Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of the early twentieth century. He was a multi-sport athlete who particularly shined in track and field, though he also had professional careers in both baseball and football.

The details surrounding the birth of Jim Thorpe aren’t entirely clear. It is generally accepted that James Francis Thorpe was born May 22 or 28, 1887, with no birth certificate found to confirm an exact date. He was born in Indian Territory near present-day Prague, Oklahoma to Hiram Thorpe, who was of Sac and Fox descent, and Charlotte Vieux, who was of Potawatomi descent. Jim Thorpe had a twin brother, Charlie, who died of pneumonia when the pair was nine years old.

Both of Thorpe’s parents were Roman Catholic, and in the Catholic Church, he was baptized Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe. Growing up, Thorpe was raised as a Sac and Fox, and his native name, Wa-Tho-Huk, translates as “Bright Path.” Six year after his brother Charlie’s death, Thorpe’s mother also passed away, and his father would follow when Jim was just sixteen years old.

Thorpe was sent to many boarding schools and academies throughout his youth, including Sac and Fox Indian Agency School near Tecumseh, Oklahoma, Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, and Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Jim Thorpe hated his experiences in these institutions, which were set up to teach racial integration, banning students from speaking their native languages and imposing the dress of the average white American. Thorpe’s academic performance was less than stellar, but he showed tremendous promise as an athlete.

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs c 1915-1920 - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe with the Canton Bulldogs, c. 1915-1920 (Wikipedia)

While attending Carlisle, Thorpe competed not only in track and field, but also in football, baseball, lacrosse, and even ballroom dancing. It was here that Thorpe’s athletic abilities started to garner nationwide attention, especially on the football field, where he earned All-American honors in both 1911 and 1912. However, it was in track and field that Thorpe would really leave his mark.

In 1912, Thorpe represented the United States in the Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden. He dominated in both the pentathlon and the decathlon, winning gold medals in both events. He remains the only athlete in history to accomplish this feat. What makes this accomplishment even more incredible is that Thorpe competed wearing mismatched shoes. Ahead of competition, Thorpe’s own shoes were stolen. The culprit behind the theft was never identified, but it goes to show how rampantly racism continued to persist against indigenous peoples. With no other options, Thorpe found two old, different shoes in a dumpster, one of which was larger than the other. He wore an extra sock on one foot to help the larger shoe fit better.

Jim_Thorpe,_1912_Summer_Olympics - Wikipedia

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Summer Olympics (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately for Jim Thorpe, in 1912, strict rules regarding amateurism were in effect for athletes participating in the Olympics. Thorpe had played professional baseball in the Eastern Carolina League for Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1909 and 1910, receiving meager pay. College players, in fact, regularly spent summers playing professionally in order to earn some money, but most used aliases, which Thorpe, unfortunately, did not do. When reports of Thorpe’s past activities were leaked by the press in early 1913, the Amateur Athletic Union decided to withdraw Thorpe’s amateur status retroactively. Later that year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously decided to strip Thorpe of his Olympic titles, medals, and awards, and declare him a professional.

In 1913, Thorpe signed to play professional baseball with the New York Giants. Thorpe played sporadically with the team for three seasons as an outfielder. After playing in the minor leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1916, he returned to the Giants in 1917 and was sold to the Cincinnati Reds early in the season. Late in that same season, he was sold back to the Giants. Once again, Thorpe played sporadically for the Giants in 1918 before being traded to the Boston Braves in May 1919.

In his major league career, Thorpe amassed 91 runs scored and 82 RBIs. Thorpe struggled against the curveball, however, and batted just .252 over his six-year big league career. In his final season, however, Thorpe did manage to attain an impressive .327 average for the season. He would continue to play minor league baseball until 1922.

Jim_Thorpe_Giants

Thorpe as a member of the New York Giants (The Sporting News)

In 1915, Jim Thorpe signed a deal to play football with the Canton Bulldogs for $250 per game under general manager Jack Cusack.  Thorpe would play and coach the Canton Bulldogs during his time with the team and was considered one of the best players in the sport at the time. The Bulldogs would claim an unofficial three world championships in 1916, 1917, and 1919. When the National Football League (NFL) was officially formed in 1920, Thorpe was selected to be the league’s first president. Thorpe retired from professional football at age 41, having played 52 NFL games for six teams from 1920 to 1928.

Thorpe married three times throughout his life and had a total of eight children.  After his athletic career came to an end, Thorpe struggled to provide for his family. He found it difficult to work a non-sports-related job and never held a job for an extended period of time.  On March 28, 1953, Jim Thorpe died of heart failure.

Over the years, supporters of Thorpe attempted to have his Olympic titles reinstated. On January 18, 1983, almost 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee officially reinstated Thorpe’s medals from the 1912 Games at a ceremony attended by two of his children.

In addition, Jim Thorpe was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. He was a Charter Enshrinee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. In 1950, he was named AP’s Most Outstanding Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century, America’s Greatest Football Player of the half-century, and the national press selected him the most outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th Century. Thorpe was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975, and from 1996-2001, he was continuously awarded ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Century award.


Quote of the day

Slumps are like a soft bed. They’re easy to get into and hard to get out of.

