SABR

Tim Stoddard

This article was written by Rory Costello.

Burly, 6-foot-7 reliever Tim Stoddard remains (as of 2013) the only man to win an NCAA Division I basketball title and a World Series ring. Before he grew his big walrus mustache and began to lose his hair, he was the starting power forward for the 1973-74 North Carolina State Wolfpack. Although baseball’s January 1975 draft forced his hand, Tim chose the diamond over the hardwood. In 2009, he said, “I thought if I ever got to the professional level, I’d have a better and a longer career in baseball.”1 He lasted for more than a decade in the majors, including the Orioles’ pennant in 1979 and championship in ’83.

Timothy Paul Stoddard was born on January 24, 1953, in East Chicago, Indiana. Author Fred Mitchell, who had a chapter on Tim in his book Cubs: Where Have You Gone?, described it as a “blue-collar steel mill community.” Stoddard called it “a great place to grow up. . . . It let you learn about diversity and all the different races. . . . And it wasn’t always the safest area, so you learned to be street smart and learn about people pretty well.”2

Tim’s father, Harry, was an electrician at Inland Steel. His mother, Jean, stayed home with Tim, his two older brothers, Jeff and Phil, and his younger sister, Cathy. The Stoddard boys played in all the youth sports – baseball, football, and especially basketball – “just to keep us out of trouble more than anything else.”3

Tim attended East Chicago Washington High School. In addition to playing baseball and basketball, he played quarterback on the football team. In 1971, the Hammond (Indiana) Times named him the high-school athlete of the year in the Chicago area.4 In his teenage years, Stoddard also played American Legion baseball for East Chicago Post 369.

During the winter of 1970-71, the Washington High Senators basketball team went undefeated (29-0) and won the state high school championship – always a notable feat in basketball-mad Indiana. In fact, Hoosier hoop aficionados regard that team as one of the best in state history. Tim was the starting center. One star of the team was Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, who would go on to average 13.6 points per game in a 12-year NBA career. David Thompson, the sensational star of Tim’s North Carolina State teams, later said, “Stoddard obviously had played with some real talent, but more importantly, understood how important a role player could be to a winning team.”5 This was something that Orioles manager Earl Weaver always stressed, too.

As for baseball at Washington, Stoddard said, “We had a pretty good team. I wouldn’t say we were great. We would get into the high-school tournament, but we wouldn’t get real far. Since we played a lot of night games [at East Chicago’s E.J. Block Stadium], it was a fun, special thing for a high-school situation.”6

When the time came to choose a college, Tim’s options included Texas, Arizona, Arizona State, and Tulsa. He went with North Carolina State, however, largely thanks to former White Sox infielder Sammy Esposito. Esposito, also an East Chicago native, was the baseball coach at N.C. State. He doubled as assistant to head basketball coach Norm Sloan, another Hoosier. Tim later told Fred Mitchell, “With Sam Esposito having a part in both sports, it made it an easier decision and an easier transition walking from the basketball court and going to the baseball field.”7

Stoddard remained at center for the freshman team. When he became eligible for the varsity, he slid over to power forward because the Wolfpack had 7-foot-4 Tom Burleson in the middle. David Thompson described Stoddard’s role: “Tim was one of the smartest players on the team, a great passer and rebounder, and was very physical. In fact, he was an enforcer. He possessed great knowledge of the game and could play many positions. Our steady rock. Tim would do anything to help us win.”8

Stoddard’s pitching ability translated to the court. His high-school coach, John Molodet, noted how he could pass the ball anywhere with a flick of his wrist. In those days, dunking was illegal in the college game, so Tim and little guard Monte Towe established (some say invented) the “alley-oop” play with David Thompson.

“No one will ever realize how important Stoddard was to this team,” Thompson said. “His role was unenviable, as he usually drew the toughest defensive assignments and was counted on to crash the boards every single game. But strongman Stoddard always did what was asked of him, and quite well.”9 Tim got that ethic from his father.

N.C. State basketball went undefeated in 1972-73, winning the tournament final in the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference over Maryland. Stoddard calmly hit two free throws with 39 seconds left, helping to preserve a slender lead; the final score was 76-74. NCAA sanctions kept the Pack from playing in the national tournament, but nothing could stop them the next year.

