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The brief Yankee careers of two Hall of Fame sports executives

Before they became legendary figures, two former Yankees had short and mostly unsuccessful careers with the team.

Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images

Lots of players going into various positions in sports organizations after they retire. Most end up a coaches of some sort. There are some that get into scouting. Some even end up as general managers, or some other high level decision-making position.

In the early days of the Yankees organization, two people had very brief careers with the team. Both of them went on to be major figures in a sport for years to come.

After his early career playing football and playing in the minors, Branch Rickey made his major league debut as a catcher with the St. Louis Browns in 1905. He played just one game that season, but returned to the Browns the next season.

In 65 games in 1906, Rickey hit pretty well. On August 6th, he hit two of his three home runs in a game against the New York Highlanders. However by the end of the season, he was dealing with arm pain. In the offseason, Rickey was sold to the Highlanders.

In the winter leading up to spring training in 1907, Rickey’s arm pain returned. It did not improve after that, and his baseball playing career would be irrevocably hampered. Rickey played in 52 games that season, and hit just .182/.253/.234.

As bad as he was hitting, his defense was arguably more harmed by the arm injury. Rickey played mostly in the outfield that season, but did play 11 games at catcher. Teams had noticed that the injury had affected his arm, and began to run on him regularly. In a June 28th game against the Washington Senators, Rickey allowed 13 stolen bases.

Rickey didn’t return for the Highlanders the next season. He returned to his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan, and coached baseball, basketball, and football. He later got his law degree, and eventually ended up back in the Browns’ organization. He started doing some scouting for the Browns, before eventually rising to manager and general manager roles. His career in baseball became fairly notable after that.

A baseball player going on to have a famous career as an executive in the sport isn’t that surprising. On the other hand, A baseball player going on to have a famous career as a football executive is a bit surprising.

George Halas was a three sport star at the University of Illinios when he was noticed by a Yankees’ scout. He was offered a chance to go to spring training with the Yankees in 1915, but declined, wanting to get his degree first.

His career would be delayed due to World War I as Halas joined the Navy. Following the war and a impressive football career in the Navy, he signed with the Yankees and went to spring training in 1919. Halas impressed in spring training and was expected to make the team to start the season.

In one spring game against the Dodgers, Halas hit a triple off of hall of famer Rube Marquard. However, he hurt his hip sliding into third and missed the start of the 1919 season. Halas eventually made his major league debut on May 6th. He picked up a single for his first major league hit in that game.

Two days later, Halas again played, hitting another single. Over the next couple months, he would receive occasional playing time, but the high point of his major league baseball career had come and gone. Halas played 11 more games, but went 0-14 and never reached base again.

After spending some of 1919 in the minors, Halas was approached by the A.E. Staley Company about the idea of starting a semi-pro football team. With Halas at the helm, the Decatur Staleys became part of the inaugural season of the American Professional Football Association.

The APFA is today known as the NFL, and the Decatur Staleys are now the Chicago Bears. Until his death in 1983, Halas was owner of the Bears, also having several stints as coach, winning six championships.

In both cases, possibly promising baseball careers were hurt by injuries. However for both, having to stop play and do other things may have had a bigger impact in their sports.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/rickebr01.shtml

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/6d0ab8f3

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/halasge01.shtml

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/586380d8