Final 4 AND WS? Only 2 have ever done it

Kenny Lofton and Tim Stoddard have an unreal connection

March 26th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

The odds of a person being good and lucky enough in baseball to reach the World Series are low. The same goes for a person being good and lucky enough in college basketball to reach the Final Four.

But to reach both of those pinnacles -- to be good and lucky enough at the highest level of both sports -- has to be nearly impossible, right?

Well, two people have somehow done it: Tim Stoddard and Kenny Lofton. Even crazier? They went to the SAME high school: East Chicago Washington High School in Indiana. A school in a town with a population of just 30,000.

Could anybody have ever predicted that?

"That was, haha, no," Joe Fabian responded, laughing. Fabian played against Stoddard and coached against Lofton at area rival Roosevelt High. "But everybody knew that both of them were gonna make it big in college. They were that good in high school. They were both really good. They made East Chicago proud."

How did they do it? What was their trajectory like from high school to college to the pros? Here's a look at their incredibly gifted, dual-sport careers.

Tim Stoddard

Stoddard reached the Final Four and won the national championship with North Carolina State in 1974. He also pitched for the Orioles in the 1979 World Series and won a ring with Baltimore in '83.

The 6-foot-7 East Chicago forward played on perhaps the greatest team in Indiana high school basketball history. They were undefeated one year and then went 31-1 his senior season en route to winning the state championship.

"Yeah, we had probably one of the best teams in the nation at the time," Stoddard told me during a recent phone call. "We averaged about 96 points per game in high school, and that was before three-pointers."

Seven -- yes, seven -- of the players from that Washington team went on to play in college at the Division I level. And when Stoddard reached the Final Four with NC State in '74, he, unbelievably, beat one of his old high school teammates in the semifinals: UCLA's Pete Trgovich. Another teammate, Junior Bridgeman -- who starred at Louisville -- was drafted by the Lakers in 1975 and played 12 seasons in the NBA. Stoddard had eight points and seven rebounds in the championship win over Marquette.

But, as even Stoddard will tell you, he was more of a role player on the hardwood. Where he showed professional promise during his younger years was on the pitcher's mound.

"He was a hell of a pitcher," Ted Kounelis, schoolmate of Stoddard's (and former assistant coach at Washington during Lofton's tenure), said to me. "We played Babe Ruth together. It was unbelievable the velocity he had on the ball. When you're 13, 14 years old and then you see that stuff coming at you? It scares the hell out of you."

"He received the athlete of the year award, and that was a county thing," Fabian remembered, telling me Stoddard's ERA had to be somewhere under 1.30 in high school. "We all thought he could make it big in baseball. Timmy Stoddard's best sport was baseball. He could throw the hell out of the ball. ... He was dominant."

Stoddard went on to lead the Wolfpack baseball team to three ACC titles and was picked by the White Sox in the '75 Draft. He was signed by the Orioles in 1977 and the reliever's 1.71 ERA in '79 helped the O's to an AL pennant. Stoddard got a victory while appearing in four World Series games (Baltimore lost the Series to the "We are Family" Pirates). He did have one historic moment at the plate, though: He became the only player with a World Series RBI in his first Major League at-bat when he singled in the eighth inning of Game 4.

"I pounded one into the ground," Stoddard said. "I don't know if they were expecting a bunt or whatever, but it bounced over [Bill] Madlock's head. Let's say it was the hardest-hit line drive you could imagine."

Stoddard would later get a ring in '83 with the Orioles, even though he didn't appear in any playoff games. He went 41-35 with a 3.95 ERA and 76 saves over 13 big league seasons. He's currently the only person in history to win both an NCAA basketball championship and World Series title.

Kenny Lofton

Lofton was a backup point guard to current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr at Arizona during their march to the Final Four in 1988. He reached the Fall Classic twice, once with Cleveland in 1995 and later with the Giants in 2002.

"In high school, he was a full-fledged basketball player, a damn good one, too," Fabian said.

Unlike Stoddard, who excelled more at baseball in his teenage years, Lofton was a better basketball player in high school. Baseball was more of an afterthought.

One great story was when East Washington's basketball team was taking on rival Gary West, and the team couldn't stop one of West's best players, Tim McCallister.

"I said, 'Put in Kenny, see what he does,'" Kounelis said. "[Kenny] got on him so bad that McCallister wanted to fight him. And then they called a timeout and Kenny went right with him into the huddle. Because we told him whatever gum he's chewing, you tell us what gum he's chewing. And that's how he started with us."

"When Kenny was a senior, we played them in the championship game of the sectional," Fabian told me. "It went to double overtime and down the stretch, he made all the plays. He was real good."

Lofton was Washington's leading scorer and assist man, and when I asked Fabian about Lofton's dunking abilities, he laughed.

"Oh, oh yeah. No problem with that."

"He could jump out of a gym," Kounelis said. "He was just a bundle of energy, he never stopped. Full-tilt all the time."

Lofton accepted a full scholarship to play basketball at the University of Arizona under Lute Olson. He backed up Kerr on the '88 team that reached the Final Four, wowing teammates with his leaping abilities and leaving the school as the all-time steals leader.

He didn't play baseball until his junior year at Arizona and barely registered any at-bats, but he impressed scouts with his speed. His baseball skills were there in high school, too, even though basketball was his stronger sport at the time.

"Kenny was an outfielder," Fabian said. "He played center field and all you needed was another outfielder. He covered so much ground out there. He covered left-center to right-center and caught everything that was hit to him."

Kounelis, who had been watching Lofton excel at sports since his elementary school days, thought Lofton had a great future on the diamond. His size was a detriment to him continuing on to the NBA.

"Baseball, he was a blur," Kounelis told me. "He would mess with the pitcher. I mean, it was a comedy. You knew once he got on, he'd be on third base in no time."

The Astros drafted Lofton in 1988, brought him up in 1991 and then traded him to the Indians -- favoring young outfielder Steve Finley over the rookie. Lofton said at the time, "I know that they gave up on me and I'm glad they did. One man's trash is another man's treasure."

And Lofton would be a treasure for his 17 big league seasons. He was a crucial part of Cleveland's World Series run in '95, hitting .458 with two triples in the ALCS. He also hit .290 in the Fall Classic with the Giants in '02 -- stealing three bases. His 622 steals, 2,428 hits and .299/.372/.423 slash line didn't get him into the Hall of Fame, but many believe it should have or will get him to Cooperstown through the Eras Committees. He was also able to put those excellent basketball abilities to good use on the baseball field.


"It was a great time, back when Stoddard and Kenny played," Fabian said. "When Roosevelt and Washington got together, there used to be a buzz in this city. It was such a rivalry. The city was divided in half. ... It was a great time."

Kounelis, and everybody in the city, knew the two stars were going places.

"In baseball, we knew that Stoddard had a shot," Kounelis recalled. "The people that knew [Kenny], the people that watched him, they knew that baseball was somewhere where he'd make a living. Maybe a base-stealer, maybe a defensive replacement. I don't know if anybody knew he was gonna hit like he did. He was almost a .300 hitter."

Fabian told me that Stoddard, who's currently the pitching coach at North Central College in Illinois, comes back to visit the town every so often. He's willing to help out his alma mater -- now merged with Roosevelt High -- whenever he can. Lofton, who has the local Little League field named after him, visits local schools and donates money where needed.

"One of the best, man," Kounelis said.