Ah, March Madness … If you’re a college basketball fan, or even if you just fill out one of the vast array of bracket options available, you’re no doubt aware that it begins today. With that in mind, here’s a Throwback Thursday look at two Cardinals who excelled on the hardwood as well — and both at colleges who are part of this year’s tournament.
Bob Gibson’s basketball past is something I’ve written about previously, and you might be familiar with his accomplishments. He earned a basketball scholarship to Creighton University, which is the No. 3 seed in the West Region and takes on Louisiana – Layfayette on Friday at 2:10 p.m. Central Time.
White and Blue Review, a website about Creighton sports, has an amazingly researched and detailed account of Gibson’s career at the school as part of its “What’s in a Number” series. As with the Cardinals, Gibson wore No. 45 at Creighton. Also as with the Cardinals, the number was retired — though his 45 at Creighton is one of only three numbers that have been retired by the men’s basketball team.
Gibson majored in sociology and played basketball his entire time at Creighton. During his junior season, he averaged 22 points per game. During the spring of 1957, Gibson attracted attention for both his basketball and baseball skills. He received a $3,000 bonus to sign with the Cardinals and made his minor league debut that season. During baseball’s off-season, he signed with the Harlem Globetrotters. He roomed with famed Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon and became known for his backhanded dunks. Check out more about his Globetrotters days in this post Dayn Perry wrote last summer at CBS Sports.
Gibson only played for the Globetrotters one season. Cardinals general manager Bing Devine offered him $4,000 to stop playing basketball, which he accepted and reported to spring training in 1958. Gibson made his major league debut in 1959. And we know what he did from there …
Dick Groat was a shortstop for the Cardinals from 1963 to 1965 who played college basketball at Duke University and was an All-American in 1951 and 1952. Duke, like Creighton a No. 3 seed but in the Midwest Region, plays Mercer on Friday at 11:15 a.m. Central Time.
At Duke, Groat was named the Helms Foundation Player of the Year in 1951 and the UPI National Player of the Year in 1952 after setting an NCAA record with 839 points. His No. 10 was retired that year and it remained the only jersey retired by the school until 1980.
After college, Groat was drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 1952 NBA Draft as a guard for the Fort Wayne Pistons. He played only one season, as his basketball career was cut short by military service, and averaged 11.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. He was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and is the first man inducted into both of those Halls of Fame.
Following his military service, he returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955 — then-Pirates general manager Branch Rickey had signed him just days after he graduated from Duke in 1952, prior to his being drafted in the NBA. He never played in the minor leagues, making his big league debut on June 18, 1952, for his hometown team.
Groat was National League MVP in 1960, as well as part of the Pirates World Series winning team that year. In November 1962, he was traded to the Cardinals for pitcher Don Cardwell. In 1963, Groat finished second in MVP voting to Sandy Koufax after hitting .319 with 201 hits, 43 doubles and 11 triples. In 1964, he hit .292 for the World Champion Cardinals and even tagged out Mickey Mantle on the hidden ball trick in Game Four. After hitting .254 in 1965, he was traded to the Phillies in a six-player deal.
Today Groat is a radio color analyst for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball games — also in the NCAA tournament, playing today at 12:40 p.m. Central Time against Colorado — and has been part of Pitt basketball broadcasts since 1979.
Here’s wishing good luck to Creighton, Duke and Pitt — I’ve picked all three to win their first-round games at least on my bracket. And may you find success in your respective bracket too, especially when there’s money involved.
Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates and like us on Facebook if you don’t already.