It’s fairly well-known that Sox pitcher Gene Conley also played pro sports as a center for the Boston Celtics of the NBA, Bill Russell’s backup. Make that the World Champion Boston Celtics. Conley was on the 1959, 1960, and 1961 champion teams. Because he’d also been on the 1957 World Champion Braves, Conley remains the only professional sports player on champion teams in two sports. He also won the 1955 All-Star Game (in baseball). Conley had played for the Boston Braves before the team relocated to Milwaukee, thus making him also the only pro to play for three professional teams from the same city -- Braves, Red Sox, Celtics.
On April 27, 1963, for at least a moment in the fourth inning, two NBA players (Gene Conley of the Celtics and Dave DeBusschere of the New York Knicks) each pitched for their respective Sox (Conley for the Red, and DeBusschere for the White). It was a 9-5 game, and Boston won it. Conley was half of the December 1960 trade that still stands as “the biggest trade in history” -- the Red Sox traded 6’6 1/2” pitcher Frank Sullivan to acquire the 6’8” or 6’9” Conley.
There were many Red Sox players who were multi-sport athletes in high school or college. Some, like Jackie Jensen and Harry Agganis (a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 1952 draft), played football. Johnny Pesky skated with the Boston Bruins and there were murmurs of a contract offer -- before the Red Sox told him not to be found scrimmaging on the ice.
Infielder John Reder’s obituary from the Fall River Herald News states that he “was also considered one of the top professional soccer players in the country and was named a soccer All-American.” Reder played first base and third base for the Red Sox in 1932. In the world of soccer, he had been a goalie for the New York Marksmen (1929-30) and for the New York Yankees (!), who were also called the New Bedford Whalers, in 1931. Reder of the Red Sox batted .135 in 37 at-bats, with one double and three RBIs. He was born in Lublin, Poland.
Sam Dente also played some professional soccer, with the Kearny Americans in the American Soccer League.
In the offseasons, Cliff Brady had played for the Scullin Steel Football Club of St. Louis and, as it happened, in March 1922 the team was up to play in the national championship competition against Todds Ship Yard of Brooklyn. The Boston Herald explained, “Brady is a star forward on the Scullin team and has received permission from George Stallings to return to St. Louis for that game. Stallings evidently figures that it will be a good chance for Brady to get all the boots out of his system before returning to baseball.” Scullin won, 3-2, in St. Louis on March 19, starting the game in heavy rain but in front of 9,000 fans. Todds leapt out to a 2-0 lead, but Brady scored one goal just before the end of the first half. Elmer Schwartz kicked in the tying and winning goals. Brady was thus a national champion for the only time in his sports career.
It’s with pro football, though, that the greatest overlap occurred. A full six Sox also played in the NFL:
1921: Jack Perrin played for the Red Sox for two days in 1921, but appeared in four games. The outfielders played in back-to-back doubleheaders on July 11 and July 12, batting .231 (3 for 13, all singles; he also struck out three times) with one RBI. He was the Big Ten All-Star left fielder for Michigan that year, but he only got one chance in the field for the Red Sox. He recorded a putout. It was his only time in major league baseball -- but five years later, he got into six NFL games as a blocking back with the 1926 Hartford Blues. He kicked one field goal and also kicked for three extra points.
On April 20, 1923 Dick Reichle hit his one and only major league homer off Waite Hoyt, a two-run bounce home run to left field, part of a three-run first inning for the Red Sox. Babe Ruth’s double with the bases loaded in the ninth gave the Yankees the win. Reichle appeared in 122 games that year, but the next time he played major league ball it was in the NFL -- as an offensive end for the 1923 Milwaukee Badgers.
Hoge Workman had his major league debut with the Red Sox on June 27, 1924. Workman walked one Yankee and surrendered three hits in 1 1/3 innings and then was lifted for a pinch-hitter. He threw 18 innings in 11 appearances in 1924, but by year’s end was playing in the National Football League for the Cleveland Bulldogs. His 11 MLB games were overshadowed by his 19 NFL games. Workman’s best work was for Cleveland, where he threw nine touchdown passes in nine games in 1924. He put in time as a quarterback, end, fullback, and halfback. After six years out of major league sports, he resurfaced for nine more games with the 1931 Cleveland Indians NFL team, and the following year he played in one game for the New York Giants, gaining one yard in one attempt.
Charlie Berry might have played football against either Perrin or Reichle, or both. It was a busy year for the MLB/NFL nexus. In 1925-26, he played in 20 games as an offensive end for the NFL’s Pottsville Maroons, 10 games in 1925, and nine in 1926; he scored nine touchdowns -- four receiving, four rushing, and one off a fumble. Berry also kicked three field goals and 29 extra points during his gridiron career. In baseball, Berry was a catcher for the Red Sox for several years, from 1928-32, and played in 709 major league games for the Athletics, Red Sox, and White Sox, from 1925 through 1938, batting .269. Babe Ruth might have known better than to have tried to bowl over Berry, attempting to score on a sac fly on April 22, 1931. Later in the same inning, after he’d taken his place in the field, Ruth strained a ligament and ended up being carried off the field. Cause and effect? Perhaps not. Berry’s post-playing days saw him a two-sport man as well: he was an American League umpire from 1942 through 1962, and also served as a referee in the NFL for 24 seasons.
Bill McWilliams got into two games and had two at-bats for the 1931 Red Sox (see his story elsewhere in this book). He never got a hit. He got into five NFL games in 1934 as a wingback and halfback for the Detroit Lions, where he recorded 16 yards rushing in six attempts.
Carroll Hardy played for the Sox from 1960 through 1962. He’d been a halfback, appearing in 10 games for the 1955 San Francisco 49ers, recording 37 yards rushing on 15 attempts, with 12 receptions for 388 yards, an average of 28.2 yards per reception, scoring four touchdowns. With Boston, Hardy is best known as the only man to pinch-hit for Ted Williams. He also pinch-hit for both Carl Yastrzemski and Roger Maris (with Cleveland). After baseball, Carroll Hardy served a stint as director of player personnel and assistant general manager for the Denver Broncos, spending 20 years in the Broncos front office.
After John Burkett finished 15 seasons of major league baseball, he finally achieved his first sports ambition -- to become a pro bowler. Burkett told the Reno Gazette-Journal that he’d worked at a bowling alley for $1.50 per hour during high school. “I wanted to turn pro out of high school. Baseball just kind of came along. I was drafted in the sixth round (out of high school) and they gave me 13 grand and I thought I was rich and wouldn’t have to work. I gave baseball a shot thinking I could always come back to bowling later if it didn’t work out.” It was bowling that didn’t work ouy, but he finished 32nd in the 2000 Brunswick Pro Source Don Carter Classic, while still pitching, winning $1,040. In 18 games he averaged 217.28. After his final season, 2003, he tried to go pro full time, but in January 2004 he fell short of making the first cut at the American Bowling Congress Masters.
Golf? Ken Harrelson broke his leg in spring training 1970 and missed almost the entire season. In mid-1971, he decided to take up pro golf. He told biographer Alex Edelman, “I just lost my desire to play baseball. I was still a competitor…but I didn’t want to play baseball anymore.” Harrelson sadly announced that he would quit the game he had loved for so long to pursue a professional golfing career. That pursuit ended badly, and Harrelson turned back to baseball once more in 1975, coming back to Boston -- this time as an announcer.” Harrelson spent three years on the Tour, even competing in the British Open. He found that golf was much tougher than baseball. “In baseball, you react to the pitcher,” he said. “In golf, it’s just you. The mental part is what gets you.” (www.golfschool.com)
Researcher Brian McKenna found two Red Sox players appearing in National Basketball League games, Ernie Andres (1939-43 for Oshkosh) and Lou Boudreau (playing briefly for the NBL’s Hammond, Indiana Ciesar All-Americans prior to World War II). In his autobiography, Boudreau wrote, “I was pretty good, though I wasn’t very tall, and I probably could have continued to play in that league for a few years.” But the Cleveland Indians asked him to concentrate on baseball and give up the hoops. Other pro basketballers before World War II who have Red Sox connections are: Bucky Harris, Bucky Walters, and Negro Leagues and Red Sox farmhand Piper Davis. Wayne McElreavy points to a 1929 Washington Post article which shows that future Basketball Hall of Famer Bennie Borgmann was on the Red Sox roster of the day, although he never played for the team.
Al Kellett faced all of two batters as a member of the 1924 Red Sox, walking them both, but he played several seasons in the American Professional Basketball League – including a team in Boston, the 1934/35 Boston Trojans. Kellett was a high-scoring center in his day, and also played for the Philadelphia Warriors, the Chicago Bruins, and a couple of other pro teams of the 1920s and 1930s.
In the winters of 1967 and 1968, Ferguson Jenkins kept in shape playing for a while with the Harlem Globetrotters. They were always in a league of their own.
Jimmy Piersall was not only signed by the Red Sox right out of high school, but drafted by the Boston Celtics as well.
Harry Agganis was another player with two-sport potential. Billy Consolo roomed with Agganis the year before Harry’s Red Sox debut. Consolo recalls the Cleveland Browns calling him up. They told him, “Otto Graham has retired and you’re our number one draft choice. You don’t want to play baseball.” Consolo says, “I heard all those conversations, man. He could have been a professional football player, quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.” But Agganis did want to play baseball and was off to a strong start before his tragic death.
There were two Sox players with two-sport potential on the 1929 team: Bill Barrett and Ed Morris. In the off-season, both applied for licenses to box professionally -- hoping to cash in on some of the money that White Sox infielder Art Shires was earning in the ring. A match at the Boston Garden, pitting Barrett or Morris against Shires was contemplated. Commissioner Landis stepped in and announced that “any ball player engaging in the so-called manly art of boxing would be considered retired from baseball.” That was that, other than the Benevolent Association of Boxers retaliating by banning boxers from playing professional baseball.
A two-sport man signed by Boston but who never made the team. There are bound to be a few of them. Perhaps the first was reflected in this brief note in the April 10, 1901 edition of the Washington Post: “The Boston American League team has signed Dr. Harley Parker, the Chicago billiard expert and ball player.” Billiards was another sport that tracks play by innings. Parker had appeared in 18 games for the Chicago Colts (precursor to the Cubs) in 1893, 1895, and 1896, pitching in 17 of them. He was 4-2 in 1895 but fell to 1-5 in 1896. He did play in one major league game in 1901, but it was for Cincinnati on June 21. He pitched eight innings and gave up 21 runs, 14 of them earned. Apparently, Boston made the right choice not throwing him out there on the mound. Later in the year, Parker wound up pitching for Buffalo. He later umpired 28 AL games in 1911, but none involved the Red Sox. Parker was active in billiards tournaments for at least the next couple of decades.
In 1941, former Red Sox farm director Billy Evans (1936-40) was the general manager of the NFL’s Cleveland Rams. But maybe we’re getting too far afield here.