Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Joe Guyon, Part II, the pro years

As promised in my June 28 posting, I’m here to wrap up the story of Joe Guyon, with a recap of his career as a professional football and baseball player in the 1920s. If you haven’t read the first part, I’ll wait here while you get caught up.
Guyon left college in 1919, at the age of 26 (eligibility standards were different then), accepting Jim Thorpe’s invitation to join the Canton Bulldogs, a professional football powerhouse in the Ohio League, which was a direct ancestor of today’s NFL.
With a 9-0-1 record, Canton won the 1919 league championship. In 1920, Canton became a charter member of the American Professional Football Association, which became the National Football League in 1922.
In 1920, Guyon, Thorpe and the Bulldogs finished eighth, at 7-4. Unfortunately, stats for the NFL’s early seasons are not available, so it is impossible to quantify Guyon’s performance or make valid comparisons to other pioneering pro stars. We do know, however, that he is credited that season with a 95-yard punt.
Guyon remained paired with Thorpe in four more NFL backfields between 1921 and 1924. They played with the Cleveland Indians in 1921, the Oorang Indians (a traveling team of Native Americans sponsored by a championship dog breeder) in 1922-1923 and the Rock Island Independents in 1924. Surprisingly, those teams had a combined NFL record of 12-23-2, with only one winning season, a 5-2-2 record at Rockford. The two were also close off the field, with Guyon serving as best man at Thorpe’s wedding.
Some sources indicate Guyon also played with the APFA Washington Senators and the independent Union Quakers of Philadelphia in 1921, though those affiliations are not mentioned in Guyon’s official NFL Hall of Fame biography.
Thorpe and Guyon’s football paths diverged in 1925, Thorpe remaining at Rock Island with Guyon moving on to the Kansas City Cowboys in 1925, suffering another losing (2-5-1) season.
If he played pro football at all in 1926, Guyon played for independent teams. In 1927, in their third year in the NFL, the New York Giants signed Guyon. Playing guard tackle, blocking back and tailback and doing the punting, Guyon helped the Giants to an 11-1-1 record and the NFL Championship. “I did everything except sell programs,” Guyon said.
Guyon’s engagement with the championship Giants was his last in the NFL. Though not yet 35, it was reported that a baseball injury prevented his return to pro football. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.
Prior to joining the Canton football team in 1919, Guyon was reported by The Sporting News to have been playing independent baseball in Minnesota and North Dakota. He was given a trial by the New York (baseball) Giants late in the 1919 season, but failed to make the club and, though he played minor league ball for 12 seasons, never played an inning of major league ball.
Late in 1919, Guyon signed his first pro contract with the Atlanta Crackers of the then-Class A Southern Association. The Sporting News’ Atlanta correspondent, who wrote under the by-line of Lynch, lauded what he called the surprise move by team owner Charley Frank to acquire “Georgia’s star football and baseball player.” Lynch wrote, “Although it has been known locally that the popular college player would sign with some professional team for the 1920 drive, it was believed here the offers of several major league clubs, known to have been made to him, would prove so successful that efforts of local magnates to secure his services would prove futile.”
Guyon traveled a bit during the 1920 season. He book ended the season with Atlanta. Early in the year he was put on waivers and claimed by Little Rock. He was joined on the Travelers, who were also a Southern Association team, by Native American players William Wano and Moses Yellow Horse. In July, Guyon was put on waivers by Little Rock and Atlanta reclaimed him.
Guyon initially refused to report back to Atlanta and played for a time with Winder in a Georgia outlaw league. By the end of the season he was back in Atlanta. The SABR Minor Leagues Data Base shows Guyon also found time to play a handful of game in 1920 with Augusta, of the Class C South Atlantic League. Overall, Guyon’s batting average for 1920 was just .233 with one home run.
For the off-season, Guyon joined the Georgia Tech football coaching staff, reportedly commuting each weekend to professional engagements with Canton.
Guyon spent the 1921-1923 season in Atlanta’s outfield. He hit .309, and once the lively ball made its way to the Southern Association, his home run output jumped to 11 in 1922 and 10 in 1923. He had never previously hit more than one home run in any season.
Speed was Guyon’s principal weapon. He stole more than 200 bases in his minor league career, including 45 with Atlanta in 1921. Four times he scored more than 100 runs.
It was back to Little Rock for Guyon in 1924, where he hit .346. He spent the 1925-28 seasons with Louisville, batting a nifty .350 and helping the Colonels to American Association championships in 1926 and 1927.
He played only 25 games for Louisville in 1928, injuring his knee when he ran into an outfield fence in May. That ended his hopes of making the major leagues, as well as his pro football career.
From 1928-1931, Guyon was head baseball coach for the Clemson Tigers, with a combined 42-36-3 record.
In 1931, Guyon returned to professional baseball at the age of 38 as a playing-manager for the Anderson/Spartanburg Electrics of the Class D Palmetto League, batting .315. He jumped a couple of classifications in 1932, managing Asheville of the Piedmont League (Class B). He hit .364 that season in 66 games.
In the off-seasons, Guyon coached high school football at St. Xavier in Louisville from 1931-33, with a 16-7-2 record. Guyon’s final engagement in pro ball was as playing-manager of the Fieldale Towlers in the Bi-State League, a Class D circuit in Virginia and North Carolina. At the age of 43 he was still able to hit .265 in 33 games.
Overall in 12 minor league seasons, Guyon hit .329.
Following his playing days, Guyon lived for a time in Harrah, Okla., and from 1954-1962 in Flint, Mich., where he was a bank guard. A fellow Georgia Tech alum who knew Joe Guyon after his playing days, Joseph P. Byrd III, said of Guyon, “Though a terror on the football field, off the field Joe was a gentleman, light-hearted, bright, animated and witty.” He returned to Louisville in 1968 where he lived out his days, dying there a day after his 79th birthday.

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