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Tim Stoddard

March 19, 2009

tim-stoddard-80

I started becoming aware of baseball about thirty-five years ago, in 1974, when I was six. Basketball lagged behind baseball in that regard, only edging onto my personal radar when my brother, who I followed almost everywhere and into almost everything, began to play on his junior high team in the late 1970s.

My attachment to basketball became official in or around 1980, when a large poster of David Thompson went up on my wall. Thompson’s nickname was Skywalker, and the poster did the name justice, making it seem that he was not simply leaping but that he was in possession of some kind of magic that allowed him to stroll in midair until all mortals attempting to stop him clattered back to earth, at which point Thompson would punctuate the moment with a ferocious tomahawk slam.

Thompson was at that time a star in the NBA, though injuries to his knees—the price paid for skywalking—would bring his career to a premature close. He had been even more sensational in the recently defunct ABA, the only player alive able to claim a piece of the most rarified air of myth inhabited by the superstar of the renegade league, the Doctor, Julius Erving. But Thompson’s greatest renown came even farther back in the past, before he reached the pros, when he played David to UCLA’s Goliath, toppling the Bruins’ seemingly impenetrable dynasty, and led his NC State Wolfpack to the 1974 NCAA title.

NC State is currently celebrating the 35th anniversary of that feat. In one article about the team’s celebratory gatherings, a balder version of the man shown here in his 1980 Orioles card can be seen in the background as 7’4″ team center Tommy Burleson gesticulates in the foreground.

Boy, one minute you’re a strapping young ox with blue sky behind you and your whole future ahead of you, and the next minute you’re sitting on an overmatched wooden chair listening to a giant reminisce about something that went on 35 years ago. Such is life. If Tim Stoddard is one to find solace in personal achievements, he’s in luck, for he’s the only man ever to win an NCAA basketball championship and a World Series ring. (As Brian Joura recently pointed out, Kenny Lofton is the player who has come the closest to equalling Stoddard’s feat.)

I get the feeling, however, that Stoddard is more likely to take solace in the respect of his peers. On this count, he also seems to be in luck. In another article about a reunion of the long ago NCAA champs, David Thompson himself testified to the essential contributions to the Wolfpack’s title of today’s towering Cardboard God:

“[Stoddard] was a guy who could do a little bit of everything—shoot, defend, great passer. People talk about me and [point guard] Monte [Towe] on the alley-oop. He threw about as many alley-oops as Monte did. It was good to have a guy like that who did the dirty work. He was kind of the enforcer.”

12 comments

  1. I was one of the enforcers on my high school team. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any shooters, defenders, or passers. We usually lost 75-23, but at least we hurt a lot of people and kept in shape between football and baseball.


  2. There seem to be a number of pitchers who also played power forward. Stoddard, Mark Hendrickson, Bob Gibson, Scott Burrell, and so on. Some football teams have also drafted PFs and converted them to tight ends. Tony Gonzalez comes to mind. I don’t know if it means anything, but I find it interesting that that body type seems to be an advantage in all three big team sports.


  3. piehead:
    My teams lost, too, but I never hurt anybody. Damn!

    Speaking of enforcers, one of my favorite features in a Sports Illustrated from my youth was an NBA preview issue look at league enforcers. I remember Maurice Lucas (another power forward) looming large in the piece.

    Ennui Willie Keeler:
    That’s an interesting thought. Maybe it’s because power forward is, along with the center position, the position in basketball least likely to demand specialized skills (and centers might have frames that are unlikely to fit into football or baseball). To play the 1, 2, or 3 maybe you need to devote more time to hoops than the athletic brute who can come in and throw some bodies around the hardcout when not pursuing baseball or football.

    Interestingly, two non-power forwards that come to mind as having played some major league baseball–Ryan Minor and Danny Ainge–were both baseball busts.

    But the baseball success of Tony Gwynn and Kenny Lofton (both D1 point guards) shoots holes in my theory anyway.


  4. Wasn’t Dave Winfield drafted as a tight end? I know he didn’t play football in college, but he had a TE body type.


  5. Winfield also pitched and played power forward at Minnesota.


  6. there was some awesome hyperbole about dt’s leaping ability, claiming he could leave a dollar on the top of the backboard and make change on the way down.


  7. As soon as I saw the name Scott Burrell, I knew whose comment I was reading.

    My cousin used to babysit that guy. Of course, he’s known more for his baseball pass than his baseball career.


  8. Yeah, gedmaniac. Burrell happens to be on my mind because I saw a Quinnipiac-CCSU hoops game on 2/28 and he is now an assistant at QU.

    Josh: from what little I know about basketball, a 3 seems a lot more like a 2 and a 4 seems a lot more like a 5 than 3 is like a 4; at least once you reach the advanced levels. I was looking at some old boxscores once and they broke the positions down by rg, lg, rf, lf, and c.


  9. seaver41:
    The ABA guys always had the best hyperbole in all of basketball, and really in all of sport save for the old Negro League guys who were so fast they could turn out a light and be in bed before it got dark.

    Ennui Willie Keeler:
    You’re right about the similarities between positions. When I played (on the end of the bench on a terrible team) in college, I was a “3” (small forward) but had essentially the same role as a “2” (shooting guard) on offense: try to get open on the wing and, when/if you do, let it fly. Meanwhile, the guys playing 4 (power forward) and 5 (center) were set up near the basket on either side of the paint, mirror images of one another.

    I think those old position monikers–rg, lg, etc.–are remnants of the early days of the game, when players were assigned one side of the floor to generally stick to (as in hockey).


  10. That’s an interesting thought. Maybe it’s because power forward is, along with the center position, the position in basketball least likely to demand specialized skills (and centers might have frames that are unlikely to fit into football or baseball). To play the 1, 2, or 3 maybe you need to devote more time to hoops than the athletic brute who can come in and throw some bodies around the hardcout when not pursuing baseball or football.

    And pitching is something you can do without pursuing it on a daily basis; unlike hitting where it is all about repetition. I’m not sure what football positions demand less specialized skills than others.

    There seems to be some overlap between PG and QB and OF, as well.


  11. Just discovered the blog. FYI, on the David Thompson quote, the Monte who threw all of the alley oops was Monte Towe. Irvin is a great baseball player of a different era. Not sure if Irvin ever played basketball.


  12. lessick: Oh my god, what a bonehead I am. Thanks for pointing out that mixup of the Montes. I’m going to correct it in the post now.



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