When Muggsy Bogues played pro baseball

No, it wasn't some 1990's fever dream. It really happened

February 1st, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

It probably seemed just as unreal to people at the time as it does now.

An alternate reality -- a video game creation that some 1990's sports fan dreamed up on their Super Nintendo in their basement: Charlotte Hornets basketball megastar Muggsy Bogues playing pro baseball.

But it was real. It happened. He did it alongside fellow Hornets guard Dell Curry in 1991 for the Minor League Gastonia Rangers of the South Atlantic League. There were even some amazing newspaper ads to promote the June 21 event.

"I don't wanna call myself a baseball player," Bogues says, laughing during a recent phone interview. "It was more just a fun opportunity. Dell was more of a baseball player."

Bogues was right. Curry was legitimately good at baseball -- he was a right-handed pitcher at Virginia Tech and was drafted by the Rangers in 1982 and the Orioles in '85. At one point, the all-time shooting great (who is the father of an even better all-time shooting great) actually thought he was "a little better at baseball than basketball."

But even though Curry was a better talent on the baseball field, Muggsy was a superstar figure in the world of sports. He was a bigger draw.

The point guard was known around the globe -- thrashing some of basketball's greatest players while standing at an unassuming, yet tenacious 5-foot-3, 135 pounds. He was an inspiration, an icon to kids everywhere: if he could make it to the game's grandest stage, maybe they could, too.

And now, somehow, he was playing second base for the Class A Gastonia Rangers.

It all happened because of George Shin: the North Carolinian businessman owned both the Hornets and the Rangers' affiliate, and thought it could make for a great promotion for a game. It would put some fans in the seats.

"Yeah, they wanted myself and Dell to play an exhibition game with them," Bogues says. "It was an honor to play with the guys. ... I really respected all of them trying to make the Major Leagues."

Bogues had played baseball as a kid growing up in Baltimore -- along with being a standout in both basketball and wrestling.

"Baseball was a sport I always enjoyed," Bogues tells me. "The Orioles were right down the street. The team was pretty popular, they came into the community. I remember meeting Eddie Murray when I was 15 years old, he gave me my first MVP trophy. I was a shortstop, nothing was gettin' past little fella at shortstop. I could hit and I always got on base."

Bogues during his days at Dunbar High School (Photo via therealmuggsy on Instagram)

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Unfortunately, due to bad weather, the Rangers only played three innings the day of the promotion -- but Muggsy started at second base and got one at-bat. And the stands were also full; fans were excited about seeing some basketball players try their hand at baseball. The last-place team averaged 600 people per game, but a season-high 2,200 had come to see the Hornets duo take on the Spartanburg Phillies -- a team that featured future big leaguers like Mike Lieberthal, Kevin Stocker and Ricky Bottalico.

Muggsy, meanwhile, found out pretty fast that hitting was hard.

"Ugh, the at-bat. That was my only regret," Muggsy says. "I didn't get a hit. I got a tip, but the guy struck me out. I fought a couple off but that seventh or eighth pitch -- that was a little too hot for me."

The duo fared better in the field. Muggsy had one ball hit his way in between first and second and made a "spectacular" dive and scoop to first for the out. The crowd apparently went crazy. He said he even paused for dramatic effect and "counted the seams." Curry pitched all three innings, giving up a run while striking out four and allowing three hits.

"Ooo, I was going crazy watching from second base," Muggsy remembers. "He was throwing some heat. It was probably 75-80 mph. If you let him tell it, he'll probably tell you it was 85-90."

Even though it was such a short appearance, Hornets teammates definitely let the two one-time ballplayers know they were paying attention.

"The guys found out we played baseball and they called us the BBGs, the Baseball Guys," Bogues laughs. "They gave us a little slack about it."

Bogues, who keeps busy these days hosting a star-studded podcast with Charles Oakley, still thinks about the day a lot. Although he's mad he didn't get another shot in the batter's box, he's proud that he's a part of baseball history. Both he and Curry have Baseball-Reference pages, they're listed on the official '91 Gastonia roster and they have baseball cards!

"You know, it's always fun when you go outside your comfort zone," Bogues says. "Especially for me. I don't still have my uniform, I've cleaned out so much. I wish I still had it. I look at my card all the time."

(Photo via therealmuggsy on Instagram)