Larry Bird, an NBA Hall of Famer and three-time NBA champion, had a brief moment in his college career when he was a two-sport athlete.
On April 28, 1979, a day after his jersey was retired by Indiana State, Bird played in a baseball double header. The reason behind this rare moment starts with a coach attempting to “put Bird in his place.”
A story that appeared in The Indianapolis Star (May 5, 2015, p. C6) told the story of how Bird would spend his evenings icing the aching parts of his body after workouts.
Bird was coming off a 33-1 season with Indiana State and the only loss coming in the National Championship game. According to the Star’s account, everything begins with Bob Warn, Indiana State’s baseball coach, challenging Bird’s icing regimen.
According to Warn’s account, he said to Bird, “You’re a real wuss. Every night I see you. You’re just here in the training room icing.”
Bird grunted and said something in response and Warn went about his business.
A night later, the coach saw Bird again and the coach told Bird that “real men” play games with the ball the size of a baseball.
According to Warn, Bird thought for a moment and said that he could play baseball. Warn asked him to play and Bird said, “yes.”
Bird’s willingness to play created another problem. The baseball team struggled to find a uniform that would fit the 6’9” Bird.
Part of the coach’s motivation was that having Bird on the field would boost attendance at baseball games. The game was one of the highest attended games in school history.
There are no box scores available for the games. However, the Star reports that Bird finished the day with a .500 average.
Here’s what is known about the game:
- Bird struck out in his first at-bat, swinging wildly at the pitches.
- In his second at-bat, Bird hit a single up the middle and drove in two runs.
Later in the game, the experiment with Bird nearly proved disastrous. There was a popup between first and home and Bird and the catcher were both trying to make the play. The catcher tried to call Bird off but the two collided. Bird managed to hold onto the ball.
One of the people in attendance was Bob Woolf who would later become Bird’s NBA agent. He was less than pleased to see Bird in a position where he might injure himself.
After Bird got back up, Warn took him out of the game and Bird’s college baseball career came to an end.
Bird, later, described it this way, “One baseball game, and I get it. I was really hurt. So, end of career — one for two, .500 average, 2 RBI. I figured I couldn’t do much better than that.”