April 02, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Jackie Robinson

The College Football Hall of Fame has nearly two dozen members who played major league baseball. But what about the reverse? What Baseball Hall of Famers played college football? With a much smaller membership, obviously there are far fewer two-sport stars in Cooperstown than in Atlanta.

The only Baseball Hall of Famer that achieved football All-America status was Frankie Frisch. In 1918, “The Fordham Flash” was named a second-team All-America halfback by Walter Camp. In his All-America selections, Camp noted that Frisch’s speed might make him a greater offensive threat than his picks for the first team. At Fordham, Frankie played four sports and gained his nickname as a track athlete. Due to World War I, Fordham played an abbreviated schedule that year, posting a 5-1 mark.

In 1919, he joined his hometown New York Giants, never spending a day in the minor leagues. Playing the majority of his career at second base, he compiled a .316 lifetime batting average. He was traded to the Cardinals in 1926, and won the National League’s MVP in 1931. He was the manager of the club when St. Louis won the 1934 World Series.

Another New York collegian was Columbia’s Lou Gehrig. One of four children, Lou was the only sibling to survive infancy. He attended Columbia on a football scholarship, with the thought of becoming an engineer. With the Lions, he played both fullback and tackle. He was ineligible for his freshman season, having played minor league baseball under an assumed name. His only football season as a letterman came his sophomore year. With his father in poor health, Gehrig signed with the New York Yankees in 1923 ending his collegiate career.

“The Iron Horse” is obviously one of baseball’s all-time greats and most heroic figures. His records and achievements are numerous: appearing in 2,130 consecutive games, winning two MVP awards and eight world championships. The courage displayed in his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has made his name synonymous with this affliction.

Another baseball legend is UCLA’s Jackie Robinson. Like Frisch, he was a multi-sports star who also lettered in four sports. He came to UCLA from Pasadena Junior College and played football for the Bruins for two seasons. In 1939, he teamed in the backfield with Hall of Famer Kenny Washington as the Bruins went 6-0-4. The following year, he became the team’s featured back as UCLA struggled through a 1-9 campaign. While the publications of the era noted Jackie’s great speed, passing and punting abilities, Street and Smith’s felt that Robinson was “more fragile and lack(ed)ability to be in the right defensive spot.”

Robinson would dispel this publication's notions of his toughness and ability to be the right man for a difficult position. In becoming the firstto break baseball’s color barrier in 1947, he is greatly hailed as being one of the most influential figures in the civil rights movement. In ten seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers he had a .311 lifetime batting average and appeared in six World Series.

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