Former University of Colorado great and Major League Baseball All-Star John Stearns has died.
Stearns had a long battle with cancer and died Thursday in Denver, according to reports. He was 71.
Born and raised in Denver, Stearns was a multi-sport star at Thomas Jefferson High School. He then went on to a sensational career at CU on the football field and baseball diamond and was inducted into the CU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.
As a senior in 1972, Stearns earned first-team All-Big Eight honors in football was named the team MVP. He was known as a hard hitter, earning the nickname “Bad Dude.”
Stearns still has the CU career record for interceptions, with 16. From 1970-72, Stearns racked up 194 tackles and was also the Buffs’ primary punter. He helped CU get to three bowl games in those three years, including a 10-2 campaign in 1971.
In baseball, Stearns was an All-American catcher as a senior in 1973, leading the NCAA in home runs (15). He was also the Big Eight Conference batting champion as a junior in 1972, hitting .492.
For his career, Stearns hit .366 with 137 runs, 26 home runs, 101 RBI and 48 steals with the Buffs.
“John Stearns was one of the greatest and most intense competitors that I had the privilege to play with,” CU football teammate John Stavely said. “He had complete confidence and was unwavering in what he was going to do to win. One of the greatest examples was in the 1971 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston when he was set to punt with our backs to the end zone, and instead of kicking the ball he saw the opportunity to run, and darn if he didn’t make a first down. He holds the all-time record for interceptions by a Buff, but he was also a fierce tackler. It was so great to see him and spend time with him last year at the Living Legends festivities, and I was looking forward to see him again at the festivities next weekend. He was a warrior and a great Buff. He will be missed.”
In 1973, Stearns was selected by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in the 17th round of the draft. Just two months later, however, he was the No. 2 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, by the Philadelphia Phillies, and focused on baseball.
After two seasons in the minor leagues, Stearns made his major league debut with the Phillies on Sept. 22, 1974. He went 1-for-2 at the plate, but that would be his only game with the team.
Following the 1974 season, Stearns was traded to the New York Mets, where he would play for 10 seasons, from 1975-84. Playing 809 games with the Mets, he hit .260 with 46 home runs and 312 RBIs. He also stole 25 bases in 1978, a National League record for a catcher at the time.
Stearns was a four-time All-Star (1977, 1979, 1980 and 1982) and, according to a report, played in the Mets’ Old Timers Day game at Citi Field in New York three weeks ago. He was also at Folsom Field two weeks ago to honor former teammate Cliff Branch, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After his playing career, Stearns spent most of his time coaching and scouting in the major leagues, for the Mets, Phillies, Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners. He managed for several years at the Triple-A and Double-A levels.
In addition to being in the CU Athletics Hall of Fame, Stearns was enshrined in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
“No one played the game with more spirit or determination than John Stearns,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said in a statement. “He literally willed himself to attend Old Timers’ Day last month so he could visit friends and old teammates. Despite his illness, he even managed to step into the batting cage to take a few swings. His nickname, ‘Bad Dude’ couldn’t have been more appropriate. A four-time All-Star, John was one of the most complete catchers in Mets history. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.”
BuffZone wire services contributed to this report.