

But, who is this other man who was lucky enough to play in both national spotlights?

Ah, a member of another Cubs team that came painfully close to ending the most infamous streak in sports.

But, no matter, though he didn't make it to the World Series with the Cubs in 1984, he got his ring the year before with the World Champ Orioles.

Not only that, he was the starting point guard for the North Carolina State Wolfpack squad that went 30-1 on their way to winning the national title and breaking UCLA's seven-year run on top.

Thus, Tim Stoddard is the only man in sports history to both win a NCAA Division I basketball championship AND a World Series ring.

What a bad-ass athlete!

Now, both of these men are local boys and hail from East Chicago, IN.  So, to tie it all together with a nice big bow, both Tim Stoddard and Kenny Lofton attended and played basketball for East Chicago Washington High School.

There must be something in the water out there!  I mean, besides all the pollutants from the oil refineries and such.

While no other multi-sport star has been able to reach the championship level of both arenas, there have been several others who have competed in both March Madness and then later made it to the MLB.

By my count, two of them played for the Cubbies as well:

At Loyola Marymount, Terrell Lowery made it to the Elite 8 in 1990 as a guard.  As a Cub, he hit .241 in 33 games from 1997-98.  After brief stops with the Rays and Giants, he washed out of baseball by 2000.  I would say that his basketball experience was probably much more memorable.

More memorable both because of his team's success and because he was the person who fed the allyoop to Hank Gathers moments before his tragic death on the court that same year in the regular season WCC tournament.

I didn't say it had to be memorable for entirely good reasons, now did I?

Finally, we have Steve Hamilton.  He was both the forward for the Morehead State University Eagles when they competed in the 1956 & 57 NCAA tournaments and a long-time member of the Yankees pitching staff before wrapping up his career with the Cubs in 1972.

He later came back to Morehead after his baseball career ended to become their baseball coach and, later, their Athletic Director from 1987-97.

However, the picture that you see of Hamilton does not depict him in an Eagles uniform (I could not find that); no, it shows him in Lakers yellow!  You see, Hamilton was the second person to play in both professional basketball and in the MLB.

The first? ANOTHER Cub - The Rifleman himself, Mr. Chuck Connors, who played for the Boston Celtics in the old National Basketball League.

Baseball, Basketball, acting... was there anything this man couldn't do?

From 1958 to 1960, Hamilton was a power forward/center for the then Minneapolis Lakers.  Over 2 seasons he averaged 4.5 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, and 0.5 assists per game before he decided to pursue his baseball aspirations.

Seeing as he played for the team that lost to the Boston Celtics during the 1959 NBA Finals and he pitched for the Yankees in their 1963-64 World Series losses, Steve is (as far as I can tell) the only man to appear in the championships of both professional leagues, albeit in losing efforts.

 Eat your heart out MJ!
(I wish I hadn't lost this card - image courtesy of

So, though I might not give much of a damn who wins which school comes is crowned the NCAA champions this March, but that doesn't mean I can't find something interesting about the tournament.

Seeing as it takes a truly special athlete to reach the top levels of any sport, it's not all that surprising that there is some crossover at lower levels.  After all, there are several others who have competed in both the MLB and the NCAA tourney; however, they weren't Cubs so I don't care nearly as much!

That said, here's hoping that the end of March comes quickly and that baseball will soon reign supreme in sports conversation.

I can't take much more talk about Kentucky...

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