In the days before the bracket expanded, only conference champions made it to the NCAA basketball tournament – there were 25 of them in 1974. To get the ACC berth, North Carolina State again had to beat Maryland; many fans thought they were the nation’s two best teams that year. State won in overtime, 103-100, in a game still regarded as one of college basketball’s greatest.

After advancing to the Final Four, the Wolfpack then played what remains one of the most memorable games in NCAA tourney history – the semifinal against UCLA. Coach John Wooden’s Trojans had won seven national championships in a row; led by the great Bill Walton, they were favored to make it eight. N.C. State ended their reign, however, scoring the last 11 points in double overtime to win, 80-77. Tim earned praise for helping to defend Walton – “I tried to muscle him around”10  – but he also scored nine points before fouling out. He wasn’t just a banger; his outside shooting touch also got attention from Al McGuire, the coach of final-game opponent Marquette. In that game, he helped get the Wolfpack rolling with three baskets in the first six minutes. N.C. State won, 76-64.

The irony of Stoddard’s success with the basketball team was that the extended tournament play caused him to get a late start on baseball season. Nonetheless, Sam Esposito called him “a fine prospect.”11 David Thompson said his book would not have been complete without at least one Tim Stoddard baseball story. “I saw him pitch against Clemson one year in the ACC tournament, and it was one of the most dominating performances I ever witnessed on the diamond. State had to win two games against Clemson to advance in the tournament. First, Stoddard pitched the Wolfpack to an opening-game win, and then he threw four innings of relief in the second game to clinch that victory.”12

That was in 1974, after the basketball championship. In fact, N.C. State also won the ACC baseball tournament when Tim was a sophomore. He pitched the championship game both years. The Texas Rangers drafted Stoddard in the 25th round of the June 1974 amateur draft, but he did not sign. Instead, he returned to get his degree at N.C. State.

The White Sox then selected Stoddard in the second round of the January phase of the 1975 draft. He became the first rookie the franchise had signed to a major-league contract since 1962. In a curious coincidence, that man was pitcher turned basketball star Dave DeBusschere.13

“It would be good to play for the White Sox because it’s close to home,” said Tim at the time. He added that he “certainly didn’t expect to be drafted that high because of the basketball aspects.” He also said that if both pro baseball and basketball fell through, “I’d turn to football, probably as a tight end.”14

When the NBA held its draft that May, Stoddard’s name was not called. In 1980 he said, “People told me I would have been a third- or fourth-round draft choice in basketball, but that’s nothing in the NBA. I figured baseball was my best shot.”15 He was right. Although 17 of 36 men taken in those rounds that year actually did play in the NBA or the ABA, including Monte Towe, only a couple made any kind of mark. One of the men who didn’t make it was Pete Trgovich of UCLA, the big scorer on Tim’s high-school champion team. Tim later told Fred Mitchell, “[The White Sox] put me right on the roster and helped cut off a lot of options. But in the long haul, it worked out really good for me.”16

Stoddard pitched in 31 games (with six starts) for Knoxville in the Double-A Southern League. One highlight came on July 17 in Asheville. The opposing general manager arranged Tim Stoddard Night to give Wolfpack fans a chance to cheer the pitcher in his return to North Carolina. He pitched 3⅔ scoreless innings in Knoxville’s 1-0 victory.17

The White Sox called Stoddard up when the rosters expanded, and he made his big-league debut at old Comiskey Park on September 7, 1975. He pitched one inning against the Minnesota Twins and allowed two hits, including a home run to Steve Brye. Outside of spring training, Stoddard pitched only that one time in a White Sox uniform. It was red pinstripes at home then – the untucked pajamas with the floppy collars (and the infamous shorts) came in the next year. He returned to Knoxville in 1976, starting 19 of his 20 games. His 9-8, 2.89 record won him promotion to Triple-A Iowa in August. He was 0-2, 5.59 in 12 games with the Oaks, which included just two starts. Chicago did not call him up that September.

