Tag Archives: Chile Walsh

A Baseball Man in the NFL? Here’s What Happened the Last Time a Cleveland Team Did That

Billy Evans

Billy Evans was a success as general manager of the Cleveland Indians but knew next to nothing about pro football when he came to the NFL’s Cleveland Rams in 1941. He lasted six months. (Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame)

With the Cleveland Browns making news this week by hiring baseball analytics guru Paul DePodesta of Moneyball fame, their fans may be interested to know this is not the first time the NFL in Cleveland has reached out to America’s pastime for help in running a team.

In 1941 the Cleveland Rams were doing a reasonable impersonation of the contemporary Browns by posting consecutive losing seasons and cycling through head coaches in search of the right formula. Then Daniel F. Reeves and Fred Levy Jr. bought the team and almost immediately made a high-profile hire: bringing in future Baseball Hall-of-Famer Billy Evans as Rams general manager.

Like DePodesta, Evans had worked in the Cleveland Indians’ front office. As general manager from 1928 to 1935 he signed stars Hal Trosky and Bob Feller and brought the Indians back to the first division of the American League.

Evans, however, had no practical experience in pro football. This didn’t seem to trouble Reeves and Levy. They teamed him up with Rams head coach Earl “Dutch” Clark, a future Hall of Famer in his own right.

The Rams won their first two games — and proceeded to lose all the rest of them to finish 2–9 and in the basement of the Western Division.

The Rams may have had Hall-of-Fame caliber men in the front office, but their talent on the field was middling at best. The Cleveland Rams, Franklin Lewis of the Cleveland Press noted with words that may sting with familiarity to today’s Browns fans, had “some good players, some inefficient players. Some of the time they had teams good enough to play close games with the league leaders.”

Not good enough. But Evans apparently thought more highly of his own abilities than the owners did. On New Year’s Eve 1941 he abruptly resigned because he and Reeves were too far apart on 1942 salary teams. After only six months in the NFL, Evans returned to baseball.

Was the signing of Evans mostly for show? At one least one sports writer at the time thought it was. With the hiring of Evans the Rams owners had “won the wholehearted support of the city’s football fans,” the Plain Dealer editorialized. But it was just as likely a shrewder motive was at work. Reeves and Levy — the former from New York City, the latter from Kentucky — were “outsiders,” Plain Dealer sports editor Sam Otis noted just before Evans’ resignation, who were “strongly suspected when they first took over” of moving the Rams franchise out of Cleveland. Otis thought hiring Evans, a local favorite, “went a long way toward allaying this fear.”

Time would show that the Rams already had in their organization a far superior assessor of football talent than Evans had been. Charles “Chile” Walsh, toiling at the time as an assistant coach under Clark, soon would be elevated to succeed Evans as GM, then would draft future Hall-of-Famers Bob Waterfield, Tom Fears, and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch as he pointed the Rams toward two NFL championships in seven years — and a new home in Los Angeles.

Browns fans likely will be praying that baseball man DePodesta is a far more assured path to winning in the NFL than Evans had been.

 

 

 

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The Cleveland Rams Scour for a Wartime Team

Reeves in office.web

Rams owner Daniel F. Reeves (at desk) and general manager Chile Walsh (directly in front of him) were the architects of the team’s transformation from losers to winners. Joining Reeves and Walsh in the Rams’ offices in downtown Cleveland in December 1941 are head coach Dutch Clark (left) and business manager Mannie Eisner (right). (Photo: Cleveland News, courtesy of Donald Gries collection)

It’s December 16, 1941, and the National Football League is reckoning with the reality that with the United States now involved in World War II, player rosters are about to be decimated by a draft of a different kind: Uncle Sam’s.

Cleveland Rams owner Daniel F. Reeves, six months into his tenure, generally didn’t spend much time in Cleveland. He preferred instead to operate out of his home and office in Manhattan. But a measure of the urgency of the situation is suggested by this informal pre-Christmas meeting of the Rams’ brass in the team’s offices in the Union Commerce building (now the Huntington Bank Building) in downtown Cleveland.

General manager Charles (Chile) Walsh (middle) and business manager Mannie Eisner are engrossed in their work. But head coach Dutch Clark (far left) looks the most consumed by the task at hand, which almost certainly was reviewing the Rams’ scouting reports and tendering contracts through the mail to any graduating collegian not immediately committed to the military. The Rams had finished 2–9 and in last place in the Western Division that season, and Clark wasn’t accustomed to losing. In fact, he had never had a losing season in the NFL until joining the Rams two years earlier. He would stay just one more year before resigning his post, despairing that the Rams never would get past division foes the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

Reeves and Walsh would stick around, however. With Reeves’ money and Walsh’s expert scouting, Cleveland would transform from losers to winners. On December 16, 1945 — four years to the day after this photo was taken — the Rams would defeat the Washington Redskins 15–14 to win the NFL championship.

