(If you like some cardboard with your baseball trivia, read the rest of our related posts here.)
Every fall, sports fans start to lose focus on the green cathedrals of summer when the thundering cleats begin to rumble in the distance, signaling the arrival of another NFL season.
But we’re diehards around here and, while we do love football, we’ll never let it come between us and what really matters — the bliss and nostalgia of the diamond.
Really, though, it’s no sacrifice.
I mean, we can have it all. We can follow both football and baseball.
And if you need proof of that fact, just read through the stories of the amazing men below. They’re the guys who have played in both the NFL and in Major League Baseball.
Sometimes, they even did it in the same year.
Always, though, they helped us believe that dreams can come true.
Enjoy their tales, and their cards.
(Bios and football information mostly gleaned from wikipedia.org and pro-football-reference.com.)
After appearing in 10 games at tailback and defensive back for the Green Bay Packers in 1946, Cliff Aberson switched gears and sports. He lasted parts of three seasons with the Chicago Cubs (1947-49), primarily as a left fielder, and hit. 251 in 63 games.
Norm Bass pitched in 65 games for the old Kansas City Athletics from 1961 through 1963, compiling a 13-17 record with a 5.32 ERA. After arthritis cut short his pitching career, Bass spent 1964 as a safety for the Denver Broncos.
Charlie (or Charley) Berry was an All-American football player at Lafayette who parlayed that success into a stint in the fledgling NFL in 1925-26. During those seasons, he starred at end and led the league in scoring in 1925. He also broke into the Majors that same season with the Philadelphia Athletics, then suspended his baseball career until he was done with football. From 1926 through 1938, though, Berry played catcher for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox before ending back with the A’s. Following his playing career, Berry spent many years as a manager, coach, and umpire.
Tom Brown played one season — 1963 — at first base and in the outfield for the Washington Senators before signing with the Green Bay Packers for the 1964 NFL season. He stayed with Green Bay through 1968, then finished his career as a safety with the Washington Redskins in 1969.
D.J. Dozier was something of a perfect storm — he scored the winning touchdown for Penn State in the 1987 national championship game and was drafted in the first round of that summer’s draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He was also good enough on the diamond to sign a free agent contract with the New York Mets and work his way up their chain until he was knocking on the door to the Majors in the early 1990s. That was right at the head of the hobby’s new-card explosion, and Dozier’s status as an active NFLer with designs on the Big Apple in baseball landed him a handful of rookie cards. Alas, his stay in the Bigs would last only one season (1992) and 25 games, all coming after his mediocre five-year NFL career came to an end.
Chuck Dressen was the manager of the famed “Boys of Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s that regularly won National League pennants but couldn’t quite overcome the New York Yankees in the World Series. In fact, it wasn’t until after Dressen quit in a contract dispute after another pennant in 1953 that the Dodgers finally won a World Series under Walt Alston in 1955. Before all that, though, Dressen was a pro baseball player who also spent the off-season during his minor league days as a quarterback with the Decatur Staleys and the Racine Legion during the early years of the NFL in the 1920s.
Ox Eckhardt was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Think that sounds crazy? Well, it’s true if you measure greatness by looking only at a player’s combined career batting average for minor league and Major League play. Eckhardt’s 2599 hits in 7125 professional at-bats leave him with a .3648 mark, better than even Ty Cobb‘s .3635. Of course, to get there, you’d have to ignore the fact that only 52 of Eckhardt’s ABs came in the Majors. If it’s any consolation for Ox fans, he also spent time in the backfield for the Texas Longhorns and the New York Giants.
Before Paul Florence logged 76 games at catcher for the 1926 New York Giants, he appeared in nine games at end for the Chicago Cardinals in 1920. A well-rounded athlete, Florence is in the Georgetown University athletic Hall of Fame for football, baseball, and basketball. After his playing days, he became a baseball executive and was one of the driving forces behind the founding of the Houston Astros.
