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How 'Bout Those Bears

He played in just 12 games for the Yankees in 1919 with just a couple of singles in 22 at-bats, not exactly the kind of numbers that would enable him to stick around the next season when Babe Ruth arrived in The Bronx.

However, his life in professional sports was just beginning for the 24-year-old George Stanley Halas.

Once again, all 53 Chicago Bears displayed the "GSH" initials on their left sleeve on Sunday, as they presented new coach Marc Trestman with a 24-21 victory 94 years after the team's founder tried to figure out how to hit the curve in the American League.

Folks who feel a sense of relief now that football has returned need not be weighed down with guilt. Even though the baseball season has three more weeks to run before it reaches its merciful conclusion, no one needs to chastise local fans for abandoning ship weeks ago.

If there was any doubt about the White Sox' resolve, their recent nine-game losing streak - which ended yesterday with a 4-2 win in Baltimore - showed us for once and for all that this is, indeed, a sorry bunch.

When George Halas turned his attention to forming the Decatur Staleys, then the Chicago Staleys, and finally, in 1922, the Chicago Bears, baseball was unchallenged as the top dog. If an athlete was talented, he was a baseball player.

The Olympian Jim Thorpe was playing on the other side of New York in 1919 with the crosstown Giants. Apparently he had less trouble than Halas with the curveball since Thorpe hit .252 in six seasons. But the allure of the newly-formed American Professional Football Association - the forerunner of the NFL which debuted in 1922 - wasn't lost on Thorpe, who both coached and played for the Canton Bulldogs, one of the original 14 teams.

Thus, Halas and Thorpe were the first athletes to play both in the major leagues and the NFL.

The most recent was Drew Henson, out of the University of Michigan, who played briefly with the Yankees in 2002-03 and almost just as ephemerally in the NFL beginning with the Cowboys in 2004.

In between were 67 other athletes who played both in the NFL and MLB.

The most famous and exciting of these was, of course, Bo Jackson, who was an All-Star in two sports with the Kansas City Royals (1989) and the Oakland Raiders (1989-90).

Jackson has a special place in White Sox lore, having played on the South Side in 1991 and 1993, the latter year after hip-replacement surgery resulting from four seasons running the ball for the Raiders.

Bo's 16 homers and 45 RBI helped propel the '93 Sox to 94 wins and a Western Division title. If such an honor existed, Bo probably would qualify as the most beloved Sox player who played in the fewest games (108) for the South Siders.

Raiders owner Al Davis allowed Jackson to finish the baseball season before reporting for football duty. That's how much he valued Bo's services.

Deion Sanders was a fourth outfielder for the Yankees and Braves in 1989-94 - his final season was in 2001 with Cincinnati - but he would skip out on the weekends to play DB for the Falcons.

My lasting impression of Prime Time was the afternoon in Yankee Stadium when he failed to run out a pop-up against the White Sox. Carlton Fisk was catching for the Sox and the Hall-of-Famer delivered an on-field lecture to Sanders about respecting the game.

I regret that Fisk hasn't been available to offer the same tirade this season on the occasions when our current athletes have opted to jog to first base.

Anyway, many of the dual athletes played just a few games of either baseball or football, and the phenomenon was most prevalent in the 1920s and '30s. Brian Jordan in the 1990s was notable for leading the Falcons in tackles one season before focusing exclusively on baseball over a 15-year career. The $1.7 million the Cardinals offered may have had something to do with Jordan concentrating solely on the diamond.

Paddy Driscoll also needs to be mentioned. He played briefly for the Cubs in 1917 before a career in the NFL which saw him as Halas's assistant coach for many years and then succeeding GSH as head coach in 1956. Unlike Trestman, Driscoll did not win his first game, but he did lead the Bears to the NFL championship game against the Giants in 1956, where the Bears were trounced 49-17. Driscoll's two-season record as head coach was 14-10-1.

The two sports were intertwined for decades because many pro football teams shared stadiums with their baseball brothers. The Bears played at Wrigley Field. In fact, Halas named them in deference to the Cubs. The field was laid out north to south. The back of the north end zone coincided with the left field wall, which was less than convenient for receivers running full steam in pursuit of potential touchdown passes.

Johnny Unitas made his debut at Wrigley Field - and later played there in what some still call the greatest game ever. It was also a dangerous place to play; the Colts' Lenny Moore made contact with the bricks at top speed one afternoon trying to haul in one of Johnny Unitas's bombs. No medical explanation has ever been divulged as to how Moore retained consciousness. I'm puzzled why the Cubs never showed Alfonso Soriano film of the collision as an incentive for Fonzi to shed his aversion to getting near the ivy.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cardinals played football at Comiskey Park before escaping to St. Louis after the 1959 season. In those days, the Bears were good and the Cardinals miserable - they were 2-10 in their final season in Chicago - but baseball-wise the roles were reversed; the Sox competed every year while the Cubs had Ernie Banks and little else.

Of course, the current season can described as depressing, woeful, miserable, inept, awful - there simply are no remaining adjectives to apply to the White Sox. Just when they displayed a bit of life last month, winning 16 of 23 games, they took off on a 10-game road trip and promptly lost the first nine. Their road record now stands at 25-51. That's hard to do. Even for a bad team.

The dependable starting pitchers couldn't find the plate in three losses to the Red Sox, walking 10 batters in just over 11 innings.

In the 9-1 loss on Monday in New York, the Yankees' eight-run fourth inning was the lowest of the low for the Sox. Catcher Josh Phegley couldn't handle a routine pop-up. Pitcher Dylan Axelrod failed to retire any of the first seven batters, and manager Robin Ventura sat in the dugout while a 1-0 deficit continued to grow with each hitter. Why wouldn't Ventura lift Axelrod? Maybe he's past caring.

Relievers Nate Jones and Donnie Veal blew Tuesday's game after Chris Sale held the Yankees to five hits over 7 1/3 innings. In 3-1 and 4-0 losses in Baltimore on Thursday and Friday, the Sox had a total of 10 hits. Closer Addison Reed blew a 3-2 lead in the 10th inning on Saturday, resulting in a 4-3 loss. And Reed came close to doing the same thing Sunday, before an Oriole baserunning gaffe closed out the game and gave the victory to Andre Rienzo.

Last week was like most weeks. Just fill in the names and attach bases in balls, stranded baserunners, errors, pickoffs, missed cutoff men - you name the mistake and lack of execution and you can summarize the Sox performance.

Just be thankful that we baseball devotees now have the diversion of football.


Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.


1. From Bill Blackwell, former general manager of the Charlotte Knights:

Although he never played in the NFL, Sox first-round draft pick Joe Borchard was a two-sport standout in college. Joe is the only player to ever play in a College World Series and start at QB in the Rose Bowl in the same year. He played in the same era as Drew Henson and while playing in Charlotte we considered having a promotion with a pre-game contest between Henson and Borchard throwing the football. Joe was given the largest signing bonus at the time, to give up football. Although he consider it several times during the latter years of his career, he never left baseball. Henson, on the other hand, did trade his batting helmet for one with a cage on the front but didn't enjoy any better of a career in football than he had in brief trials in the major leagues.

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