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.

The Everett Collection

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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15 Comments

SDWriter 13 months ago
His “shooting stroke?” You mean batting stroke. Hire an editor — or somebody who understands baseball.
HRGreen 15 months ago
The Rifleman is still one of my favorite tv shows. I'm 71 years old and remember doing my chores after school so I could watch the Rifleman undisturbed!
Runeshaper 15 months ago
Great story for a GREAT man! (-:
cperrynaples 15 months ago
And just to clear the record, Connors didn't show his "Louisville slugger" in a gay porn! That's just an urban legend! Johnny Crawford DID get nude with Victoria Principal in a '70's film!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 15 months ago
And if you wonder "How did I know about the porn": I confess they showed a still in Hustler magazine, but it's clearly not Connors! The naked shot of Crawford was in Playboy!
justjeff 15 months ago
... I always love the opening of the Rifleman. Connors' squint-eyed, no-nonsense look meant any troublemakers would regret crossing his path...
DocForbin 15 months ago
They kind of alluded to Conners's baseball career in the MAD Magazine satire "The Rifle, Man!"
LoveMETV22 15 months ago
That was a fun story. I'm just trying to imagine if a minor or major league baseball player were to walk to the bases or do cartwheels in present day baseball, what would happen?
texasluva LoveMETV22 15 months ago
I was just going to bring that up. For one he would get angry stares from the opposing ball team. The next time up he would get a knockdown pitch and maybe hit him. There could very well be a donnybrook of a fight after being thrown at. Always the chance at those antics the umps just toss him out of the game. Though if was me I would find some other to tussle with. Chuck is one big man.

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.
madvincent texasluva 15 months ago
lol Earl weaver and Billy Martin wanted to do that to the ump lol............
MrsPhilHarris LoveMETV22 15 months ago
I was thinking the same thing.
LoveMETV22 texasluva 15 months ago
OMG....That was hilarious. Thanks for sharing.
cperrynaples texasluva 15 months ago
Tommy had a temper! I grew up in Philly so I know about the Phanatic and his illegitimate brother Gritty from the Flyers!
texasluva cperrynaples 15 months ago
Yes he does. I have seen them all but did not put up the R rated ones where he had a dozen or so F bombs and others. The one about the Yankees and Mickey Mantle was funny too. I grew up in San Diego and we had the San Diego Chicken. He had some really funny moments and also fights with other mascots. They also have a Mascot Hall Of Fame. Chicken is on it and most likely The Philly Phanatic among others.
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