CINCINNATI – For baseball players, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench were pretty good at basketball, too, in their day.
Thousands of Tri-State fans crowded into gyms to watch them dribble, shoot and rebound in person. For two offseasons, that is, until a serious injury put a stop to all the fun.
WATCH the Reds play UC’s 1961 and ’62 NCAA champions in 1971 in the player above.
If center fielder Bobby Tolan hadn’t ruptured his Achilles tendon in a game in Frankfort, Kentucky, in January, 1971, you might be able to watch Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton run the court today.
Following the 1969 baseball season, Rose got the idea to put together a Reds basketball team to play charity games during the winter. He recruited Bench, Tolan, Lee May, Jim Maloney, Jimmy Stewart and others.
They drove or bussed to high school and college gyms as far as 100 miles away to play teams of former high school and college players, local celebrities, even teachers, and to raise money for good causes.
The Reds played 51 games over two winters and won 47 – with the help of a few ringers.
“We’re 47-4 for two years and that ain’t bad,” Rose told WCPO after losing to the University of Cincinnati’s NCAA champions from 1961 and 1962 on Jan. 23, 1971 at UC’s Armory Fieldhouse.
It seems absurd today. What major leaguer would even consider giving up his free time – not to mention risking injury – to do that?
But it wasn’t uncommon in those days. The Bengals had a basketball team, and so did many other MLB and NFL franchises.
For one thing, many players barely scraped by on their sports salaries. To give you an idea, Bench made $23,500 in 1969. Davey Concepcion made $12,000 in 1970. The entire Reds roster didn’t crack $1 million until 1971. Rose ($107,500) was the only player over $100K.