People who typecast baseball players have a problem when they encounter junior pitcher Scott Bankhead and sophomore catcher B.J. Surhoff of North Carolina. At 5'10", Bankhead is too short to be an overpowering pitcher. With a single-season school-record 32 stolen bases, Surhoff, whose given name is William James, is too fast to be behind the plate. But the pair has defied convention to lead the Tar Heels to a 42-9 record, a No. 3 ranking and high expectations' for the upcoming College World Series.
Bankhead, 20, hasn't lost a game in the last two years and, if scouts can overcome a tendency to dismiss a flamethrower of modest height as a contradiction in terms, he will go in the first round of the amateur draft next month.
Surhoff, 19, is hitting .416 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs. A lefthanded hitting catcher with a strong arm as well as all that speed, he could be the first player taken in next year's draft.
It isn't surprising that North Carolina fans have embraced the two. After all, they're the best collegiate battery in the country. But the Tar Heels, who won their third straight ACC title last month, have made a name for themselves in other unconventional ways, employing, for instance, tricky plays like delayed double steals and suicide squeezes with power hitters at the plate.
Bankhead and Surhoff could become the first batterymates ever named first-team All-America in the same year. They could also become Olympic teammates: Both are on the 44-man demonstration-team roster that will be cut to 25 by June 1 and to 20 by July 15. Just now, however, leading Carolina to its first title is goal No. 1.
Surhoff, who hit .429 on the bronze medal-winning '83 Pan Am team, says, "Scott's as good or better than all the pitchers I played with last year." Bank-head says of Surhoff, "A couple of years down the road it might be scary what he'll be able to do."
As for their working relationship, Bankhead says, "Early on, B.J. can sense what's going to be your best pitch. Nine out of 10 times he flashes the pitch I want to throw."
Three years ago the Tar Heels lost the ACC title in their final game of the tournament for the second straight season. Coach Mike Roberts decided he needed more help on the mound and signed seven pitchers. The last one was Bankhead, who had played for a mediocre team at Reidsville ( N.C.) High School.
Bankhead was 4-3 as a freshman, but after developing a slider he zoomed to 9-0. This year he has added a split-fingered change to a fastball that is consistently clocked at 87 to 88 mph. He's 10-0 with a 1.67 ERA. In 81 innings he has struck out 107 and given up 53 hits and 24 walks. His strongest performance came against Maryland on April 20, when he tied an ACC tournament record with 14 Ks in a rain-shortened six-inning stint.
Bankhead has gone from 16th to ninth in Baseball America's list of collegiate draft prospects this year. At the press conference in which Michael Jordan announced that next season he would be playing for NBA green rather than North Carolina blue, Dean Smith (formerly the Air Force Academy baseball coach, by the way) attempted to deflect criticism by saying, "Pretty soon the baseball team is going to lose a great player in Scott Bank-head, who's also a junior, and no one will say anything."