If you've read more than one or two stories about the making of "Miracle," then you probably know that Kurt Russell, who plays Herb Brooks in the movie, was a minor-league ballplayer.
If you're a baseball fan, you probably know that the minor leagues are home to a wide range of talent, which take in fresh-faced 18-year-olds just out of high school but also include former and future Major League All-Stars.
|By The Numbers
|Kurt Russell's minor-league career from 1971-1973:
Team: Bend Rainbows
Stats: Batted .285 with 1 HR, 14 RBI and 30 runs scored in 179 at-bats.
Team: Walla Walla Islanders
Stats: Batted .325 with 14 RBI and 12 runs scored in 77 at-bats.
Team: El Paso Sun Kings
Stats: Batted .563 with one HR, four RBI and four runs scored in 16 at-bats.
Team: Portland Mavericks
Stats: Batted .229 with nine RBI and 16 runs scored in 83 at-bats.
So where did Kurt Russell fit in? How good was he?
Russell was 20 years old when he began his first season in the minors with the Class A Bend Rainbows of the Northwest League in 1971. At the time, he was already a Hollywood success, having appeared in several TV series and 10 movies. He was picked up by the Rainbows after having been scouted by the Cardinals, Twins and Giants.
According to The Sporting News, this wasn't because of a lack of talent, but because they didn't want to sign a part-time player. His father, Bing, used his connections to get Russell a spot on the Rainbows, at that time a farm club of the Pacific Coast League Hawaii franchise.
Two months before his debut on June 23, his latest flick, "The Barefoot Executive," came out. He reported late to the Rainbows, missing spring training because he was filming "Now You See Him, Now You Don't." He had also been in "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," a popular 1969 Disney movie. There was little doubt he would have a lucrative TV and movie career.
Russell's first minor league season was his most prolific. As a switch-hitter, he played in 51 games, hitting .285 with one HR and 14 RBI in 179 at bats. Things didn't go as well for him in the field, though -- he committed 22 errors for a terrible .914 fielding percentage. Overall, though, he was considered one of the better players in the league, being named to the All-Star team.
In 1972, playing for the Walla Walla Islanders, he appeared in only 29 games, but hit .325 in 77 at bats with 14 RBI. His fielding improved tremendously (in 14 games at second, he committed only one error).
Orioles third-base coach Tom Trebelhorn played with Russell those two seasons.
"We were all limited or we wouldn't have been there," he said in a phone interview. "Kurt could hit -- that was strength. He was a switch hitter and had very good bat accuracy -- he could put the bat on the ball."
Russell moved up to the Texas League in 1973, playing for the El Paso Sun Kings in the Texas League. In his "10 Burning Questions"
interview, Russell says he was "leading the Texas League in hitting" when he got hurt. "Sandy Alomar was hitting .138, and I was in the middle of a pretty good year. I made the All-Star team, and I was a second baseman who could turn the double play and hit."
Kurt Russell had a game plan in the movie "Miracle," but what about on the diamond?
The Sporting News reported on Russell's Texas League debut in its May 5, 1973 issue. "Kurt never played higher than Class A ball until he was optioned to El Paso," wrote Bob Ingram. "It's quite a coincidence that Bing Russell is president of the El Paso club and part owner. It's safe to say that Bing, a former player in the Yankee and Cub organizations, may have pulled a string or two to get his son located with the El Paso Sun Kings."
TSN reported Russell's rotator cuff injury in early June. At the time, in a utility role, he was hitting .586, which would have led the Texas League by a few hundred points if he had played a whole lot more. Before the injury ended his Texas League career, he played in only six games, going 9-for-16 with one HR and four RBI.
Russell was supposed to return to the Sun Kings in July, but didn't. Instead, he again played for a team owned by his father, the brand new Portland Mavericks. He was back in the Northwest League, but in an unusual situation. His father made him VP of the club, and he became the only active pro player to also be an executive. Apparently, being a movie star and front office man took a toll on his batting skills. With the Mavericks, he hit .229 with nine RBI in 83 at bats.
"He was a far better thespian than baseball player," said Trebelhorn. "But he was a great teammate, one of the guys, terrific player to play with. He didn't Hollywood anyone.
"The fact that he played meant he was pretty darned good. He was a very talented hitter, he could swing the bat. The rest of his game suffered from the fact he couldn't devote enough time to it."