Special athletes who found both MLB and NBA success
To play more than one sport on the professional level is no easy task, but to participate in two major sports simultaneously is almost unfathomable.
As both the NBA and Major League baseball contemplate plans to restart their seasons, I thought that this would be great opportunity to reflect on few athletes who were skilled enough to reach the highest levels in pro basketball and Major League baseball. A few juggled both at the same time.
Here we remember 13 individuals who were skilled enough to play both in the NBA and MLB.
Dick Ricketts, a right handed pitcher who made the major leagues in 1959, played parts of 10 professional seasons with the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Phillies organizations (1955-1964). While in St. Louis, he was a teammate of legends Bob Gibson and Stan Musial in his only two months as a big leaguer.
Before his many years on the professional mound, he 6-foot-7 Ricketts was also the first overall pick by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks in 1955. The post player who averaged 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists later played for the Rochester Royals, spending four total seasons in the NBA.
Ron Reed, a third round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 1965, spent a pair of seasons in the NBA. Baseball was his calling in much the same way as Ricketts. The 6-5 Reed spent 18 seasons in MLB as a right-handed pitchers with the Braves (1966-’75), Cardinals (’75), Phillies (1976-’83) and White Sox (1984). He wrapped up his days on the mound with 145 wins and 140 losses.
One of just 15 pitchers in history to record 100 wins and 100 saves, Reed made the 1968 All-Star team and won the 1980 world Series with Philadelphia. He retired with a career 3.46 ERA and 1,481 strikeouts.
Mark Hendrickson was a 6-9 forward who played 29 contests with the Philadelphia 76ers and 48 more with the Sacramento Kings. He spent a couple of more NBA seasons with the New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavs. In all, he hit the court for 114 NBA games, recording 381 points and 316 rebounds.
Another hoopsters/pitcher, Hendrickson doubled as a lefty with five-pitch mix including a fastball that hit the low 90’s. He pitched for Blue Jays (2002-’03), Devil Rays (2004-’06), Dodgers (2006-’07), Marlins (2008) and Orioles (2009-’11). He finished with a career 58-74 record, 5.03 ERA and 666 punch outs.
First baseman Howie Schultz signed with Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 before heading to Philadelphia in 1947 and finally Cincinnati in 1948. Rickey traded him to the Phillies in order to make room for Jackie Robinson. Schultz played in 470 career games, batting .241 with 24 home runs and 208 RBI.
After baseball, Schultz signed to play with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1952 where he averaged 5.3 points while playing alongside early NBA legends George Mikan, Slater Martin and Vern Mikkelsen.
Chuck Connors, better known as The Rifleman on a TV series from 1958-’63, was a 6-5 first baseman who played with the Dodgers farm team in Newport in 1940, then the Yankees farm team in Norfolk the following year. He later suited up for 53 NBA games with the Boston Celtics (1947-’48) and once shattered a back board during warm ups while he “rifled” a 40-foot heave.
In 1951, Connors was back on the diamond and played for the Chicago Cubs in 66 games. In ’53, he played for a Cubs farm team in Los Angeles known as the Angels. It seems he was always destined to end up in Hollywood.
Cotton Nash, a Lake Charles, La. native, was the No. 2 overall draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1964 after an All-American career at Kentucky. He played in five professional seasons with the Lakers, Warriors and later the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA.
The 6-5 Nash later played in 13 MLB games with the White Sox and Twins as a first baseman. His most memorable baseball moment came on September 10, 1967 when he replaced Ken Boyer and recorded three unassisted put outs in one inning.
Danny Ainge is currently the GM of the Boston Celtics after an impressive basketball career. The BYU product was a two-time NBA champion as a guard for the Celtics in the 1980’s before helping the Blazers and Suns reach the NBA Finals in the early 1990’s. He won the John Wooden Award in 1981 as college basketball’s best player and then scored 11,964 points with 4,199 assists as a pro but not before soaring the the big leagues.
Prior to his days in the NBA, Ainge played three seasons (1979-’81) as an outfielder, second baseman and third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays. He is the second youngest player in Blue Jays history to hit a home run at age 20 years and 20 days old.
Dick Groat was a shortstop for 14 seasons with the Pirates, Cardinals, Phillies and Giants. An eight time All-Star and two-time World Series champion (Pittsburgh, St. Louis), he won the was NL batting crown in 1960 with a .325 average.
Prior to his Major League days, Groat was a two-time All-American point guard at Duke who was named National Player of the Year in 1952 while averaging 25.2 points. In 1952, he played for the NBA’s Fort Wayne Pistons for 26 games, averaging 11.9 points and 2.7 assists. In ’53, he signed with the Pirates to begin his MLB career.
Dave DeBusschere (6-6, 220) spent 1962-’74 in the NBA with the Pistons and Knicks. With New York, he was twice an NBA champion. The eight-time All-Star was a six-time All-NBA defensive choice who was a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary team.
During the 1962-’63 MLB campaign, DeBusschere moonlighted as a pitcher for the White Sox for 36 games, posting a 2.40 ERA with 61 strikeouts.
Gene Conley (6-8, 225), a Cherokee, spent 12 MLB seasons with the Braves, Phillies and Red Sox, compiling a 91-96 record with a 3.82 ERA and 888 strikeouts. The right-hander was a four-time All Star and a member of the 1957 World Series champion Milwaukee Braves.
At the same time, Conley manged to also play 17 seasons in the NBA with the Boston, Washington, New York and Hartford. He was a two-time NBA Champion in Boston alongside teammates Bill Russell and Bob Cousy.
Steve Hamilton (6-6, 180) played for the Minneapolis Lakers 1958-’60, teaming up with stars Elgin Baylor and ‘Hot Rod’ Hundley. As a left hander, Hamilton then launched a 12-year pitching career (1961-’72) and posted a 40-31 MLB record with 42 saves, a 3.05 ERA and 531 punch outs. He is one of only two people to have played in both the World Series (Yankees in ’63) and NBA Finals (Boston in 1958 and 1959).
Johnny Gee, a lefty with the Pirates (1939-’44) and Giants (1944-’46), was the tallest pitcher (6’9″) in MLB history until 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson arrived in 1988. Gee joined the NBA in 1946, playing center for Syracuse Nationals (1946-’47) then Oneida (NY) Indians (1947-’48).
Frank Baumholtz, an outfielder for 11 MLB seasons (1947-’57), posted a .290 average with 25 homers and 272 RBI for the Reds, Cubs and Phillies,. He was an anchor of the 1950’s Chicago Cubs outfield known as the “Quicksand Kids’ but not until he spent some time on the hardwood.
As a point guard, Baumholtz played two NBA seasons with the National Basketball League’s Youngstown Bears then the BAA’s Cleveland Rebels (1946-’47).
The BAA and the National Basketball League (NBL) merged to create the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949.
To any who feel that accomplishing the fete of playing in NBA and MLB is not all that difficult, you certainly recall that one of the best athletes of all time, Michael Jordan, fell short. The basketball icon played that one famous year in Double-A Birmingham but didn’t stick around. Perhaps he could have done it if he had started younger but what effect would that have had on his basketball career? We’ll never know.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…