In 1953, Jerry Lumpe faced the ultimate decision for a two-sport athlete.
His college basketball team, today known as Missouri State, had advanced to the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City.
But Lumpe also was a standout baseball infielder who had signed a contract with the New York Yankees and months earlier agreed to report in March to spring training in Florida.
So he did, and everything worked out. The Bears went on to their second straight NAIA title, and Lumpe went on to a 12-year major-league career that included a World Series ring and an All-Star appearance.
Lumpe died Friday in Springfield. He was 81.
His Kansas City connection was strong. In addition to competing in the 1952 and 1953 NAIA Tournaments, Lumpe was traded from the defending World Series champion Yankees to the Kansas City Athletics in May 1959, and became one of the most productive players in the franchise’s 13 years here.
Lumpe spent 41/2 seasons with the A’s and was the team leader in career hits and runs scored. In his best season, 1962, Lumpe hit .301 with a career-high 83 RBI and drew MVP votes.
After the 1963 season, Lumpe was part of a five-player deal with the Tigers, who sent Rocky Colavito to Kansas City. Lumpe made the All-Star team in 1964.
“I was happy to go to Kansas City,” Lumpe told The Star in 1987. “And I didn’t want to leave.”
In Kansas City — and at Southwest Missouri State — Lumpe was a teammate of Norm Siebern’s, who like Lumpe, had to cut short basketball season.
It took five games to reach the NAIA final, and Lumpe played in three before leaving. In the fourth, the Bears faced Indiana State and because of foul trouble played the final three minutes of a tight game with four players on the floor.
“I was really glad to hear we had won,” Lumpe said. “If we hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to back to Springfield.