Walter French toiled in the Majors as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1923 to 1929 and, when he wasn’t on the diamond, he was on the gridiron. He was a powerful running back who played for the Rochester Jeffersons in 1922 and the Pottsville Maroons in 1925, when he led the NFL in rushing yards. After his playing tenure, French continued a military career that began at the United States Military Academy in 1920 and included active duty in World War II and a stint as the head baseball coach at West Point.
Frank Grube took the Bo Jackson route to a sustained career in the Major Leagues by first sewing his oats in the NFL with the 1928 New York Yankees. That same season, he appeared in 59 games, mostly as a catcher, for the Williamsport Grays. Three years later, Grube made his Major League debut for the Chicago White Sox and spent parts of seven seasons at the game’s highest level, finishing with the 1941 St. Louis Browns.
Carroll Hardy was an accomplished pinch hitter over an eight-year career and holds the distinction as the only player to ever pinch-hit for the great Ted Williams. Before that, Carroll starred in football, baseball, and track at the University of Colorado and was the third-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1955. That fall, he caught 12 passes in San Fran before trading his cleats for spikes. After his baseball career, he returned to the NFL and to Colorado, serving two decades in the Denver Broncos’ front office.
Drew Henson was pegged for greatness way back in high school, when he was named the National Player of the Year in baseball by both Gatorade and USA Today at the same time he was lighting up the gridiron. He then headed to the University of Michigan to play quarterback but not before signing a big contract with the New York Yankees with the proviso that he not play NFL football. By the time he graduated left Michgan after the 2000 season, he was already a veteran of the minor league circuit, but he just couldn’t quite click. After a series of trades — including one back to New York — Henson finally made it to the Big Leagues in 2002, but for only eight games. He retired from baseball in 2003, then embarked on a five-year trek through the NFL that would result in nine total appearances for the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.
Like Henson, Hutchinson had a lot of options coming out of high school in 1995 and ultimately decided to play football (and baseball) at Stanford rather than sign with the Atlanta Braves as their first-round pick. After college, he was selected in the second round by the St. Louis Cardinals (as a pitcher) in 1998 but struggled through several minor league seasons before returning to football. He signed a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys in 2002 and spent parts of three seasons with them as a backup quarterback.
Bo Jackson, of course, is the man who started the two-sport furor that gripped us all in the late 1980s and late 1990s, even though the trail he was blazing had been well-worn by earlier athletes like Jim Thorpe and others on this list. Like Vic Janowicz before him (see below), Bo was a Heisman Trophy winner (for Auburn in 1985) who then parlayed that college success into pro careers in both football and baseball. Unlike Janowicz, though, Jackson made an immediate impact in the NFL as a dangerous all-purpose back for the Oakland Raiders in 1987. He seemed to be just hitting his prime in 1990 when a hip injury ended his gridiron career. All along the way, Bo knew that baseball offered him a better prospect for the long-term and he made his Big League debut with the Kansas City Royals in 1986. Powerful but undisciplined at the plate, Bo nevertheless continued to improve his game to the point that his 32 home runs, 26 stolen bases, and 105 RBI nabbed him 10th place in the 1989 AL MVP vote. He was never the same on the diamond after his injury, but Bo still managed 141 homers and 82 stolen bases in an eight-year career that ended with the California Angels in 1994.
Vic Janowicz was a standout at tailback for the Ohio State Buckeyes who won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 1950. Despite his football success, he decided to pursue a baseball career, but after two lackluster seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he headed back to the gridiron. Janowicz joined the Washington Redskins late in 1954, then spent 1955 as their starting halfback before a near-fatal car accident ended his career before the 1956 season began. He later became an OSU announcer and account executive in the Columbus, Ohio, area.
The Buffalo Bills drafted Brian Jordan with their seventh-round pick in 1989, but a waiver wire claim by the Atlanta Falcons and diligent work by Jordan landed him a starting spot as a Falcons safety by 1990. Jordan had a front-row seat for the physical demise of Bo Jackson, though, and hung up his cleats after the 1991 season to focus on baseball. That turned out to be a smart move, as Jordan developed into a consistent power threat over a 15-year Major League career that included stops in St. Louis, Atlanta (twice), Los Angeles (Dodgers), and Texas. When it was all said and done, Jordan collected 1454 hits with 184 home runs, 119 steals, and a .282 lifetime batting average.
