by Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director
INA, Ill. - No apparent recruiting violations here.
Chad Stombaugh was not heavily recruited out of Quincy High School, despite the fact the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder could catch, play first base or the outfield and drove in runs at a phenomenal rate of 41 in 34 games as a senior. Missouri was one of the few schools to show much interest.
It was more of the same in his fourth year with the local American Legion team, when Rend Lake College Coach Paul Evans “shows up out of the blue for a game,” according to Stombaugh, is impressed by what he sees and is ready to sign the prospect on the spot. Evans’ Warriors were coming off a school-record 82-26 campaign in 1985-86, which included a Great Rivers Athletic Conference title (25-3), Section IV crown, the school’s first Region XXIV championship and a No. 20 national ranking in the final Juco poll.
Hold on, say the Stombaughs. We would like to talk this over and visit the downstate campus before making that decision.
After touring the Ina campus and the baseball facilities, the coach and his guests headed for Mt. Vernon, where the young recruit would most likely be living in an apartment.
A recent call from Mt. Vernon informing Stombaugh he had been elected to the RLC Sports Hall of Fame triggered thoughts of that visit. “Afterward, he took us to a fast-food roast beef restaurant; if I remember correctly, it was called Rax. I hadn’t thought about that at all, until after I got the call.
“You know, he got off pretty cheap. I bet the bill for that meal for all of us cost him $20 tops, no more,” Stombaugh could enjoy the laugh 24 years later.
Nobody should question the inclusion of this RBI Machine and longtime Home Run record-setter in the Hall of Fame. The only question might be: Why did it take so long?
The line-drive hitter produced game-winning runs batted in his first two GRAC games as a freshman that fall and continued to impress throughout his Warrior career, capped by National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Second-Team All-America honors.
The two-time All-GRAC pick was named “Most Valuable Player” as a sophomore after leading the champions to a 20-7 league mark, 69-31 overall (second-most in team history).
No. 17 on your scorecard left with RLC records for home runs and RBIs in a season – 17 and 113, respectively, as a sophomore – and career – 27 and 200 (in 182 games) – as well as with his .375 career batting average (221-589). His single-season HR mark beat the previous best by four and withstood the test of time for 14 seasons; he shattered the old RBI standard by 17.
The career batting average was topped two years later, but the other records still stand 22 years later.
“I took pride in my ability to drive in runs and being a pretty good all-around hitter,” Stombaugh said. “I was more of a line-drive, gap hitter who really didn’t try to hit home runs. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college when I could try to pick my pitch and drive the ball more. Other than that, it wasn’t something I was concerned about. If it happened to go out of the park, great.”
“I always worked on my defense, also. I think I was always pretty solid behind the plate and throwing out runners,” he added.
“C.J.” was expecting to share catching duties the first year with veteran Brian Etter, but rotator cuff problems for the latter meant even more time behind the plate for the rookie, instead of rotating between first and D.H. His bat, his defense – he threw out 12 of 17 basestealers in the first 1 1/2 seasons – and his leadership kept him there.
He batted .344 overall (97-282) as a freshman for a 50-38 squad and league runner-up. He followed that up with a .425 Fall 1987 batting average, .394 in the spring for a combined .404 (124-307).
Other career statistics – 60 runs scored (despite few early in his career due to courtesy runners for the catcher), 39 doubles, 10 triples, 65 bases on balls, 78 strikeouts, 14 sacrifice flies and nine stolen bases in as many attempts. He boasted a .437 career on-base percentage and a .613 slugging percentage with 361 total bases.
Like his Home Run record successor, 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee Mike Breyman (2000-02), Stombaugh signed a national letter-of-intent with the University of Kentucky, but he never made it there. The Kansas City Royals made him a 26th Round Draft Pick and signed him.
Stombaugh played only briefly in rookie ball before moving up to High-A ball, also in the same complex in Haines City, FL. By Year Two, he was on the Royals 40-man roster and promoted to AA
Memphis. But a knee injury ended any dreams he may have had about reaching the bigs before the conclusion of spring training his third season. Only the White Sox offered a brief tryout after that.
Today, Stombaugh is Vice President of Sales for SBPI of St. Louis, a manufacturer of print finishing equipment. He has been married to wife Lori for 13 years and has a stepson, Tom Reed, who is a student at the University of South Florida.
His passion now is golf. He is a scratch golfer, still gets to enjoy playing with his father, Dwayne, on a regular basis, and has only a passive interest in baseball. He watches the College World Series some, “but I probably haven’t been to more than five Cardinal games in the 15 years I have lived in St. Louis."
He has driven by the RLC campus a couple of times on business but has ever had time to stop since his playing days. But he is looking forward to returning to his old stomping grounds, which he speaks of with fondness.
“I was shocked when Wayne Arnold called with news about the Hall of Fame,” he said. “My two years at Rend Lake College were two of the best years of my life. The overall atmosphere . . . my teammates, including a variety of crazy characters . . . and two of the best coaches I could have ever played for in ‘Lump’ (Evans) and Jim McGuire.
“If you asked me for more than a couple of names of my coaches in pro ball, I probably couldn’t name any. But those two guys at RLC were the best. Of all the ball coaches I ever played for, the ones I have the fondest memories of are ‘Lump’ and Jimmy.”
Why? “It was just their coaching philosophies, their laid-back styles. That was the best baseball of my life. They knew when to get serious, but they also made it fun and enjoyable.”
Whether they were included among the “crazy characters” or were simply some of his best friends on the team, Stombaugh mentioned the likes of the two Warrior catalysts, All-GRAC teammate Tony Kestranek, who would go on to play second base for Austin Peay State University, and outfielder/shortstop Lawrence “Pops” Moore, a Cincinnati Reds signee, and another infielder, Bobby Neff, who was All-Region Tourney for the record-setting gang the previous year and a holdover.
Kestranek and Moore scored 115 and 113 runs, respectively, in 101 games during 1987-88, no doubt many of them thanks to Stombaugh’s 124 hits and 113 RBIs.
A lot of pitchers and other teammates owe a tip of their baseball caps to the new, deserving Hall of Famer, as do Evans and McGuire, who would succeed Evans as Head Coach in 1988-89. Evans has been Pitching Coach/Associate Head Coach at NCAA Division I Missouri State (née Southwest Missouri State) since leaving RLC. McGuire left for Middle Tennessee State, where he is now Associate Head Coach, in 1992.