Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

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.