From Ivy League to the Majors

May 30, 2014
Bob Tufts pitched for the Giants and the Royals after a career at Princeton. (NBHOF Library)

While Bob Tufts’ Ivy League education may have made him unique among his big league teammates, he fit in perfectly with the crowd assembled for this week’s 26th Annual Symposium on Baseball and American Culture held at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The three-day event, which concluded Friday, is co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Within the almost 200 registered reserachers, a significant percentage come from positions of higher education at colleges and universities from around the country. With the Symposium’s more than 60 presentations examining the impact of baseball on American culture from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives, Tufts took part as a moderator for a Thursday afternoon panel entitled “Baseball as a Tool for Teaching.”

The 58-year-old Tufts, a Massachusetts native, was a 6-foot-5 southpaw pitcher for parts of three seasons with the San Francisco Giants (1981-82) and Kansas City Royals (1983), appearing in 27 career games while compiling a 2-0 record, two saves and a 4.71 ERA. A top prospect who won 16 minor league games in 1978, Tufts’ path to professional baseball was travelled by only a few, though, as he’s one of only 29 former Princeton University athletes to play in the big leagues.  

“I was technically an athletic admit although I was president of the National Honor Society. But I went to Princeton just to get a good education,” Tufts recalled. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to go, I’m going to play, I’m hoping to like it, but I’m not going to play after my senior year. By 1977, I’m done with baseball.’”

But sometimes plans change, and Tufts was drafted by the Giants in the 12th round of the 1977 MLB Draft.

“I played very well my sophomore year at Princeton, got to play on the Cape, but I played in the Atlantic Coast Baseball League the next summer and did exceedingly well. And my senior year I started off really hot, and scouts knew me from my brother, who had signed with the Cubs. I did well, I signed with the Giants, and got a chance.

“I’d been asked by people during my senior year, ‘If we draft you will you sign?’” That was probably a vestige of Ivy League players in the past who would basically say, ‘Thanks, I’m going to a bank training program.’ I told them, ‘You pick me, I’ll go.’”

Tufts admits in his early years he was a curiosity due to his education background.

“It was funny,” Tufts said, “because I got some attention early: Here’s a guy who is an Ivy Leaguer who is a pitcher as opposed to here’s a guy who is a good pitcher who happens to be from the Ivy League. And fortunately I started off well enough and I was able to flip that around.”

Unfortunately for Tufts, an injury in 1979 derailed what could have been a promising baseball career.

“After a really good year of playing Double-A in Shreveport, I hurt my arm the first time, pitched through it, still was an All-Star that year, but I did damage to it,” he said. “Eventually, by the time I made the major leagues, my arm was pretty much shredded and I didn’t know it. But I faked my way through. I played with the Giants in ’81 after the strike and then got traded to the Royals in ’82 but there was nothing left of my arm.”

With his professional baseball career over at the age of 27, Tufts went back to school. After getting his MBA at Columbia University, he worked on Wall Street for 20 years. But with job insecurity and health issues arising around 2007, he again got the academic bug.

After attending Manhattanville College in their graduate sports management program, he began teaching at Yeshiva University a number of economic courses plus a sports marketing management course. Eventually, he would add New York University to the mix, teaching entrepreneurship.

On Thursday, he officially put Cooperstown on his resume.

“Are there better places to be this time of year?” said Tufts during a Thursday morning break in the action. “No there aren’t.” 

Bill Francis is a Library Associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum