Archive for February, 2010

Taking on the Babe

February 28, 2010

It was fascinating to watch Barry Bonds in the first five or so years of the 21st Century. Forgetting for a minute about steroids, and hat sizes, and all those questions, focus for a moment on his quest to best Babe Ruth. He seems, at least to me, to have had a greater desire to top Ruth than he did to top Aaron. He might tell you different, but that’s at least my perception. Well, it was never in the cards for him to best Ruth, because he wasn’t taking on one man, he was taking on two: Babe Ruth and BABE RUTH!!!!! (to be said in deep stentorian tones, with awe, slowly, and deeply–Think James Earl Jones on a really good day).

Babe Ruth the baseball player was easy for Bonds to take on. There were numbers he could attack. There were 714 home runs, there was a slugging percentage, there were walks, there were runs, there were total bases. There were all those numbers and Bonds could attack them and either win or lose. You can take the two men, line their numbers up side by side and decide it Bonds came out on top. You can do that with or without the steroids issue as you desire and make your own conclusion.

But Bonds could never top BABE RUTH!!!!! (said in the same tones as before). You see BABE RUTH!!!!! (James Earl Jones again) isn’t a person, he’s a myth and you can’t top myths. He is Seigfried slaying Fafnir. He is Achilles at the gates of Troy.  He is standing at home plate in the World Series pointing to center field and parking the next pitch there. He is able to tell a sick kid he’ll hit a home run for the kid the that day and then do so. BABE RUTH!!!!! ( for a change, imagine Charlton Heston’s voice here) can hit a home run in Alabama that stops in Louisiana. He can walk into a school and order the principal to shut it down so kids can play ball and the principal will do it. He can play in the first All Star Game and manage to hit the first home run. When the Japanese in World War II want to ridicule Americans it is “Screw Babe Ruth” not FDR. He will sign autographs for kids for hours after a game, free of charge. He can stay up all night with four hookers, down a fifth of gin for breakfast, show up at the ballpark a half hour before the game, wolf down three hotdogs all in one bite, then hit three home runs on two pitches. He can step into a ward full of paralized children and three of them will “take up their bed and walk”  (well, maybe not walk, but at least wiggle their toes). In an age of heroes there is Red Grange and Charles Lindburgh and Jack Dempsey, and then there is (drum roll please) BABE RUTH!!!!! and he is greater than all of them combined. He is all these things and more. Heck, they even make movies about his life. He is  (say it with me now) BABE RUTH!!!!!  and he is next to God himself and in some corners the order is debatable.

And Barry Bonds, well, no matter how good he was he was never going to be BABE RUTH!!!!! (by now you’re getting the hang of how to say this, right?). Bonds wasn’t legendary, he was a ballplayer. They have a word to describe a larger-than-life feat in American sport, not just in baseball. It’s Ruthian. It was never going to become Bondsian. And Bonds never seemed to understand that he might be a heck of a ballplayer (and he was) but he could never be (get ready for it) BABE RUTH!!!!! in any tone of voice.

Old Man Tincup

February 27, 2010

I grew up in a small town, a nice place, but not a place for which I hold a lot of nostalgia. We lived on a major street in the town, but were sort of on the edge of the place. Across the street there was a big old stone house with this great rock wall you could walk on and a wrought iron front gate. At least as a kid it seemed big. When I saw it later as an teen I was stunned at how small it was. Old Man Tincup lived there.

He was gone a lot, but when he came home, usually in the fall and winter, he’d sit out on his front porch if the weather was good. There were a handful of kids in the neighborhood and we’d head over to his place if we saw him. You see, his wife made great cookies and he would tell us all these wonderful stories about when he was a big league pitcher. We sort of half believed him. I mean he talked about being at the World Series against Babe Ruth and playing with Grover Cleveland Alexander and facing Honus Wagner. Well, nobody we knew in our little town was really going to have done anything like that, but the stories were good and I’m a sucker for sugar cookies.

I moved away to a larger town and didn’t get back to the smaller every year. I saw him once or twice after I moved, but eventually lost touch with him. They tore down the house where he lived to put in part of a strip mall and the house where I grew up made way for a service station. I was fairly sure the stories were exaggerations, but they’d been fun, and I’d had a good time listening to him. Eventually I more or less forgot about him.

Then I grew up and found out he was the real deal. I got hold of a baseball encyclopedia of some kind, thumbed through it, and there he was. I remember telling my wife, “Hey, Old Man Tincup really did it.”

Ben Tincup was born in Oklahoma in 1890 (or 1893 or 1894, the sources differ). He was Cherokee and became a big league pitcher in the 19-teens. He pitched for the Phillies in 1914, 1915, and 1918, then pitched in two games in 1928 with the Cubs. He was mostly a reliever, pitching 48 games, starting 18. He won eight, lost 11, and stuck up a career ERA of 3.10. He struck out 127 men in 212 innings while walking 78. He was on the 1915 Phillies World Series team, but didn’t pitch in the series. The Phils lost in five games. I’ve always wanted it to believe it was because Old Man Tincup didn’t pitch.

He was in the minors in 1917, then again in the 1920’s. He’s supposed to have thrown a perfect game in 1917. He never mentioned it; at least not that I recall. In the 1930s he umpired and managed some in the minors, then was a Dodgers coach in 1940. For most of the 1940s and 1950s he was a scout for the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies and did some work as a pitching coach for the Phils minor leagues.  He died in 1980.

I don’t remember all his stories. Like mine I think they got better with age. He was a nice man and the only big leaguer I ever knew.

Home on the Range with Lou Gehrig

February 26, 2010

Occasionally I’ve commented on baseball’s relationship with Hollywood. This time I want to do my Roger Ebert impression and actually review a movie. It’s called Rawhide (not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood TV series of the 1960s) and it stars Lou Gehrig. Yep (and I do mean “yep”, Pardner) that Lou Gehrig.

In 1938 Gehrig made a movie. It’s a western released in April by Principal Productions. It runs 58 minutes and is a standard drug store cowboy/singing cowboy flick with Gehrig thrown in as the token ballplayer. The film is touted for having Gehrig in it, but he has the second role behind Smith Bellew. Bellew was a singing cowboy of the 1930s and 1940s who had a short career that never got above the drug store cowboy stage.

Gehrig has decided to retire from baseball, so the plot informs us (not knowing that was to be tragically true the following year) and goes to live on a ranch in Montana with his sister, played by Evalyn Knapp (She was a blonde who appeared in a number of these kinds of movies in the 1930s and 1940. If you’re a student of them, she’ll look familiar.). There they find the local Ranchers Protective Association is run by a corrupt bunch of thugs led by Arthur Loft with Dick Curtis as his number one hinchman. Curtis in particular will be recognizable as the villain in a number of period westerns as well as the fall guy (literally) in a host of Three Stooges shorts. Si Jenks, a long time comic sidekick, plays the comedic relief role. Bellew is the local honest lawyer (yes, there are some) who falls for Gehrig’s sister. Between the singing, the horses, and the gun play, there’s a plot there somewhere. It’s pretty thin, but also fairly standard for a singing cowboy B movie.

It’s got a lot of holes. For instance Gehrig is seen in New York retiring at the end of the season (October), then the movie ends with a mention of impending spring training (March). So the flick takes place in the winter in Montana. There’s not a lick of snow and the trees are all leafed out. Also the movie shows Gehrig’s sister picking him up in town in a nice car, but then they proceed to ride horses into town from then on. So is this the 1930s or the 1880s? The movie is never sure, sort of like not being sure what time of year is involved.

