NU’s Stoddard no stranger to titles

Danny Daly

There have been 71 winners of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament since its inception in 1939 and 69 teams crowned World Series champions during that time span.

Only one player holds the distinction of winning one of each: Northwestern pitching coach Tim Stoddard.

Stoddard was the starting power forward for the 1973-74 North Carolina State team that won it all, and he came out of the bullpen for the Baltimore Orioles in their 1983 title season.

For the past 16 years, he has served alongside manager Paul Stevens in the Wildcats’ dugout.

“Anybody who can play top-of-the-line college basketball and make it to the major leagues and pitch as well as Tim pitched at many different stops is a wonderful athlete,” said current Chicago White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone, who was Stoddard’s teammate for three seasons with the Orioles.

To win the national championship, N.C. State had to knock off UCLA, which had won the last seven NCAA tournaments. The Bruins were led by star center Bill Walton, and Stoddard was responsible for keeping him in check.

“I was big for that type of player,” said the 6-foot-7 Stoddard. “I just used my strength to really try to keep him under control as much as I could. I tried to muscle him around.”

The Bruins handed the Wolfpack their only loss in the regular season, but Stoddard’s team exacted revenge in the Final Four, ending the seven-year title streak with an 80-77 double-overtime win to advance to the finals.

Stoddard’s defense on Walton in the second half helped N.C. State stay in the game. But he ultimately chose baseball over basketball, figuring he would have a better chance of reaching the majors.

“I thought if I ever got to the professional level, I’d have a better and a longer career in baseball,” Stoddard said.

The Chicago White Sox signed Stoddard out of college in 1975, but he did not establish himself in pro ball until four years later at 26 years old. By then, the Baltimore Orioles had picked him up and turned the occasional minor league starter into a reliever.

Despite his success in the rotation, the new role was more ideal for the way Stoddard pitched.

“It was probably better suited for me,” Stoddard said. “I had four pitches, but I was a fastball-slider guy more than anything else. Realistically, it was a better scenario for me to be a bullpen guy, where I can go two or three days in a row. Some guys can’t do that.”

Stoddard’s best seasons were his first two with the Orioles. Over that period, he had a 2.19 ERA in 144 innings and won the fourth game of the 1979 World Series to give Baltimore a 3-1 lead. Pittsburgh stormed back to win the next three games, denying Stoddard a World Series ring for the time being.

Unlike today’s bullpen model with a designated closer to pitch the ninth inning, the Orioles chose one by committee. The righty Stoddard and southpaw Tippy Martinez formed a very successful combination in the late innings.

Stone won the Cy Young award in 1980 with a 25-7 record. He gives a lot of the credit to Stoddard and Martinez, who helped close out every game he left with a lead, except his final start of the season.

“We had a remarkable bullpen,” Stone said. “Without those guys, I could have never won those 25 games. Those were some great teams, and Tim was an integral part.”

Stoddard’s last year in Baltimore was 1983, which ended in a World Series victory. He played for four teams in six seasons after that, closing out his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1989.

Throughout the course of his career, Stoddard played for six World Series-winning managers, including longtime Orioles’ skipper Earl Weaver. Now in the Hall of Fame, Weaver was ahead of his time with statistical analysis.

“Today they’ve got Stats, Inc. and all this kind of stuff,” Stoddard said. “(Weaver) was the guy who started all of that, but he did his on a three-by-five notecard. He was a big platoon guy.”

One of the teams Stoddard played for at the end of his career was the New York Yankees, meaning that famously volatile owner George Steinbrenner was writing his paychecks.

But Stoddard never had any run-ins with “The Boss.”

“George was a guy who, if you did what he hired you to do, didn’t say a whole lot to you,” Stoddard said. “I always went on the basis that if he wasn’t yelling at me, I was doing OK.”

Stoddard might not be enshrined in Cooperstown, but throughout his career, he had success against some players who are. Perhaps none struggled as much with the tall reliever as slugger Reggie Jackson, who went 0-for-9 lifetime against Stoddard.

“(I was) probably lucky as much as anything,” Stoddard said. “(Jackson) had a spot that, if you threw the ball there, he’d hit it a mile, and if you threw it four inches from there, he couldn’t hit it. He was a guy that scared you every time he went up there.”

After his playing career ended, Stoddard had a cameo in the 1993 baseball movie “Rookie of the Year.” Coincidentally, it was on the set of that movie that Stoddard reconnected with Stevens, who also had a small role.

In the movie, Stoddard is a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The protagonist plays for the Chicago Cubs, the team the Dodgers are facing, and he heckles Stoddard with chants of, “Pitcher’s got a big butt!”

That performance might overshadow any game Stoddard pitched in his 12-year career. And that does not bother him at all.

“That was a great time,” Stoddard said. “As my kids have grown, you used to be Tim Stoddard, then you used to be your kids’ dad and then I was the guy with the big butt. There are probably more kids in today’s world who know me for that than they do pitching.”

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