Top 10 Famous Minor League Players Who Struck It Rich Outside of Baseball
There are many celebrities whose fame has paved the way for tryouts or spring training slots on big league teams. Billy Crystal even signed a one day minor league contract with the New York Yankees. There are also many myths. Fidel Castro, Dwight Eisenhower, MC Hammer, George Plimpton, and even Conway Twitty have been said to play minor league ball. Rocker George Thorogood reportedly played for a semi-pro team in the Cape Cod League but statistics or records are elusive. What follows is a top ten list of those from various disciplines who gave the game a real shot.
It is said that Michael Jordan made an attempt at a baseball career because of his father’s desire for him to succeed in the game. His father was murdered in 1993 which may have been the reason he retired from basketball. The owner of the Chicago Bulls also owned the Chicago White Sox and invited Jordan to spring training in 1994 well aware of the money making potential. He was soon optioned to the AA Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. He played in 127 games and stayed above the Mendoza Line. To his credit Jordan wished to hone his skills and played in a short season for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona League. What may have ended his baseball career was the players strike of ’94-’95. There was no spring training and he became a Chicago Bull once again.
Twenty year old Mario Cuomo chased his baseball dreams with the Brunswick Pirates of the Georgia/Florida League in 1952. Legend has it that he was a gritty center fielder with a solid bat. He was hitting over .350 before an injury. He finished his 81 game career batting .244 and went to law school. Obviously a wise choice as his political career went far. Cuomo was Governor of New York from 1983-1994 and was poised to run for President.
Country music star Charles (Charley) Pride played several seasons of minor league ball in the south. In 1952 he first pitched for the Memphis Red Sox in the Negro American League. Notably, he hit .400 for the Missoula Timberjacks of the Pioneer league in 1960. While in the negro leagues, Pride and a fellow player were traded from Louisville to Birmingham for a bus. In his autobiography he states, “Jesse and I may have the distinction of being the only players in history to be traded for a used motor vehicle.” After baseball, Pride went on to become RCA’s best selling musical artist since Elvis Presley.
The late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers grew up above his father’s saloon in Pittsburgh. As a child he enjoyed boxing, baseball, and football. Three Rivers Stadium was built on the same site as his childhood home. Rooney played a few seasons of minor league baseball in the early 1920’s. His best season was in 1925 when he hit .369 and slugged .523 for the Wheeling Stogies of the Middle Atlantic League. He amassed the money to found Pittsburgh’s NFL franchise from winnings at the horse track.
We all know him as the pro-wrestler Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage. Baseball, however was his passion. Undrafted yet undeterred in 1971 he found his way to the St. Louis Cardinals Gulf Coast League team. He plodded away for four years and never exceeded A ball. A lifetime .254 average and a .705 OPS was the result of years of dedication to baseball. Poffo’s wrestling career was a huge success and he is undoubtedly a legend. He died at the age of 58 from a heart attack while driving.
The famed quarterback John Elway also had a good deal of success on the diamond. In his final season as a baseball player at Stanford he hit .349. He was drafted by the New York Yankees and went on to play one season for the Oneanta Yankees in 1982. Elway stole thirteen bases, hit .318, had an on base percentage of .432, and an error free fielding performance over 42 games. It is quite possible that Elway could have become a solid major league player if he had chosen to pursue baseball. He famously held out when the Indianapolis Colts drafted him and played his career in Denver. However, Elway certainly had the talent and drive to determine his own future. Two Superbowl rings and 50,000 yards passing in the NFL secure his legendary status as a football player.
Hard hitting Philadelphia Eagle’s defensive back Tom Brookshier was an all state performer in football, baseball, and basketball. While at Colorado University he was a bullpen pitcher. After one season in the NFL for the Eagles he played one season of baseball for the Roswell Rockets of the Longhorn League in 1954 amassing 7 wins in 11 starts coupled with a solid .258 average from the plate. He certainly was a decent ball player but football was his calling. Brookshier served in the Air Force in 1954-55, returned to the Eagles as a defensive back from 1956-61, and spent many years alongside Pat Summerall as a CBS football announcer.
Kurt Russell followed in his father Bing Russell‘s footsteps as an actor and a minor league baseball player. After three years in the Northwest League he made it up to AA ball in 1972 with success batting .563 in six games for the El Paso Sun Kings of the Texas league. Russell’s lifetime .292 average and .726 OPS weren’t enough to propel him to the big leagues. Acting was a much more lucrative profession. Russell starred in films such as Silkwood and Tequila Sunrise among countless others.
Hollywood screenwriter/director Ron Shelton plodded along in the minors from 1967-71. Those days certainly gave him the experience necessary to create the famed baseball movie Bull Durham. Shelton is also well known for the movies Cobb, White Men Can’t Jump, and Tin Cup. His career in the minors began as a shortstop and he progressed all the way to AAA with the Rochester Redwings of the International League in 1970-71. Shelton was a .253 career hitter and we can only assume he had a great deal of fun along the way.
Better known as Luke Dane of the Gilmore Girls Scott Patterson showed the greatest promise among all of the celebrities and athletes analyzed. Patterson spent seven years in the minors and was a very solid pitcher. He quickly moved up to AAA ball and played for both the Richmond Braves and Columbus Clippers of the International League in 1982 with repeat appearances for Columbus in ’85 and ’86. In seven seasons he won 110 games with a 4.31 ERA. He got knocked around a bit in AAA ball, but he persevered and gave baseball his best shot.