Two Sport Man

Ace Parker in Athletics uniform

Ace Parker in Athletics uniform

It’s an age of specialization. People only do one thing, frequently only know one thing well. Maybe that’s not bad, maybe it is. But it’s death to the two sport star. I remember Gene Conley in the 1950s playing both baseball and basketball professionally. George Halas, Jim Thorpe, and Greasy Neale all played baseball (Neale did it best) and went to the football hall of fame. Ace Parker was another one of those.

Clarence Parker was born in Virginia in 1912. He was good enough at both baseball and football, that he was in demand for college. He started at Duke in 1933 (where he added basketball to his athletic accomplishments). He was good. He was, in fact, good enough to make All-American two seasons (2nd team in 1935 and 1st team in 1936) in football and played well in baseball. Upon graduation he was drafted by the National Football League.

But Parker liked baseball as well as football. So in 1937 he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics for $2000 to play short and second. He also played a little in the outfield, getting into a total of 38 games. He hit .117, slugged .202, and had an OPS of .355. He managed two home runs (one a pinch hit homer in his first at bat), 13 RBIs, scored eight runs and struck out a lot more than he walked.

All that got him an OK to play professional football during the off-season. He was better at football. He had one more year in Philly, hitting .230, slugging .274, and putting up an OPS of .567 in 56 games. There were no home runs in 1938, only 12 RBIs, and 12 runs with his strikeout/walk ratio being much better.

It was the end of his baseball career. He remained in football for the rest of his athletic career, became an all-star and NFL MVP in 1940. He went off to war in 1942 (navy) and came back in 1945. By this point the All-American Football Conference was operating as a rival to the NFL. Parker joined the AAFC, won a conference title, lost the league championship to Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns, and retired.

In retirement he became head baseball coach at Duke, served as assistance football coach (also at Duke), then served as a Minor League manager from 1949-1952 (Durham).  All these cross-sport accomplishments got him elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the Duke Sports Hall of Fame.

You don’t find players like Parker any more, at least not above the high school level. The ability to play more than one sport is discouraged at college level and is really frowned upon in the pros. That’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ll never get to see a true athlete like Parker again.



2 Responses to “Two Sport Man”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Interesting stuff. Why do you think we no longer see two-sport stars anymore? Could it be that the money a player earns from just one sport makes it pointless to play (and risk getting injured) in a second sport? Could it be that as athletes become more highly trained, there particular physical training might lend itself to one sport, but not another? Just curious.

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Well-written. Thanks, V.

    Gene Conley was a good one. I remember reading Jimmy Breslin’s book about the ’62 Mets, “Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?”, and Conley is mentioned in an anecdote along with Pumpsie Green getting off of the team bus and disappearing.

    By the way, I recommend that book.


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