What does Chuck Connors, TV’s Rifleman, have to do with MLB history? Simple. Connors was actually an MLB player – and also played in the NBA – prior to leaving for Hollywood.
MLB History: Connor’s Early Life
Kevin “Chuck” Connors was born on April 10, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York. He lived in the Bay Ridge section with his parents, Alban and Marcella, and his younger sister, Gloria.
The soon-to-be star actor attended Adelphi Academy, a private high school in Brooklyn on a scholarship. Connors was not just a two-sport athlete but participated in four varsity sports: football, basketball, baseball, and track. His athletic ability earned him numerous scholarships by a variety of colleges. However, he chose Seton Hall College to pursue a baseball career.
While at Seton Hall, Connors developed his signature nickname “Chuck”, as he would always say “Chuck it to me” while playing first base.
MLB History: Connor’s Professional Career
After finishing college, Connors signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league team, the Newport Dodgers. His time in his hometown team’s farm system did not last long, as he would be released after playing four games during the 1940 season.
Connors would take the year off in 1941, however, the following he would sign with the New York Yankees minor league team, the Norfolk Tars. The Rifleman appeared in 72 games, before he enlisted in the army after the season.
NBA History: Connor’s Second “Shot”
Not only was Connors a part of MLB history, but he also appears in the annals of NBA history as well. After his time in the army, Connors returned to his professional sports career in 1946. Instead of going back to baseball, he would attempt a sport he played in high school: basketball. Standing at 6’6″, Connors had the ideal height for a basketball player, since the average height of basketball players was 6’3″ in the mid-1940s.
The Rifleman began his basketball career with the Boston Celtics and played 49 games in his first season. Connors did not light up the stat sheets; he averaged just below five points while shooting 25% from the field.
The highlight of his rookie campaign was when he became the first player professional basketball player to break a backboard. Unfortunately, it was not like Shaquille O’Neal backboard-shattering dunk, but instead breaking an improperly installed hoop in a shoot during warmups.
Connors found himself out of the league after his four-game stint in the 1947-48 season. He would finish his short-lived basketball career averaging a whopping 4.5 points a game in 53 games played. He did, however, became one of 13 men who played in both the NBA and MLB.
After his attempt at basketball, Connors decided to return to the sport he played in college, baseball. He would now head north of the border, as he signed with the Montreal Royals on a minor league deal. The Rifleman would play in one Major League game in 1949, as he made an appearance as a pinch hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1951, Connors would sign with the Chicago Cubs and play 66 games at first base. At age 30, Connors hit .239 with 48 hits and 18 RBIs.
After finishing his 1951 season, the former multi-sport athlete would change his career path to acting, as he would land his first role in 1952 in ‘Pat and Mike’.
Chuck Connors, TV’s Rifleman, will go down in history as having one of the most incredible careers. From playing both professional baseball and basketball to becoming a fan favorite on television, the Rifleman will forever be one of the most interesting men in the world.
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