That Other Hall of Fame

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.

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