ND Gridders Who Played MLB

Mar 22, 2014

While I was thinking about the achievements of Notre Dame Football players who also played basketball for the Irish, I got to thinking about ND footballer who later played Major League Baseball.  For those of you who have purchased my book, NOTRE DAME BASEBALL GREATS (shameless plug), this list is not new.

Frank Shaughnessy was the left end on the 1901-02 team and the right end on the 1903-04 teams, also serving as Captain of the 1904 team.  While serving as the President of the International League, he was credited with “saving the Minor Leagues”, with the creation of the Shaughnessy Plan for post-season playoffs.  In 1953 he received the King of Baseball Award by Minor League baseball.  One of his ND football highlights was returning a fumble 107, against Kansas.  His exploits are worth a very long article.  Some of his accomplishments were allegedly introducing what we now call option football, while coaching Yale and Cornell.  He was also the football coach at Clemson and Washington and Lee.  He was the first professional coach hired in Canadian university football at McGill University, where he won the football championship in each of his first two years. He also coached the Ottawa Rough Riders.  He also served as the manager of the Ottawa Senators hockey team and later coached the men’s and women’s hockey teams at McGill.

Bert Daniels was a reserve end on the 1908 Notre Dame team.  He played seven years of college sports (football and baseball) at Notre Dame, Villanova, and Bucknell.  He also played a lot of semi-pro football.  He was compared to Ty Cobb, for his speed and hitting when he went to the Major Leagues, but the many years of football had taken a toll on his legs.

Red Kelly was the second team left half back on the 1909 Notre Dame team, which stunned the football world by defeating Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

Cy Wlliams, was the second team left end on the 1910 ND team (a guy named Rockne was third team at right end).  He also was a reserve basketball player and star on the baseball and track teams.  He won four NL home run titles.  He was the National League’s all-time leader in home runs until Rogers Hornsby passed him, in the mid 20’s. 

Alfred “Dutch” Bergman was the 3rd team RH (1910), 1st team RH (1911), second team RH (1913), and first team QB (1914) for the Irish.  Like Williams, he also played all four primary varsity sports for the Irish.  His football highlight was a 105 yard kickoff return versus Loyola (IL).

Rupert Mills was the third team RE in 1913 (Knute was first team LE).  He was the first team RE, in 1914.  He also played all four varsity sports.  He and Dutch Bergman were the first two ND men to earn four monograms in the same year. 

John Mohardt was the 3rd team RH in 1918; third team LH in 1919; second team LH in 1920; and first team LH in 1921.  He blocked for Gipp at ND and Red Grange on the Bears.  He played one year in the Majors, batting 1.000 in his only at bat.  He played five years in the NFL.  He played these pro sports only to put himself through Northwestern Medical School, later becoming a Mayo Clinic surgeon.  He also ran track for the Irish.

Paul Castner was the second team FB in 1920-21 and first team FB in 1922.  He had a Notre Dame record 253 yards in kick returns, versus Kalamazoo.  He is Notre Dame’s all-time leading kick returner.  He wrote a fine book about Knute Rockne.  He pitched a no hitter for ND (and I have a baseball from that game—there were no more than three balls used for a game in those days).

Richard “Red” Smith was one of two “Red” Smith’s in his Notre Dame graduating class, both from Wisconsin.  Both had long careers in sports.  Red the player was the second team RG in 1925 and the second team RG and 3rd team FB in 1926.  He had long careers in the NFL as a coach and in Minor League baseball as executive.  Like Mohardt, Red played NFL football in addition to MLB. 

Andy Pilney was the second team LH, 1933-35.  He was the hero of the 1935 win over Ohio State, which was called the “game of the half century”.

John McHale was the second team center, in 1940.  He became a long-time Major League executive and member of the ND College of Arts & Letters Advisory Council.  In 1971, when I was appointed to the Arts & Letters Advisory Council as a “young alumnus, I was seated between Johnny McHale and Don McNeil (“The Breakfast Club”) at my first meeting.  As a young Detroit Tigers fan, I had sent letters to McHale recommending trades (!) and I still have a copy of one of his replies.

Dan McGinn was a star punter at ND and fine major league pitcher and remains a good friend to this day, going back to our years as Communication Arts majors at Notre Dame.

Jeff Samardzija was an All American WR for the Irish and a mediocre starting pitcher for the baseball team.  He decided to skip an NFL career to concentrate on baseball and has become a very serviceable pitcher for the Cubs.  During his 2005-06 All American seasons, he caught 27 TD passes from Brady Quinn.

At least six other future MLB players participated in some kind of football for the Irish.

I have a great photo of Henry Thielman with the 1900 ND team, but there is no evidence that he ever got in a game.

Red Morgan played interhall football at ND, but later starred for the Georgetown team, after transferring from ND.

Outstanding MLB players Bob Bescher and Ed Reulbach were interhall football stars for the Irish.  Bescher became a star football player at Wittenberg, after transferring from Notre Dame.

Harry Curtis was a star catcher at Notre Dame and could be considered our first unofficial Athletic Director.  He was one of the top field goal kickers in the country, having starred at Syracuse before coming to Notre Dame.  But, he was not permitted to kick for the Irish because he broke his hand and in those days, specialists were not permitted.  

Tom Whelan was at ND for a year or so before transferring to a couple colleges back east.  Like Bergman, Smith, and Mohardt, he played MLB and pro football.  He was one of the first players in the brand new NFL. 


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