Detroit Tigers and the NBA Draft

Jun 21, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Major League Baseball Player Association executive director Tony Clark speaks during a presentation at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 21, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Major League Baseball Player Association executive director Tony Clark speaks during a presentation at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

The NBA Draft is tonight, so what better time for a story that makes tenuous basketball connections to the Detroit Tigers?

Earlier today the Detroit Tigers tweeted out one of their jersey swaps, this time with the Detroit Pistons:

That blue Tigers jersey looks sharp, if a bit too Cubbish, but once again the Tigers’ road grays make everything look better. All four teams in Detroit should probably just wear the Old English D.

In any event, we thought it might be fun to look for Detroit Tigers players who, if baseball didn’t work out, could’ve had a solid career on the hardwood.

We did this a few weeks back with former Tigers who also played college football, but the basketball and baseball crossover is a bit more rare.

There are some cases, of course. Current Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge played both baseball and basketball at the highest level. Michael Jordan famously gave it a try. And current Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton was a 4th-round pick in the MLB Draft as a pitcher in 2014.

There’s never been an NBA player who also suited up for the Detroit Tigers, but there are a few interesting what ifs. Let’s get to it.

Tony Clark

As the current executive director of the MLB Players Association, former Detroit Tigers first-round pick Tony Clark has spent a fair amount of time getting dunked on by the owners. But there was a time when he was the one doing the dunking. Standing at 6’8, Clark was one of the tallest position players in MLB history, and in high school he was an outstanding basketball player.

Clark averaged more than 40 points per game as a senior, and though he joined the Detroit Tigers organization right out of high school, he also played college basketball at Arizona and San Diego State. He was solid for the Aztecs, averaging 11.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and shooting over 36% from behind the three-point line in more than 30 minutes per game. He wasn’t setting the world on fire, but with his size and shooting touch, it’s not crazy to imagine him getting some attention from the NBA if he had simply focused on basketball.

Curtis Pride

A teammate of Tony Clark, and truly one of the great feel-good stories in baseball history, Curtis Pride became the first deaf MLB player in nearly 40 years when he made his debut for the Montreal Expos in 1993. He was mostly a pinch hitter over the next two seasons, but things turned around for him when he signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1996. Pride saw action in 95 games, hitting a terrific .300 with 10 home runs and 11 steals in 267 at-bats. He seemed like a building block for the future, but in 1997 Pride saw his playing time absorbed by Phil Nevin, Bubba Trammell, and Juan Encarnacion.

Like Clark, Curtis Pride was drafted out of high-school and played minor-league baseball while attending college. Pride received a full scholarship to the College of William & Mary, where he played point guard for four seasons. He didn’t put up particularly strong statistics, averaging just 5.6 points and 3.1 assists in his college basketball career, but that’s still pretty darn impressive. And Pride insists his best sport was actually soccer, where he competed for Team USA as a teenager.

Matt Manning

One of the Detroit Tigers’ top prospects, and a lock to be added to their 40-man roster very soon, Matt Manning once had a promising career ahead of him as a basketball player, too. Manning’s father Rich was a 6’11 Forward/Center who played college basketball at Syracuse and Washington. He was a 2nd round pick of the Atlanta Hawks in 1993, and he saw time in 55 NBA games before heading overseas to play in Turkey and Lebanon.

Matt Manning doesn’t quite have his father’s height, but at 6’6 with good athleticism and a nice shot, he was a legitimate Division I college basketball recruit as a shooting guard. He averaged 19.7 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 35% from three as a senior, and he was set to attend Loyola Marymount University as both a baseball and basketball player. He probably wouldn’t have made it to the NBA, but the Detroit Tigers ended the possibility altogether when they gave him $3.5 million as the 9th overall pick in 2016. Perhaps if MTV brings back the Rock N’ Jock B-Ball Jam we could see Manning on the basketball court again, but Tigers fans would probably settle for success on the diamond at Comerica Park.