As an actor Gehrig isn’t too bad. John Wayne in The Searchers and Gary Cooper in High Noon he isn’t, but Gehrig is at least not laughable and actually does a couple of comic scenes pretty well. If he could’ve sung, he could’ve been Gene Autry.

Frankly if I was 10, I’d love this flick. It’s one of those standard short movies that used to show up at Saturday matinees along with a serial, a couple of cartoons, and a dozen ads touting local businesses. If you like this kind of thing, then have at it. And don’t worry, Gehrig gets to swing a bat and toss a ball, well at least a handful of billiard balls in a classic barroom brawl scene.

It’s available from Netflix if you’re a member. Enjoy.

Boston Marathon

February 25, 2010

The longest game in Major League Baseball history, in terms of innings is 26. It occurred on the 1st of May 1920. The kicker? Well, both pitchers hurled complete games.

The Boston Braves squared off against the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) on 1 May 1920. They sent 28 year old righthander Joe Osescher to the mound against Brooklyn’s 29 year old righty Leon Cadore. The game remained scoreless into the 5th inning when Robins catcher Ernie Krueger singled. Two batters later, second baseman Ivy Olsen singled driving home Krueger with the Robins’ run. In the bottom of the 6th right fielder Walt Cruise tripled and came home on an RBI single by third baseman Tony Boeckel. The score was tied. It remained that way for the rest of the day. For 20 innings the two pitchers managed to throw shut out baseball. There were baserunners all over the place, the Robins leaving 11 men on base and the Braves leaving 19, but nobody scored after the bottom of the 6th. It was the era before lights in stadiums, so finally after three hours and 50 minutes, 26 innings, and 25 hits the umpire called the game on account of darkness. It ended a 1-1 tie. For the game Oeschger had ptiched 26 innings, given up one earned run, 10 hits, three walks, and four strike outs . Cadore’s line read 26 innings, one earned run, 15 hits, five walks, eight strikeouts, and the Major League Baseball record of facing 96 batters in a single game.

Among the batters there were some awful box score numbers. Robins shortstop Chuck Ward went 0 for 10, as did Cadore. Braves second baseman Charlie Pick had an even worse day. He was 0 for 11 with two errors. There are slumps that have better numbers.

For the season Oeschger went 15-13 for the Braves who finished 7th in an eight team league, 30 games out of first. The Robins won the pennant (and lost the World Series to Cleveland 5 games to 2 in a best of nine series) with Cadore posting 15 wins and 14 losses. In the series he pitched in two games, taking the loss in game five.

Oeschger pitched until 1925, ironically finishing his career with Brooklyn. He was 82-116 for the career with an ERA of 3.81. walking 651 and striking out 535. He died in 1986.

Cadore pitched into 1924 winning 68 and losing 72. His ERA was 3.14 and he had 289 walks with 445 strikeouts. He died in 1958.

For the year of 1920 Oeschger pitched 299 innings. Cadore in 1920 managed 254 innings pitched. For both, 26 came on the same day. That’s 9.7% of Oeschger’s innings and 10.2 % of Cadore’s. No one, pitching more than a handful of innings, has ever topped that total for a single game. My guess is that no one ever will.

The First Great Reliever

February 24, 2010

Firpo Marberry

This is the story of Firpo Marberry. He wasn’t the first reliever. As far back as the National Association (1871-75) pitchers failed to complete games and relievers were employed. But as a rule relievers weren’t specialists, they didn’t make careers coming out of the bullpen. Some, like Carl Mays or Dave Danforth, had a year or so in relief then went on to be a starter, while others were older guys just hanging on. But Marberry came to the Major Leagues as a reliever and was so good at it he set records.