Near the end of spring training in 1977, the White Sox released Stoddard. Owner Bill Veeck was operating on a shoestring; indeed, Tim had to pitch with the Red Sox in the Instructional League in 1975 because the White Sox did not fund an entry.18 The Wilmington Morning Star wrote, “He [Stoddard] was another victim of politics. . . . He was signed to a major-league contract, thus was making too much money to play in the minors.”19

“It seemed like they picked up three million pitchers,” Stoddard noted to Fred Mitchell. “They were talking about how I might even go play in A ball. . . . But by the time I got back to the hotel, Kansas City and Baltimore had heard about what had happened. So that made me feel better, knowing I was still wanted.” White Sox general manager Roland Hemond later told him, “It was not only one of the hardest things I ever did, it was one of the dumbest.”20

Ten days later, on April 8, 1977, Stoddard joined the Orioles organization. Apparently he could have gone to Triple-A Jacksonville but chose Double-A Charlotte instead.21 There he was 10-7 with a 3.21 ERA while starting half of his 36 appearances. In late July manager Jim Schaffer moved Stoddard back to the bullpen. “It’s probably for the rest of the season,” said Schaffer. “That’s where I think Tim’s future is.”22 In fact, Stoddard never started once in 485 major-league appearances.

That offseason, “[Stoddard] worked hard at losing weight . . . and also at curbing his temper, which has been a problem during his baseball career.”23 He was up to 250 pounds, from 230 in college. Clyde Kluttz, Baltimore’s director of player development, wanted him at 22524 -- but 250 would be Tim’s playing weight for most of his big-league career. At one point a few years later Stoddard trimmed back to 220 again, but as Earl Weaver put it, he went overboard. The result was that “I lost my fastball. It just wasn’t as sharp. . . . [Earl] said, ‘Well, go put that weight back on, let’s go.’ I pitched better at 250 than 220.”25

In spring training 1978, Weaver mulled the idea of carrying only eight pitchers on his roster – unusual then, unimaginable today. Stoddard forced him to change his mind; he had a superb camp and opened the season with the Orioles. Said Earl, “He showed he could get left-handers out. . . . The way he pitched, there just wasn’t any way we couldn’t take him back to Baltimore.”26

After seven appearances in April and May, though, the Orioles sent the rookie to Triple-A Rochester. There he was quite effective (7-3, 2.61), including a complete game in an emergency start when manager Frank Robinson was short-staffed. Tim earned his recall in September, pitching once more for the O’s that month. With the exception of a short stretch in Rochester in early 1982, he remained in Baltimore through the end of 1983.

That winter Stoddard played for the Santurce Cangrejeros in the Puerto Rican League under Frank Robinson. He would pitch two winters with the Crabbers, going 8-10 with a 2.44 ERA, 10 saves, and 78 strikeouts in 100 innings.27 That was his only winter-ball experience, though it did include a trip to the 1979 Caribbean Series as a reinforcement for the Caguas Criollos. He lost a game in relief to Mexico.

Although Stoddard pitched in just 29 games for the 1979 Orioles, he did very good work, going 3-1 with a 1.71 ERA. He posted three saves and allowed barely over one baserunner for every inning pitched. “Big Foot” (as his teammates called him for his size 16 shoe) drew comparisons to the Red Sox fireballer of the ’60s, Dick “The Monster” Radatz.28 Stoddard glowered menacingly on the mound, threw hard, and his slider had good bite.

But Tim pitched only once between June 23 and September 8 after tearing a muscle under his right shoulder. “The biggest mistake probably came when the big reliever threw on the side less than a week after tearing the muscle. He’d showed little improvement one month later when he went on the disabled list.”29

Stoddard did not appear in the 1979 American League Championship Series against the California Angels, but he got into four World Series games. He won Game Four as the Orioles erupted for six runs in the eighth inning to beat the Pirates 9-6. Amid that rally, he even bounced an RBI single off the Tartan Turf in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium in his first big-league at-bat.

The 1980 season was Stoddard’s best in the majors. Weaver gave him many save opportunities, as Don “Full Pack” Stanhouse had signed as a free agent with the Dodgers. Tim collected 26 of his 76 career saves – setting a club record – and went 5-3, 2.51 in 64 games. He continued to share the closer role with Tippy Martinez in both 1981 and 1982, with ERAs in the area of 4.00. As author Daniel Okrent put it in 1982, “As a straight-ahead power pitcher, Stoddard was effective when he had his control; without it, he could be woeful.”30 In his 1984 book, Weaver on Strategy, Earl wrote, “Often I’ll start the year off with one pitcher as my main reliever and then switch to another. Recently I alternated between Tippy Martinez and Tim Stoddard, depending upon who was throwing better. You have to be flexible in this area.”31

Stoddard missed most of spring training 1982 with a sore shoulder and had to open the season on a rehab assignment in Rochester. The shoulder bothered him throughout the year, and he didn’t appear once after August 27 because he tore a knee ligament by accident, slipping on the floor of a New York restaurant.32

Despite working hard on his conditioning that offseason, Tim endured a difficult 1983, with an ERA of 6.09 in 47 games. He was prone to the long ball, allowing 10 home runs in 57⅔ innings pitched. There was some friction with new manager Joe Altobelli about the way he was used – and not used. In 2010 Stoddard noted, “Bad year, just didn’t get much consistent work!”

