He Was A Yankee? Hall-of-Fame Football Coach and Owner George “Papa Bear” Halas
by Paul Semendinger
The highlights of his career on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website read:
GEORGE STANLEY HALAS. . .
TRULY “MR. EVERYTHING” OF PRO FOOTBALL. . .
FOUNDED DECATUR STALEYS, ATTENDED LEAGUE ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING IN 1920. . .
ONLY PERSON ASSOCIATED WITH NFL THROUGHOUT FIRST 50 YEARS. . .
COACHED BEARS FOR 40 SEASONS AND SIX NFL TITLES. . .
RECORD MARK OF 324 COACHING WINS STOOD FOR NEARLY THREE DECADES. . .
RECORDED MANY “FIRSTS” IN PRO COACHING, ADMINISTRATION. . .
ALSO PLAYED END FOR NINE SEASONS.
The man was Pro Football.
He was known as “Papa Bear.”
One cannot tell the story of the NFL or of the Chicago Bears (one of the sport’s most legendary teams) without telling the story of George Halas.
One might even say if there was no George Halas, there would not be an NFL. If that’s an overstatement, it has, at least, some truth.
But, George Halas, the great George Halas of the NFL, was also, prior to his football fame, a member of the New York Yankees.
Who were the most famous players of sport ever to play centerfield for the New York Yankees?
Most people would say that that list begins with Joe DiMaggio, but that Mickey Mantle would also have to be included.
No Yankees player was ever greater than either of those two players, although some other greats, among them Earle Combs, Roger Maris, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Bernie Williams, and Hideki Matsui also played there.
Can a case be made that the greater name in sports who ever played centerfield for the Yankees was none other than George Halas?
Is George Halas’ impact on sports greater even than DiMaggio’s and/or Mantle’s? Maybe. A case can, at least, be made…
The year was 1919.
The date was May 6.
The lineup the Yankees sent to the field to take on the Philadelphia A’s included such legends as Home Run Baker (at third base) and Wally Pipp (at first base).
This wasn’t a Punch and Judy lineup. Between Baker and Pipp, that lineup contained the league’s home run leaders for most of the previous decade: Baker had led the league in home runs in 1911, 1912, 1913, and 1914. Wally Pipp led the American League in homers in 1916 and 1917. (Baker had done this with the Philadelphia A’s, but Pipp was the first Yankee to ever lead the league in homers. The Yankees and home runs did not begin with George Herman Ruth.)
The leadoff hitter that day, playing in his first Major League game was right fielder George Halas. He’d go 1-for-4 in the game; one the Yankees lost 3-2.
On May 8, he again batted leadoff, and again had a hit (a single) in four trips to the plate.
A switch-hitter, George Halas’ career got off to a solid start. That was the good news.
The bad news was that he’d never record another hit.
He played in five more games that May, going hitless in eleven at bats.
In June, he played in five game. He had just two at bats. There were no hits.
And, then in July, he finished out a game, the second game of a July 5th doubleheader, in center field. He even had an at bat that day.
He struck out.
It would be the last game he’d ever play in baseball’s Major Leagues.
In total, George Halas played in 13 Major League games. He went 2-for-22, with both hits being singles. He struck out eight times.
A lifetime .091 batting average isn’t something to write home about.
Being perfect, though, is something to write home about. As a right fielder, George Halas had eight chances. He turned each of those changes into putouts. As a fielder, he was perfect, eight-for-eight. A 1.000 Fielding Percentage.
A little over a year later, on September 17, 1920, now representing a team from Decatur, Illinois, George Halas met with a group of men to form the organization that would soon become the National Football League.
That would be where George Halas would make his fame.
He put baseball behind him.
But still, for a brief moment, in the year just before the Babe arrived, the great football legend, George Halas, was a Yankee.
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