Fred Marberry was from Texas. After a couple of years in the minors, he got to the big leagues in late 1923 with the Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins). In some ways it was a perfect place to create a relief specialist. The Senators’ main pitcher, Walter Johnson, was aging (35). Number two pitcher, George Mogridge, was only a year younger (remember this is 1923 when careers are generally shorter) and most of the rest of the staff was pretty mediocre with high ERA’s, poor walk to strikeout ratios, and all four guys who started more than 30 games gave up more hits than they had innings pitched (including Johnson). So there was going to be a lot of relief work available. Additionally, owner Clark Griffith was a former Major League pitcher and manager who had used himself as a reliever in the latter part of his career. He knew the value of a good bullpen man, and in Marberry he found one.

In his rookie season, Marberry went 4-0 with a 2.80 ERA in 11 games, (seven in relief). The Senators finished fourth. The next season they won the American League pennant. Now let’s not be hasty and award Marberry primacy of place as the reason. The team made a change of manager (Bucky Harris replaced Donie Bush), Johnson turned his career around and had a terrific year (23-7 and led the league in ERA, shutouts, strikeouts–just your basic Walter Johnson year), Mogridge and Tom Zachery had good years on the mound. Six of the eight regulars improved their batting averages while four improved their slugging percentage. And then there was Marberry. He pitched in 60 games, starting only 14 (and completing six of them). He went only 11-12, but put up a 3.09 ERA (good for the period), and saved a record 15 games (he didn’t know that). The Senators won the series in seven games with Marberry taking a loss, picking up two saves, and posting a series low ERA of 1.13. The next year he pitched 55 games, all in relief, again posting 15 saves. Again the Senators headed to the World Series, this time dropping the series in seven games. Marberry had one save and a zip ERA.

The Senators fell back after 1925, no body was going to keep up with the Murder’s Row Yankees, but Marberry kept on. He got 22 saves in 1926, a new record that lasted until 1949, 11 in 1928, and 13 in 1932 (for teams that finished fourth, fourth, and third). Along the way he started a handful of games, topping out at 25 in 1931, the first year he’d started more than he relieved. After 1932 he was traded to Detroit.

So what have you got at this point? Marberry pitched 465 games with Washington, starting 138.  His record was 117-69 (a winning pecentage of .629) with an ERA in the threes and 96 saves.

Detroit tried to make him a starter. It worked. He was 16-11 and 15-5 in his first two years as a Tiger. He started 51 of 75 games and had a total of five saves. His ERA was decent in 1933, but rocketed above four in 1934. Detroit got to the World Series in 1934, losing to Dizzy Dean and the Gas House Gang Cardinals in seven. Marberry pitched twice, both in mop up relief roles registering a terrible ERA and having no decisions. The 1934 season was his last good one. He pitched only five games in 1935 (when he was 36), developing unspecified arm trouble. Released by Detroit, he spent the season umpiring in the American League, refusing to arbitrate games involving his old Senators team (but apparently agreeing to ump Tigers games). His last season was 1936. He pitched a third of an inning for the Giants before being sent back to Washington for a five game close out of his big league career. He returned to the minor leagues and played until 1941. He retired in his home state of  Texas and died in 1976.

For his career, Marberry was 148-88 (.627 winning percentage-a top forty number among pitchers wth 100 wins), with 101 saves, an ERA of 2.63, 822 strikeouts and 686 walks in 2067 innings. The save total was a record when he retired. By 1946, it would fall to third all-time (Jack Russell and Johnny Murphy) remaining there  until the 1970’s explosion of relief pitching. They invented the save statistic in the 1960’s, while Marberry was still alive. I have no idea if he knew he had 101 and was third ever.

As an aside, the nickname “Firpo” comes from a resemblence to the heavyweight boxer of the era Luis Firpo. Marberry didn’t like the nickname. It stuck anyway.

White Elephant

February 23, 2010

Ever wonder why the A’s occasionally wear an elephant on their uniforms? The story goes back to the founding of the American League and involves John McGraw, Connie Mack, Ban Johnson, and an old expression you don’t hear much anymore.

