Minor League History: Kurt Russell Makes Professional Debut

We may know him best as an actor, but Kurt Russell was a pretty good minor league ballplayer. On this day in 1971, he made his professional debut.

Typically, when one thinks of Kurt Russell, one thinks of him as an actor. The son of Bing Russell, an actor himself, Russell began acting at 11 years old. In fact, the last words that Walt Disney ever wrote down before being cryogenically frozen were “Kurt Russell.” He certainly made a tremendous impression as an actor during his youth, and seemed to have his career path already determined.

Instead, it turned out that Russell would follow in his father’s footsteps in more ways than one. Just as Bing Russell had a brief minor league career playing for the Carrollton Hornets of the Georgia-Alabama League, which were a part of the Yankees organization. On this day in 1971, Kurt Russell made his minor league debut, playing second base for the Bend Rainbows, then a part of the Angels system, in the Northwest League.

Russell had quite the debut. He finished with two hits, a single and a double, along with two steals, in his first professional action. He would play in 51 games that year, producing a .285/.385/.363 batting line, hitting 11 doubles and drawing 29 walks, making the Northwest League All Star Team. Russell appeared set to become a legitimate prospect.

The following year, Russell continued to produce when he played. He appeared in 29 games, with a solid .325/.389/.377 batting line. That performance earned Russell a promotion to AA in 1973, where he had a .563/.588/.938 batting line with three doubles and a homer for the El Paso Sun Kings through six games.

Unfortunately, just when his baseball star was rising, disaster struck. While Russell was turning a double play, the opposing baserunner collided with him. He landed awkwardly, tearing the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. While he would end up making a few appearances as the designated hitter for the Portland Mavericks, an independent team owned by his father, Russell’s professional career was done.

Although his baseball career came to an unexpected end, Russell was still successful overall. He starred in such films as The Hateful Eight, Backdraft, Tombstone, and The Thing. He has remained involved in the game in other ways as well, with his appearance in the documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, which was about his father and the Portland Mavericks. The athletic bloodlines did not end with him either, as his nephew Matt Franco enjoyed an eight year major league career before spending three years in Japan.

Kurt Russell could have had an excellent baseball career if not for that injury. If his debut was to be any indication, the switch hitting second baseman had a chance to be a star on the diamond as well.

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