~Johnny Bench

Bench Johnny CR73-555_Bat_NBLMcWilliams

Johnny Bench, 1973


This day in baseball: The flooding of Crosley Field

In January 1937, the wettest month in Ohio history caused Cincinnati to experience the worst flood in its history. The Ohio River overflowed, and approximately one million people were left homeless, with $500 million in damages occurring. The flood also impacted Crosley Field, where the lower grandstand was submerged under 21 feet of water. As a publicity stunt, on January 27th, Reds pitcher Lee Grissom and Gene Schott were photographed as they entered the ballpark over the left-field fence and rowed to the area of the pitcher’s mound.

Crosley Field flood, 1937 - mlb.com

mlb.com


This day in baseball: Bumpus Jones throws a no-hitter

Charles “Bumpus” Jones of the Cincinnati Reds threw a no-hitter in his first major league appearance on October 15, 1892, which also happened to be the last day of the season. Jones’s performance came against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the Reds were victorious, 7–1. Jones gave up four walks in the outing, and an error led to an unearned run to prevent a shutout. Nevertheless, Jones became the first major league rookie to throw a no-hitter.

Bumpus Jones circa 1897-1898 with the Columbus Senators - SABR

Bumpus Jones, c.1897-1898 with the Columbus Senators (SABR)


This day in baseball: Black Sox admissions

On September 28, 1920, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Joe Jackson, and Happy Felsch admitted to a grand jury that they had thrown the 1919 series in return for a bribe. The grand jury would indict eight White Sox players on charges of fixing previous season’s World Series against the Reds. The eight members involved in the Black Sox Scandal would go on to be cleared of the charges, but they would be banned for life from baseball by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner.

1919Sox2

1919 Chicago White Sox (umkc.edu)


This day in baseball: Sewell released by Cincinnati

On July 28, 1952, the Cincinnati Reds fired manager Luke Sewell. Sewell was then replaced by the recently released skipper of the St. Louis Browns, Rogers Hornsby, who was fired due to a disagreement with Bill Veeck over an incident against the Yankees. The Reds went 27-23 for the rest of the season. 

Luke Sewell - Goudey card - Wikipedia

Wikipedia


This day in baseball: Waner turns down his 3,000th hit

On June 17, 1942, Braves right fielder Paul Waner stood on first base during the second game of a double-header against the Cincinnati Reds and gestured at the official scorer not to credit him with a hit. Waner had just reached base on a ground ball in the hole that was knocked down by Reds shortstop Eddie Joost.

Waner had entered the game at Braves Field batting just .263 for the year, but he was nearing a major milestone — his 3,000th career hit. When the ground ball knocked down by Joost was initially scored a hit, Waner grew furious. “No, no. Don’t give me a hit on that. I won’t take it,” he yelled. Waner didn’t want a questionable roller to be his historic 3,000th hit.

Jerry Moore, who was acting as official scorer for the game, relented, and he changed the scoring on the play to an error by Joost. (I haven’t been able to find anything depicting Joost’s reaction to this decision, however.)

Two days later, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Waner laced an RBI single off Rip Sewell, his former teammate on the Pirates. In doing so, he became just the seventh player in major league history to hit the 3,000 mark.

paul waner boxscore - sporting news

Box score for Waner’s 3,000th hit game (The Sporting News)


Branch Rickey’s scouting report of Hank Aaron

Here’s an interesting find from the Library of Congress. Dated May 2, 1963, Branch Rickey wrote up a scouting report of Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.

Branch Rickey scouting report on Hank Aaron

Cincinnati, Ohio
May 2, 1963
Cincinnati vs Milwaukee

 

AARON, HANK

Surely one of the greatest hitters in baseball today. Can hit late with power, – good wrists. But in spite of his hitting record and admitted power ability, one cannot help think that Aaron is frequently a guess hitter. Will take three strikes down the middle and in fact frequently acts frozen on pitches. For years I have believed and I still believe that Aaron has more trouble with the breaking stuff. He stands close enough to the plate to pull the outside ball and does pull it. However, he is a foot length further from the plate than Frank Robinson of Cincinnati.

BRANCH RICKEY

[Transcribed and reviewed by volunteers participating in the By The People project at crowd.loc.gov.]

It’s an interesting review of Aaron’s hitting, pretty much right in the middle of his MLB career.  Looking at the box score, Aaron went 2-for-4 with a homer and 2 RBIs in this game, but also struck out twice.

While I am too young to have ever watched Aaron’s hitting, what limited knowledge I have makes me think Rickey might not have been alone in his perception of him as a “guess hitter.”  At the same time, I would also wager that Aaron might have read pitches better than he sometimes let on.

If you’re interested, you can find the digital document on the Library of Congress website here.


Quote of the day

I knew if I walked him and he felt good, he’d steal second. And if he felt really good, he’d steal third. That would be like throwing a triple. So I gave him a low fastball, and he hit a home run.

~Jim Palmer on Joe Morgan

Jim Palmer Joe Morgan Getty Images

Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan (Getty Images)


RIP Joe Morgan

Legendary second baseman Joe Morgan played Major League Baseball for the Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, and Oakland Athletics from 1963 to 1984. Over the course of his career, Morgan won two World Series championships with the Reds in 1975 and 1976 and was also named the National League MVP in each of those years. Morgan was also a ten-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner, and won the Silver Slugger award in 1982. Morgan was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, and he has also been inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and the Astros Hall of Fame.

Joe Morgan died on October 11, 2020 in Danville, California at the age of 77.

Rest in peace.

Morgan Joe CR73-587_HS_NBLMcWilliams

Joe Morgan, 1973 (Baseball Hall of Fame)