When the American League was formed in 1901, league president Ban Johnson wanted a team in Philapdelphia. Ben Shibe, who is supposed to be the man who invented the machine that allowed for standardizing baseballs, agreed to take on the Philadelphia franchise along with old time catcher Connie Mack as a partner. Shibe ran the business end of the enterprise and Mack ran the team (that changed quickly with Mack in control of both). John McGraw was a friend of Mack’s and a man who absolutely hated Ban Johnson. When asked about Mack taking over the new team in Philadelphia, McGraw told the press he thought Mack had gotten a “white elephant.”

You don’t hear that phrase anymore. I remember my grandparents using it, but not so much from my parents. I don’t use it at all. A ‘white elephant’ is something that has a cost way out of step with its worth and that can’t be gotten rid of easily. In other words, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. McGraw had just told Mack, in front of the entire baseball world, his team wasn’t worth having.

Mack took it well, he had a better sense of humor than McGraw (well, most people who have ever lived had a better sense of humor than John J. McGraw). He had the white elephant sewn onto the A’s uniforms where it has stayed for most of the team’s history (Charlie Finley not withstanding). The two teams met in the 1905 World Series and Mack presented McGraw with a stuffed white elephant prior to game one. McGraw accepted it (and as far as I can determine didn’t smile) as the gag it was meant to be, then went out and won the series 4 games to 1.

Mack did manage to finally win the contest with McGraw. They faced each other in the first All Star Game and Mack won. More importantly, they faced each other in the 1911 and 1913 World Series. The A’s won both. If you look at pictures of the two World Series, you’ll find the white elephant on the A’s uniforms. Game, set, match.

Thanks, King

February 22, 2010

All the way back in 1950, there was a poll that decided the greatest American athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. The big winner was Jim Thorpe. He enters baseball twice, and thus is fodder for me.

Thorpe came out of Oklahoma first achieving fame as a footlball star at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. He also starred at track and field, being half of a two man team one year. There wasn’t a lot of money to be had running college track or playing college football, so Thorpe began playing semi-professional baseball during the summer. He was OK, but it wasn’t his best sport.

In 1912 he entered the Olympics, held in Stockholm, Sweden, winning both the decathlon and the pentathlon gold medals. Those medals were handed to him by the King of Sweden who remarked “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” Thorpe’s deathless reply was “Thanks, King.” It wasn’t long before Thorpe’s semi-pro baseball career came to the attention of the Olympic committee and he lost both medals because of professionalism (The medals were returned to his family in the 1990s).

In 1913, Thorpe joined the New York Giants as an outfielder. He hit a buck 43 over 19 games with two stolen bases. He stayed with the Giants through 1915 hitting .195 with seven stolen bases in 66 games, 28 in the field (all outfield). He sat out 1916, began 1917 at Cincinnati, did reasonably well (.237 average, 12 stolen bases, 36 RBIs), then was traded back to the Giants. He got into the 1917 World Series, playing one game in the outfield without getting to the plate. The Giants lost the Series. His 1918 was much like his 1917 year, hitting .248 with 11 RBIs in 58 games. He started 1919 at New York and ended up with the Boston Braves, finally hitting over .300 (.327) and having 25 RBIs. It was his final season. For a career he hit .252 with 82 RBIs, 29 stolen bases, and 91 runs in 289 games.

After leaving baseball, Thorpe spent time as President of the newly founded National Football League and played a few games for the Canton Bulldogs. He made the NFL Hall of Fame in 1963. His baseball career was certainly well short of Cooperstown. He died in 1953 in California. He was buried in Pennsylvania in a town that agreed to change its name to Jim Thorpe. In the ESPN poll to determine the greatest athlete of the entire 20th Century, Thorpe, dead for almost 50 years, still finished in the top five.

Long Day at the Office

February 21, 2010

On the 1st of September 1906, Boston saw one of the longest, if not best pitched games ever played. The Philadelphia Athletics, just off a losing trip to the World Series were in town to play the Americans (now the Red Sox). It was a Saturday afternoon.

