Chuck Connors found ''show business'' in his professional baseball career before starring on The Rifleman
Generally, when a ball goes over the fence the batter trots around the bases for a home run. Chuck Connors had other plans.
Life before a successful Hollywood career, spearheaded by starring in The Rifleman, was anything but boring for Kevin Connors.
Of course, if you're a fan of The Rifleman, you know him as Chuck Connors. The name change happened while Connors was doing something else he loved. Playing ball.
Though it's what he's best remembered for today, Connors' success went beyond just an acting career. Prior to it, he was a two-way professional athlete.
Connors was born in Brooklyn in 1921, and was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was already a talented athlete by the time he was ready for college, standing 6 feet 5 inches, and scouts took notice. After a slew of scholarship offers, Connors took up baseball and basketball at Seton Hall.
From there, he landed a minor league baseball deal with his hometown team. He played four games for the Newport Dodgers, before signing with the Norfolk Tars, the Class B Piedmont League team in the New York Yankees farm system, in 1942. This is when he landed his now-recognizable name, Chuck.
"I'd be at first base and I'd be talking it up and hollering at our pitcher," Connors said in a 1984 interview with the Copley News Service. He'd say, "'Come on, baby, chuck-a!' I meant throw it in there, kid. So they started calling me 'Chuck' and it stuck.'" Prior to Chuck, he would often be called "lefty," referring to his shooting stroke and throwing arm.
Later that year, Connors enlisted in the Army. After his discharge four years later, he continued to pursue his sports dreams, landing with three more minor league baseball teams all while making a splash with the Boston Celtics of the newly-created NBA in the 1946 season. He finally got called up to the big leagues for the Dodgers, but in his lone plate appearance, he hit into a double play and was sent packing.
By 1951, Connors landed with the top team of the Chicago Cubs farm system, the Los Angeles Angels. The same year, per Baseball Reference, he was called up and played 66 games with the Cubs. It was during this season that he had a realization. One that eventually kept him in Hollywood to pursue acting.
"So at the time I'm with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League," Connors said in the newspaper article. "The next night at Wrigley Field I belt out a home run. 'Do you see that power?" I said to the umpire. 'Just run around the bases, Connors,' he says. Run? What for? Nowhere in the rules does it say you've got to run. So I stroll down to first taking bows left and right and the fans are enjoying every minute of it."
He had the taste of entertaining, and he continued.
"I do cartwheels to third and then I amble down to home and slide head first. By now the fans are screaming. They love it. And I knew right then that baseball was show business."
By 1952, Connors wasn't running (or cartwheeling) around the bases very much, and it was clear his professional sports career was winding down. Just as it was, another opportunity stepped up to the plate while he was back with the LA-based farm team of the Cubs.
According to Baseball Almanac, he was "observed by an MGM casting director who signed Connors to play as a police captain in the film Pat and Mike.
Connors' stats say he only hit two home runs during his big league career, but he blasted a grand slam for his career when he was cast as the lead part in The Rifleman. Just six years after stepping off the professional diamond for the last time, Connors was the star of an all-time classic Western series.
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Talking about baseball fights, gags and funny happenings. I did not want to show a fight but this sort of was. The Philly Phanatic taunts Tommy Lasorda (manger for the L.A. Dodgers. Tommy goes after him and has had enough.