February 2 – Happy Birthday Papa Yankee…I mean Papa Bear
George Steinbrenner loved football and loved the toughness of football players, which is why he spent lots of Yankee dollars trying to get gridiron guys like Deion Sanders, John Elway and Drew Henson to play for New York. Long before “The Boss” began his quest to put pigskin toughness in pinstripes, another well known “George” tried the same thing but in a far more personal and direct manner.
Before he became an NFL Hall of Fame legend as a player, coach and owner of the Chicago Bears, George Papa Bear Halas was invited to attend the Yankee’s 1919 spring training tryouts and audition for a spot in New York’s outfield. He did well enough to make that year’s opening day Yankee roster and actually started some games in right field at the beginning of the Yankee season. Unfortunately, Halas had hurt his hip in spring training sliding into third on a triple he hit off of Brooklyn’s Hall-of-Fame hurler, Rube Marquard. Papa Bear forever blamed that injury as the reason why he went 2-22 during his 12-game regular season career in pinstripes and ended the 1919 season and professional baseball career on the roster of New York’s American Association affiliate at the time, the St. Paul Saints.
So for those of you that thought A-Rod experienced the most significant spring-training hip injury in the history of the Yankee franchise during the 2009 preseason, I beg to differ. If Halas doesn’t have to slide into third on that triple off of Marquard, he goes into the regular season healthy and plays well enough to earn the right-field starting job. That wouldn’t have been too difficult considering the guy who ended up starting there for New York was Sammy Vick, who hit just .248 that season. So Halas becomes a Yankee star, forsakes a career in football and never moves back to the Windy City or plays for the Bears. Taking this scenario one logical step further, if Halas has a great year in 1919, the Yankees might not have been so tempted to get a guy named Babe Ruth from Boston to replace the light-hitting Vick in right field. I know. I know. My wife always tells me I think too much.