The Americans sent second year pitcher Joe Harris to the mound. The A’s countered with rookie Jack Coombs, who was 5-7 going into the game. It was scoreless into the third inning when Coombs singled, stole second base, went to third on an infield out, then came home on an infield single. The Americans countered in the sixth when shortstop Freddy Parent tripled and came home on a single by center fielder Chick Stahl. Now with the preliminaries out of the way, the two pitchers settled down. They pitched scoreless ball through the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth. In fact they pitched scoreless ball through 23 innings. It wasn’t great pitching. Coombs gave up 15 hits and walked six. Harris gave up 12 hits and only walked two. But it was effective pitching. No body scored for 17 innings.

It came to an end in the 24th. Coombs led off the inning by striking out, then right fielder Topsy Hartsel singled and stole second base. Center fielder Briscoe Lord couldn’t advance him, but catcher Ossie Schreckengost, playing first that day, singled him home for the go-ahead run. Consecutive triples by left fielder Socks Seybold and second baseman Danny Murphy made the score 4-1. Then Coombs set down the Americans in order to post the win.

Coombs finished the season 10-11 and went on to a distinguished career with the A’s. In 1910 and 1911 he led the American League in wins (31 and 28) and posted 21 wins in 1912. In World Series play with the A’s he was 3-0 in 1910 and 1-0 in 1911 as the A’s won both series. He caught typhoid fever in 1913 and was out most of 1913 and 1914. The A’s sent him to Brooklyn in 1915 where he pitched well, winning the Robins’ (the were not yet the Dodgers) only game in the 1916 World Series. He hung on with Brooklyn through 1918, managed the 1919 Philadelphia Phillies to an 18-44 record and last place before being fired. In 1920 pitched five inning for Detroit before retiring. After leaving the Major Leagues he coached at Duke University from 1929-1952. They named the field for him. He died in 1957.

Harris’ career wasn’t nearly as successful. He ended the 1906 season 2-21, leading the league in losses. He stayed at Boston only through 1907 compiling a career 3-30 record  with a 3.35 ERA in 317 innings. He died in 1966.

For the game there are a couple of interesting box score lines. Seybold was 1 for 10, but the one was critical. Americans third baseman Red Morgan went 0-7. The game is fascinating, but inconsequential in the standings. The A’s finished fourth 12 games back and the Americans were dead last 45.5 games out of first.

“Cry ‘Havoc…’

February 20, 2010

… “and let slip the dogs of war.”-William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”, Act III.

In the previous post I commented on the change in the pitching distance instituted in the National League in 1893. It ushered in the modern game by placing all the players where they currently play. It created havoc not only with the pitchers, but also with the hitters. That havoc reached its zenith in 1894.

Hitting numbers are crazy in 1894. I can’t think of a better word. Boston’s Hugh Duffy hit .440 (all stats are from David Nemic The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball published in 1997, a book worth having), and hit 18 home runs. His slugging percentage was .694 and he had 237 hits. Boston finished third that season. But the biggest numbers were in Philadelphia.

The 1894 Phillies set a record with a team batting average of .349. Their slugging percentage was .476 for the team and they lead the league with 1732 hits. The outfield hit .400. Not just a single player, but the entire outfield hit .400. Center Fielder and Hall of Famer Billy Hamilton hit .404 with a .523 on base percentage (yes, that reads .523) and stole 98 bases. Stolen bases were figured differently in 1894 and included going from first to third on a single as a stolen base. The modern stolen base rule began in 1898 and stolen base totals dropped overnight. The number that sets Hamilton apart from everybody else is 192. That’s the number of runs he scored while playing only 131 games. That works out to 1.47 runs a game. So everytime Hamilton took the field, Philadelphia could count on one and a half runs. Left Fielder and Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty hit .407 with 199 hits, 147 runs, 131 RBIs, and a .585 slugging percentage. Right Fielder and fellow Hall of Famer Sam Thompson also hit .407 with a .686 slugging percentage, 141 RBIs and 27 triples. Even the substitute outfielder got into the act. Backup Tuck Turner hit a team leading .416 over 80 games with a .540 slugging percentage and 82 RBIs. First Baseman Jack Boyle was the weak hitter among the regulars netting only a .301 average.  Three subs (two backup catchers and a shortstop) played 40 or more games. One of them hit .346 while the other two managed to hit .294 and .255.

