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Sundays with Sacco: John Lynch's unique place in baseball

I have always been fascinated by things that great players have done that are a bit off the path from what made them most famous to us, and recently elected Denver Broncos Ring of Fame member John Lynch is carries some elements of those uncommon paths.

Check out the best photos of John Lynch, a 2020 finalist for selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame the last three years, and hopefully this is the year he gets into Canton, but what draws my eye in this column is that Lynch played professional baseball briefly, which is unusual but not entirely uncommon among NFL players.

There are other previously elected Pro Football Hall of Famers who have baseball backgrounds, and I thought we might look at them, as well as at Lynch's unique two-sport position.

  • Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway was drafted and signed by the New York Yankees, and he played the 1982 baseball season for the Oneonta Yankees in the New York-Penn League.
  • NFL founder George Halas, who had a legendary career as player, coach and owner of the Chicago Bears, once played 12 games as an outfielder for the New York Yankees in 1919, although a hip injury ended his baseball career and helped lead to the founding of the most popular league in the most popular sport in American history.
  • Even before Halas there was Jim Thorpe, who was by all accounts one of the greatest athletes in history, and some still regard him as the single greatest athlete ever.

Thorpe won gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics, but had his medals taken away because he had played minor league baseball while in college. A great man, Bob Wheeler, former public relations director for Monday Night Football, led the successful drive to get Thorpe's medals returned to his family.

Thorpe signed with the New York Giants in baseball in 1913 and played three seasons for them before moving on, last playing professional baseball in 1922.

  • There is only one man ever who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the College Football Hall of Fame, and that is the legendary Cal Hubbard.
    Most fans today would not have heard of Hubbard, which is understandable, but he has been described as the best tackle in football history (by fellow Hall of Famer Mel Hein) in a career than spanned from 1927-36.

Hubbard was a fascinating man, a beast on the field but cerebral off it, who had first umpired baseball in his teens, well before he ever went to college to play football.

So it was logical -- for him -- to return to baseball after his NFL career ended, and he was a major league umpire from 1936-51, then served as supervisor of officials until 1969.

It is hard to imagine anyone ever matching Hubbard's feat of being in the halls of fame of both baseball and football, but that brings us back to Lynch, who has an accomplishment that is unique as well.

He has a baseball/football connection that is one of a kind. Of course, it would be premature to say that Lynch will make the Hall of Fame, although many consider him highly qualified and hope it happens soon.

But he already has his pro baseball jersey in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Like Elway, Lynch also played baseball at Stanford, and he too was drafted by a major league baseball team, in his case the Florida (now Miami) Marlins.

Lynch had the kind of distinction that can only happen once.

When baseball expands, the teams actually have their minor league teams play before the major league team begins, as they must begin the process of developing young players. That was the background that led to John Lynch being the starting pitcher and throwing the first pitch for the Florida Marlins organization. It came in 1992 with Lynch as a member of the Erie team in the New York-Penn League.

He also pitched in 1993 for the Marlins' Kane County team and had a combined two-year record of 1-3 with an outstanding 2.35 earned run average.

So John Lynch did not have a baseball career as long as many others, but he is one of only thirty players to have thrown out the first pitch in the history of a major league organization, and the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum put his Erie jersey on display as a result.

And that gives Lynch, one of the great safeties in pro football history, a one-of-a-kind place in baseball history as well.

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