Stoddard remained on the postseason roster, but he did not get into either the ALCS or the World Series. Nonetheless, he collected his ring. The only other man even to approach Tim’s NCAA-World Series feat as of 2010 is Kenny Lofton, a fellow East Chicago Washington alumnus. Lofton went to the Final Four with Arizona in 1988; he was on the losing side in the fall classic in 1995 and 2002.

In December 1983 the Orioles sent Stoddard to the Oakland Athletics for third baseman Wayne Gross. Tippy Martinez quipped, “After the game, there’ll be more food for everyone.”33 Tim never pitched a game for the A’s, though, as they dealt him to the Chicago Cubs for two minor-leaguers in March 1984. The trade turned out well for the Cubs, whose manager, Jim Frey, knew Tim well from his days as a coach in Baltimore. Serving as a setup man for Lee Smith, the righty (who added a bushy beard to his intimidating appearance) reached a career high with 10 wins against six losses for the National League East champions. He appeared twice in the NLCS without a decision as the Cubs lost to the San Diego Padres.

In January 1985 Stoddard signed as a free agent with the Padres. “I wouldn’t have minded staying with the Cubs,” he told Fred Mitchell, “[but] by the time they got to me on the pecking order, there wasn’t any money left.”34 The first-round draft pick that Chicago got as compensation turned out to be Rafael Palmeiro.

Tim had an off year in San Diego in 1985 – maybe the club shouldn’t have ordered him to stop playing basketball in the winter!35 – but pitched somewhat better in ’86. The main man in the Padres bullpen was an old friend from the White Sox, Rich Gossage. The Goose was a big beefy type himself, but he would later fondly exaggerate, “I played with a monster, Tim Stoddard. . . . He had calves bigger than my waist.”36

On June 18, 1986, in his last big-league at-bat, Stoddard hit his only major-league homer, off Mike LaCoss of the San Francisco Giants at cavernous Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. He recalled the blow in 2010. “It was a 3-2 pitch and he didn’t want to walk a pitcher, so he grooved one and I got lucky!”

A few weeks later, on July 9, Stoddard went to the Yankees even-up for pitcher Ed Whitson, whose time in New York had been unenjoyable and unsuccessful. Tim pitched respectably for the remainder of that season. He opened the ’87 season on the disabled list and thus pitched briefly with Fort Lauderdale (Class A), but again performed decently when he returned. The Tom Hanks movie Big, released in 1988, shows a glimpse of Stoddard on the mound with the Bronx Bombers.

In 1988, however, Stoddard had a rough time of it (2-2, 6.38 in 28 games). Manager Billy Martin had been campaigning for his release and left the reliever in to take a beating against the Indians on June 19. It backfired on Billy, though, leading to the end of his fifth and last tenure as Yankees manager. However, the team did end up releasing Stoddard that August 14. “It’s no fun for them, no fun for me,” he said. “I still want to play. I’m an athlete. But it’s all part of the game.”37

The Cleveland Indians signed the veteran, then nearly 36, in January 1989. He had a sore elbow in camp and thus went to extended spring training. After that, he opened the season with Canton-Akron in the Eastern League. The Indians called Tim up in mid-May, and he pitched well for them (0-0, 2.95 in 14 games). The club decided to call up Keith Atherton, though, and released Stoddard on July 12.

Tim wasn’t quite through with pro ball. He played for the West Palm Beach Tropics of the Senior Professional Baseball Association during the fall and winter of 1989-1990. Manager Dick Williams used him as a starting pitcher for the first time in over a decade, and he went 10-2 with a 4.10 ERA. Although some sources indicate he was with the Daytona Beach Explorers the following season, Stoddard confirmed, “Nothing the next year.” He added, “I had a couple of offers to go to big-league camp, but that was the lockout year and they decided not to bring in extras.”

Following the Senior League, Stoddard “worked on the golf game and coached my daughters’ sports teams. I got to watch them grow up!” Tim and his ex-wife, Diane, had three daughters, now all adults: Laura, Anne, and Ellen.