So what did all this offense get them? Fourth place, 18 games out in a 12 team league. League pitching was down in 1894 in general and in Philadelphia it was the same. Jack Taylor was the ace going 31-23 with a 4.08 ERA (good for fifth in the league) but the rest of the staff had ERA’s well over 5.00 with the team coming in at 5.63, 10th in a 12 team league.  They were ninth in strikeouts and sixth in hits.

By 1895 things began to calm down, only two men hitting over .400 and Hamilton scoring only 166 runs in 123 games (1.35 per game). But baseball was secure. The fans loved the new found offense.

That Other Hall of Fame

February 18, 2010

You realize how hard it is to particpate in a sport at the professional level. Now imagine being able to do it in two sports. Did you know that there are three people who played Major League Baseball that are members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame?  One even as a World Series ring.

George Halas is primarily famous as the great founding father of the National Football League. He owned and coached the Chicago Bears into the 1960s and won a slew of championships, all before the advent of the Super Bowl. But prior to setting up the NFL, Halas played professional baseball. In 1919, Halas became a switch-hitting outfielder for Miller Huggins’ New York Yankees. In 12 games, six in the outfield, he batted 22 times, had two hits (.091), both singles, struck out eight times and had no errors. He disappears from Major League rosters at that point. One source indicates he suffered a hip injury that ended his career (although a cynic might point to the .091 batting average as another possible cause). Not much of a career. He at least knew where his talents lay. In 1963 he was inducted into football’s Hall of Fame in 1963.

Jim Thorpe was famous in his era as the greatest American athlete (and will get his own post in a few days). He played college football, ran track, appeared in the 1912 Olympics, and joined he New York Giants in 1913. He also played at Cincinnati and with the Boston Braves, ending his career in 1919. Like Halas, he didn’t have a great a career. When the NFL was formed, Thorpe became its first president and played a little at Canton. He joined Halas in making the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1963. He was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

Of the three, Greasy Neale was the most successful baseball man. He played from 1916 through 1922 and then again in 1924. He hit .259 with eight home runs, 139 stolen bases, 319 runs scored, and 200 RBIs in 768 games. He was the primary left fielder for the Cincinnati Reds through 1920, then went to Philadelphia for a while in 1921, returning to Cincinnati late in 1921 and ending his career there. He led the NL in fielding percentage in 1919 (.981) and was considered a solid outfielder. In the 1919 World Series, which Cincinnati won, Neale played in all eight games hitting .357 with 10 hits, three runs scored and four RBIs.

While playing baseball in the summer, Neale played and coached football in the offseason, taking the Washington and Jefferson college team to the 1922 Rose Bowl (they played to a 0-0 tie against the University of California). After retirement from baseball, he went on to a stellar coaching career in football, leading  the University of Virginia in the 1920s and the University of West Virginia in the 1930s. In 1941 he took over the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and led them to the NFL championship in both 1948 and 1949. He retired after the 1950 season and died in 1973. In 1969 he was selected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Additionally he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1967, becoming, with the 1969 election, the first man to be a member of both football Halls as a coach.

There have been other people who played both baseball and another professional sport. As late as the 1959 Dick Ricketts played for the Cardinals and in the National Basketball Association and, of course, basketball star Michael Jordan made it to the Minor Leagues just a few years ago. But Halas, Thorpe, and Neale are the only ones to  achieve immortality in the Professional Football Hall of Fame.