The recent passing of Gene Conley at age 86, brought to mind that the era of dual-sport baseball players has essentially come to an end. In today’s society, young athletes begin to be groomed as soon as their talent is discovered and every resource is utilized to mold them into a professional making millions of dollars. No longer does the best player on the High School baseball team also play basketball & football…he’s concentrating on one sport year-round with travel teams, personal trainers and the beginnings of an entourage.
Today’s challenge will be to put together a collection of baseball rookie cards from the modern era showcasing those dual-sport stars that were sprinkled throughout the landscape of professional sports starting in the 1950’s. As a tribute, we’ll begin with the big guy who was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1930.
> Gene Conley – This 6’8″ right-hander made his debut with the Braves in 1952 and was named to three All-Star teams in that decade. During the same era, he was also a Power Forward in the NBA and won three championship rings with the Boston Celtics. His RC is from the ’53 Topps set and books for $15.
> Dick Groat – An outstanding SS in the major leagues for 14 seasons, he won the NL MVP in 1960 for the World Series champion Pirates. An All-American, 5′ 11″ Point Guard at Duke, he also played one year in the NBA with the Ft. Wayne Pistons. His RC is from the high-numbered run of the iconic ’52 Topps set is priced at $350.
> Dick Ricketts – Played three seasons in the NBA as a Power Forward before switching over the baseball and spending one season with the Cardinals in 1959. His Brother Dave was a major league Catcher in the 60’s. The baseball RC is in the ’59 Topps set with a value $3 but his basketball RC from ’57 Topps will set you back $20.
> Steve Hamilton – A 6’6” left-hander, he pitched in the show for 12 years with a lifetime ERA of 3.05. Before that, he played two seasons as a Small Forward for the Minneapolis Lakers just before they moved to L.A. $2 will get you his RC from the ’63 Topps set.
> Dave DeBusschere – Pitched for the White Sox in ’62 & ’63 but his real fame came on the basketball court. In 13 NBA seasons as a 6’6” Forward, he averaged over 16 points per game…he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. His RC in the ’63 Topps set books for $3. The basketball RC from ’69 Topps is worth $15.
> Ron Reed – Pitched for 19 seasons (1966-84) and won 146 games including 18 for the Braves in ’69. At 6’6′, this Notre Dame product also played Forward with the Detroit Pistons for two years in the mid-60’s. The RC from ’68 Topps will only cost you $2.
> Danny Ainge – Another athlete who had more success at basketball, he played three seasons with the Blue Jays with a lifetime BA of .220. At 6’4″, he became a valuable member of the Celtics during their great championship runs in the 80’s and today, he is the team’s highly-respected General Manager. $2 will purchase the RC from ’81 Topps.
> Bo Jackson – Arguably, the best all-around player in this category, it was a “must watch” moment every time he stepped on the field. Won the Heisman Trophy as a running back at Auburn and took those skills to the NFL for an amazing four-year run with the Raiders before a hip injury ended it all. On the baseball diamond, he displayed similar skills and led off the 1989 All-Star Game with a mammoth home run. An ’86 Topps RC is only $2.
> Deion Sanders – One of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, people sometimes forget that he played in the major leagues for nine seasons, leading the NL with 14 Triples in 1992 and stealing 38 bases in 1994. The ’89 RC’s have very little value due to the overproduction of that time, but the football RC from ’89 Score is about $5.
> Brian Jordan – Had a very solid 15-year major league career from 1992-2006 with 184 HR’s and a .282 lifetime BA. Also played defensive back for the Falcons from 1989-1991. The ’92 Bowman set has his RC and the price is $1.
> Chuck Connors – This name may sound familiar if you’re a fan of vintage TV Westerns, as he was the star of “The Rifleman” from 1958-63. What most people don’t know is that he’s a member of this exclusive club. He got one AB with the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers and then played 66 games with the ’51 Cubs hitting .238 with two HR’s. Just prior to that, he played two seasons for the Celtics in the infancy of the NBA. While he never had a major league baseball card, you may be able to find a 1952 AAA card produced by Mother’s Cookies showing the lanky 6’5″ 1B in a L.A. Angels uniform. Due to his celebrity status, it will probably cost hundreds of dollars.
There are many interesting tidbits in this category including former big league Pitcher John Burkett bowling on the PBA tour and Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson spending one season with the Harlem Globetrotters. And if you expand the group to college stars, you’ll have to include Darin Erstad, Steve Garvey, Kirk Gibson, Tony Gwynn (drafted by the Clippers & Padres on the same day), Frank Howard, Jackie Jensen, Jackie Robinson, Jeff Samardzija and others.
And, let’s not forget those of you who can watch sports and consume mass quantities at the same time.