Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NFL-MLB Crossover Heroes: Thorpe, Parker and Neon

With the 2012 Major League Baseball season about to get into full swing, so to speak, I thought we'd take a look at some of football's stars who dabbled in baseball.  Throughout the history of both sports, there have been numerous examples of such crossover athletes.  This was especially true in the early 20th century because, as we will learn in our next Football History 101 lesson, some of the first football team owners were also owners of established baseball clubs.  As such, they raided their baseball teams for talent to field their football teams.

The multi-sport athlete is not an ancient phenomenon, however, and it would take many posts to list them all—especially when you consider the players who were drafted by clubs from another sport but never played (e.g., quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Dan Marino and baseball legend Dave Winfield) and those players whose careers were limited to appearances in the minor leagues (e.g., retired safety John Lynch and QB greats John Elway and Sammy Baugh).  There are plenty of men, though, who enjoyed a high degree of success in both sports (and even in other athletic pursuits). Today, we look at two players from the early days of football, and one distinctly more modern example:

Jim Thorpe:   Widely considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, if not the greatest, Jim Thorpe dominated the sports world in the first few decades of the twentieth century.  The son of an Irish Catholic father and a Native American mother (of the Sac and Fox tribe), Thorpe had incredible natural talents that were recognized by Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, one of the coaching pioneers of early football.  Warner coached Thorpe at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. While in school, Thorpe competed in football, track and field, baseball, lacrosse and ballroom dancing (he won a championship title in ballroom dancing in 1912). 

Thorpe’s football notoriety was born out of Carlisle’s upset of Harvard in 1911, in which he scored all of Carlisle’s 18 points (four field goals and a touchdown).  Thorpe’s first love was football, but in 1912 his fame turned international when he competed in the Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.  Thorpe easily won the gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon (note in the photo that he competed with mismatched shoes; his went missing moments before the event got started).  However, those medals were subsequently stripped by the International Olympic Commission when it was revealed that Thorpe had been paid to play baseball in 1909 and 1910.  After this episode Thorpe left the Olympics behind and played professional football and baseball from 1913 through 1919; he continued to play football until 1928.

Clarence “Ace” Parker:  A three-sport athlete, and football All-American, at Duke University (football, baseball and basketball), Parker was drafted by the Brooklyn (football) Dodgers in the 1937 NFL draft.  Having already played a season in Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Athletics, he didn’t intend to play football.  With a less than stellar batting average, however, Ace sought and received permission from the Athletics to play quarterback for the Dodgers.  Wanting to cover all his bases, as it were, he played both baseball and football in 1937 and 1938.  Soon his talent on the gridiron overshadowed his below-average skill on the diamond and, in 1938 he became a one-sport athlete.  He didn’t limit himself to quarterbacking, though, and posted respectable numbers as a halfback and kicker.  He retired after the 1946 season (his career was interrupted by military service in World War II) at the age of 34 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.  At the age of 99, Ace Parker has the distinction of being the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame and the oldest living former professional football player; he will turn 100 on May 17th.

Deion Sanders:  Loyal Naptime Huddle readers may remember reading about “Neon” Deion Sanders in our “Stars and Legends” series, which lists him among the NFL’s greatest cornerbacks.  A three sport star at Florida State University (which has retired his #2 jersey), Sanders was drafted fifth overall by the Falcons in 1989.  He also started playing for the Atlanta Braves that year and would continue to play baseball part-time for nine years.  Sanders didn’t just play baseball for the sake of being a two-sport athlete, though; he achieved tremendous success in both sports. 

His accomplishments are admirable by any standards, but are even more impressive considering the higher level of athletic competition compared to the days of Jim Thorpe and Ace Parker.  Like those legends of yesterday, Deion Sanders played multiple positions:  cornerback, kick return specialist and wide receiver in football and center and left field in baseball.  He is the only athlete ever to hit a major league home run and score a touchdown in the same week; he is also the only athlete to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.  In fact, Sanders won two Super Bowls, one with the San Francisco 49ers and the other with the Dallas Cowboys.  Deion is also only one of two players to score a touchdown six different ways:  interception return, punt return, kickoff return, receiving, rushing and off a fumble recovery.  In 2011, the first year he was eligible, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

In our next post on NFL-MLB crossover athletes, we stay in the modern era with a memorable character who “knew” how to market himself.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have a question you want answered, a correction or a comment?