In a previous article, I mentioned Paul Gleason. Before becoming a successful actor and starting ’80s films including Die Hard and The Breakfast Club, Paul Gleason spent two years in minor league baseball.
He is one of many people that dropped out of baseball only to find success elsewhere.
Okay, Not Really MiLB Dropouts
The actor Paul Giamatti never dropped out of baseball, but when your dad is the man that banned Pete Rose from baseball, you get mentioned in this article. Yes, the man that has played many roles, including John Adams, Harvey Pekar, and Jerry Heller was the son of Angelo Bartell Giamatti, MLB commissioner in 1989. Bart Giamatti had also served as the president of Yale and the National League.
Gabe Kaplan hoped that baseball would whisk him away from Brooklyn, but he failed to make a minor league squad. Instead, he turned the stories from this youth in Brooklyn into a comedy act. This led to a sitcom based on his stories. In 1976, with ‘Up your hole with a Mello Roll’ replaced with ‘Up your nose with a rubber hose’, Welcome Back, Kotter became a cultural phenomenon. After four seasons the show was over, and John Travolta was on his way to being a star and Gabe Kaplan become a notable poker player.
Like Father, Like Son
Sparky Anderson was reportedly a client of Neil Oliver “Bing” Russell. Bing Russell was also an actor with credits including Sheriff Foster on Bonanza. His son, Kurt Russell, would follow his father’s footsteps. Young Kurt Russell became a popular actor starting in Disney TV shows and movies, including The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. In 1970, the Angels signed him to a contract and sent him to lower A ball. In four seasons playing second base and shortstop, Kurt Russell’s stat line was .292/.380/.745 in 410 plate appearances. He hit two home runs, striking out 55 times and walking 50 times. He also did make the All-Star game in his first year of the minors. Since he was an established actor, he was able to work his acting obligations around his baseball schedule. He appeared to be turning a corner in his career when he tore his rotator cuff, which ended his baseball career. Kurt Russell talks about his baseball career in interviews and his nephew Matt Franco finally did make it to the big leagues, spending 8 years in the big leagues for three different teams.
In an odd twist of fate, a baseball role was written specifically with Kurt Russell in mind. Proving that baseball doesn’t love Kurt as much as he loves baseball, the role of Crash Davis would go to Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner also started in Field Of Dreams that featured Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Write What You Know
Shoeless Joe was part of the infamous Black Sox scandal written about in Eight Men Out. There was also a film based on the book with the same name. The author of the book, Eliot Asinof, spent two years in the Phillies system, playing in 56 games, batting .290. He left baseball to serve in the Army. He also wrote several other baseball books, including Man on Spikes, Strike Zone, and Offseason. Eight Men Out, and the Black Sox scandal is still debated today and Asinof’s book is required reading on the subject, despite having some known defiances. Read Eight Men Out, watch the movie, read the late Gene Carney’s Eight Myths Out, and then Jacob Pomrenke’s Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox.
Baseball, Basketball then a Star
Actor Chuck Connor‘s story is a bit of a cheat since The Rifleman was the starting first baseman of the 1951 Chicago Cubs for a good part of the season and had a short stint on the Brooklyn roster in 1949. He also played for the Boston Celtics, then in the Basketball Association of America, in the 1946-47 and 1947-48 seasons. Chuck Connor started playing in the Dodgers organization in 1940 and then retired after the 1942 season so he could attend Seton Hall, where he played both baseball and basketball. He signed with the Yankees in 1942 after the Seton Hall season was over. Later in 1942, he enlisted in the Army and was discharged in 1946. In 1946, Connor was back to playing with Brooklyn and started his time with the Celtics. Connor was at best an average basketball player, but he was writing an impressive resume in the minor leagues. In 1949 and 1950 he was batting around .300 in AAA and in 952 minor league games he hit 108 home runs. But by 1951, he was 30 years old, and injures were starting to catch up to him. Playing for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, the charismatic Connor flirted with Hollywood and Hollywood flirted back. At the end of the 1952 season, he transitioned to his post-baseball life. By 1958 he would be starting in the TV show The Rifleman where we would be, which ran until 1963.
Ranny Poffo was an all-star catcher in high school. He impressed the Cardinals during an open tryout, was signed, and then assigned to the Cardinals Rookie League team. In 35 games, 16 as a catcher and the rest split between the outfield and first base, the 18-year-old batted .286 with a .910 OPS. In 1972, his numbers were down a bit, but he did make it to A ball during the 1973 season. By 1974 he was in the Reds organization and batted .232 with nine home runs in 131 games. Good, but not great. So, Randy Roffo decided to go into the family business. Randy’s dad was a well known professional wrestler. So, Randy Poffo becomes Macho Man Randy Savage, became a mainstay in professional wrestling for years, and even made it into a Spiderman movie.
If fate did have Hollywood ambitions, there would be a story of a minor league game where Kurt Russell attempts to score by blasting through Randy Poffo. Would Snake Plissken be able to knock the ball out of Macho Man’s glove?
There are additional people that dream of playing MLB baseball and didn’t make it. Bert Convy was 17 when the Phillies offered him a contract and he played two years, 1951 and 1952, in the minors before deciding he didn’t have enough power to be a lefty in the big leagues. He became a game show host, actor, and musician. He started in Cannonball Run and Semi-Tough. He just couldn’t hit the long ball.
Minor league baseball has plenty of great stories and numerous interesting people that passed through it. I wonder if MiLB will continue to generate the same stories or in the future if the stories will shift to other sports.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)