In 1993, he served as baseball technical adviser for the film Rookie of the Year. He got the gig through scouts who had helped set up players for another movie, Major League; the movie people got in touch with players in the Chicago area. Tim also had a minor speaking role as “Dodger pitcher.” The child star of the movie issues a fittingly childish taunt, “Pitcher’s got a big butt!” Stoddard said in 2009, “There are probably more kids in today’s world who know me for that than they do pitching.”38

In 1995 Stoddard became the pitching coach at Northwestern University, outside Chicago. He and head coach Paul Stevens had known each other from when they played summer ball in between years at college. The 2010 season was his 17th with the Wildcats. Tim has seen 19 of his pupils become major-league draft selections, including two big leaguers, Mike Koplove and J.A. Happ.

Among various other honors, Tim Stoddard joined the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 (the year after he decided to shave his big-league trademark mustache). As of 2010 he resided in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. In addition to running baseball clinics, golf remains his other favorite leisure activity.

In late 2008 several members of the 1973-74 Wolfpack got together for a reunion. Tim was asked to compare the fiery styles of Norm Sloan and Earl Weaver. “It was probably about the same,” he replied. “But what Norm yelled at me made a lot more sense than what Earl yelled.”39

With thanks to Tim Stoddard for his input (via e-mail, March 10, 2010).

 

Sources

http://www.retrosheet.org

http://www.gopack.com

http://www.nusports.cstv.com

 

Notes

1 Danny Daly, “NU’s Stoddard no stranger to titles,” Daily Northwestern, May 29, 2009.

2 Fred Mitchell, Cubs: Where Have You Gone?, Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2004: 217.

3 Ibid.

4 Buck Knight, “High draft pleases Stoddard,” Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia), January 16, 1975: 6.

5 David Thompson with Sean Stormes and Marshall Terrill. Skywalker, Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2003: 30.

6 Mitchell, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Ibid.

8 Thompson, op. cit., loc. cit.

9 Thompson, op. cit.: 70.

10 Daly, op. cit.

11 Knight, op. cit.

12 Thompson, op. cit.: 31.

13 Ibid.

14 Knight, op. cit.

15 “Stoddard coming into his own,” Associated Press, May 10, 1980.

16 Mitchell, op. cit.: 214.

17 “Night for Stoddard,” The Sporting News, August 9, 1975: 39.

18 Peter Gammons, “Bosox Farms Ripe With Young Hurlers,” The Sporting News, November 15, 1975: 36.

19 Jerry Hooks, “NIT dangers,” Wilmington (North Carolina) Morning Star, March 10, 1978: 4-B.

20 Mitchell, op. cit: 214.

21 “Stoddard vs. Suns,” The Sporting News, May 14, 1977: 37.

22 “A Field Day,” The Sporting News, August 13, 1977: 38.

23 Hooks, op. cit.

24 Jim Henneman, “O’s to Test Stoddard in Relief,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1977: 65.

25 Tyler Kepner, “Blending In; Standing Out,” New York Times, April 6, 2009: D1.

26 Jim Henneman, “Rookies Roenicke, Stoddard Win Oriole Berths,” The Sporting News, April 22, 1978: 23.

27 Thomas E. Van Hyning, The Santurce Crabbers, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1999: 217.

28 Ken Nigro, “Big Foot Wins Badge as Oriole Fire Stomper,” The Sporting News, May 26, 1979: 13.

29 Ken Nigro, “Loss of Stoddard Blow to O’s Bullpen,” The Sporting News, August 11, 1979: 22.

30 Daniel Okrent, Nine Innings, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985: 248.

31 Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto. Weaver on Strategy, New York: Collier Books, 1984: 76.

32 Jim Henneman, “Stoddard’s Weight Down, Optimism Up.” The Sporting News, November 15, 1982: 52.

33 Wayne Stewart, editor. The Gigantic Book of Baseball Quotations, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2007: 44.

34 Mitchell, op. cit.: 216.

35 Tom Friend, “Padres Title Game Makes Stoddard Nostalgic,” Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1985: S-3.

36 Kepner, op. cit.

37 “Yanks Release Stoddard,” New York Times, August 15, 1988.

38 Daly, op. cit.

39 Tim Peeler, “’74 Champions Recall NC State's Greatest Team,” www.gopack.com, December 22, 2008.

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