Matt Kinzer was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the 1984 MLB draft and appeared in eight games for the Cards in 1989 before finishing his Big League career with one appearance for the 1990 Detroit Tigers. A punter for the Purdue football team, Kinzer also snagged a one-game punting gig for the Detroit Lions during the 1987 NFL strike. Kinzer has spent his post-playing years as a scout and player agent.
Jim Levey debuted at shortstop for the St. Louis Browns in 1930 and started there every season through 1933. Never a big hitter, Levey nonetheless garnered enough consideration to finish 19th in the 1932 AL MVP race. After his Big League career ended, Levey kept plodding in the minors until 1945, and he also played running back with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Pirates from 1934 through 1936.
Walt Masters holds the distinction of being the only person to play for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles. A standout on both the gridiron while a student at the Wharton business school at Penn, Masters jumped directly from college to the Majors in 1931. In three appearances he pitched nine innings and gave up two earned runs. He spent the next several years playing in the minors and coaching football in Ottawa before catching on as a quarterback for the Eagles in 1936. He was back with the Phillies in 1937, showed up with the local A’s in 1939, and then finally finished his athletic career with the NFL Chicago Cardinals in 1943. Whew!
Deion Sanders earned his nickname — “Neon” — as a lightning-quick cornerback at Florida State who went to the Atlanta Falcons with the fifth pick of the 1989 NFL Draft. He continued his electric performances in the NFL and quickly became one of the best defensive backs in the league. But Deion also had designs on a baseball career despite not being selected until the 30th round of the 1988 baseball draft by the New York Yankees. Sanders plugged away through parts of two seasons in the minors and then made his Big League debut as summer loomed in 1989. Like many of the other two-sport stars on this list, Sanders’ diamond game was rough, and his yearly batting averages bounced around the Mendoza Line for three seasons. In his second year after a trade to the Atlanta Braves, however, Sanders logged 97 games in the outfield, the most playing time he had seen to that point and second most in his entire career. Deion responded with an NL-leading 14 triples, eight homers, 26 stolen bases, and a .304 BA. From then on, you could count on Neon for 5-10 homers, 15-30 steals, and a batting average around .275 in 90 games or so each season. He retired from baseball in 2001 with 43 triples, 186 stolen bases, and a .263 average. Sanders would go on to play in the NFL through 2005.
Like many of the players on this list, Evar Swanson was a standout in both baseball and football during college, in his case at Lombard College in Illinois. From there, he entered the NFL as a running back and played for the Rock Island Independents, the Milwaukee Badgers, and the Chicago Cardinals from 1924 through 1927. With his gridiron days behind him, Swanson returned to the diamond as an outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox from 1929 through 1934. In five seasons, Swanson hit a solid .303 with 87 doubles and recorded 69 stolen bases.
Name a sport, and Jim Thorpe probably played it — and excelled in it. For instance, while in college at Carlise Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, Thorpe played football, baseball, and lacrosse, ran track and field, and even won a championship in ballroom dancing! He won gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics and then spent six seasons as a Major League outfielder from 1913 to 1919, mostly with the New York Giants. Thorpe also played professional football during this time period, beginning with the Canton Bulldogs, who helped form the American Professional Football Association in 1920. That league would eventually become the NFL, Thorpe’s gridiron home until he retired in 1928.
Joe Zapustas lived a long and active life before passing away at age 93 in January 2001. For instance, he spent years as a professional boxing referee, calling fights for famous pugilists such as Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, and Sugar Ray Robinson. Zapustas also taught science and math at the high school level, coached semi-pro ball, and served in various other public roles. Before any of that, though, he had one glorious year when he made it all the way to the Major Leagues and to the National Football League. In 1933, Zapustas appeared in two games as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics and in three games at end for the New York Giants. After that breakout, Zapustas spent two more seasons in the minors before pursuing his other interests.
(If you like some cardboard with your baseball trivia, read the rest of our related posts here.)