Here’s a view into what the four men were working on that day. The day after Christmas, Clark went back to the office to issue the following letter to a prospective player, Francis Logan of Michigan:

December 26, 1941

Dear Mr. Logan:-

Recently I have received several letters from your former coach, Mr. Hal Shields, who was a good friend of mine during the time I was connected with the Detroit Lions. He has been good enough to recommend you to me as a fine prospect for our Cleveland Club with the thought that you might be interested in playing big league football. We are tendering you a contract at a figure in keeping with the salary that is usually paid a first year man just out of college.

From the letter which Hal Shields wrote me I take it for granted that you have already graduated from Detroit Tech or that you are graduating this year. If this is correct you are eligible to play for our team. Frankly, I feel that if you care to continue your football career you could make no better tie-up than with the Cleveland Club. The new owners are desirous of rebuilding the team and making it over into a pennant contender just as quickly as possible.

The Cleveland Club would like your reactions to our contract. We have no idea as to your status in reference to Army service and would appreciate some word from you. If you are not interested in a big league career and do not care to sign the enclosed contract, please be good enough to return it in the enclosed envelope. Naturally, we will be all the more pleased if it comes back properly signed. If that is the case, retain the white contract and return the other two.

Cordially yours,
Dutch Clark
Head Coach

Logan never played in the NFL.

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Cleveland Rams: From Nonentities to NFL Champions in Only Twenty Months

Card-Pitts

The Cleve-Pitts? The winless 1944 merger of the Chicago Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers into a team known as the “Card-Pitts” (and unofficially as the “Carpets”) instead would have been a Rams-Steelers hybrid if not for the vehement opposition of Cleveland general manager Chile Walsh.

(Excerpt from the forthcoming book, CLEVELAND RAMS: Forgotten NFL Champions)

It was the spring of 1944, just weeks before the Allied invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Europe, and the Cleveland Rams franchise felt set upon by the “open animosity” of the rest of the National Football League. Discontinuing play for the 1943 season due to the war had been a mistake, Rams owner Daniel F. Reeves admitted, and he wanted back in for 1944. The other NFL owners acceded but, by the Rams’ accounts, seemed intent on making the Rams pay for their one-year lapse in operation.

Their severity would provoke the Rams into a nearly manic quest for survival and success.

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How A ‘Little Group’ In a Cleveland Hotel Became the National Football League

NFL draft 1943

For decades the NFL’s owners met in hotels in Midwestern cities like Cleveland and Chicago, often to conduct player drafts. On April 18, 1943, Cleveland’s Charles (Chile) Walsh (right) prepares to make draft selections at the Palmer House in Chicago for a Rams team that would sit out that season due to World War II. At left: Fred Mandel, president of the Detroit Lions. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

(Excerpt from the forthcoming book, CLEVELAND RAMS: Forgotten NFL Champions)

“Ohio was the anvil,” Los Angeles sportswriter Bob Oates once lyrically observed, “on which professional football was hammered.” It was not an overstatement.

Charter NFL FranchisesThe National Football League was founded in 1920 in Canton, 60 miles south of Cleveland down the Cuyahoga River valley, just past Akron and the overland portage that links the Cuyahoga with the Tuscarawas River.

So it is no surprise that among the 14 teams gathered inside Ralph Hay’s legendary Hupmobile showroom in Canton to form the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, five were from Ohio (see table). These included charter franchises the Cleveland Tigers, a mostly forgettable squad that posted an inaugural record of 1-4-2, and the Akron Pros, the league’s first champions, led by Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard, who later became the NFL’s first African-American coach.

Two years later the Cleveland Tigers were a financial failure and were gone from the NFL. But the league hardly was gone from Cleveland. The owners, meeting in Cleveland’s downtown Hollenden Hotel on June 18, 1922, acted on Chicago Bears owner George Halas’ recommendation to strike the word professional from the organization’s name (the word was “superfluous,” Halas said), and to use league instead of association, which in baseball usually applied to second-class teams – and “we were first class,” said the supremely confident Halas.

The “little group” of the AFPA became, in the course of one meeting in Cleveland, the “National Football League.”

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