Kyle Rote made a name for himself as a New York Giant in the 1950s, but his teammates weren't Willie Mays and Sal Maglie.
Rote didn't play in the Polo Grounds either. Instead, he earned his celebrity status across the Harlem River at Yankee Stadium, playing with the likes of Frank Gifford and Sam Huff. He carved out his place in sporting history among the NFL's elite during a time that is largely considered to be one of baseball's golden ages.
He was one of the building blocks of the NFL, helping turn the league into the powerhouse it has become. Few people know, though, that Rote was actually an accomplished baseball player, having made a big splash in the Class B Gulf Coast League upon graduating from Southern Methodist University in 1951.
The former All-American and future member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame was already a legend in the Lone Star State because of a spectacular high school career in Austin and an even more impressive run at SMU. So when Corpus Christi owner George Schepps offered Rote, who ran track and played baseball in college, a contract in the spring of '51, many thought he was only capitalizing on the popularity of one of Texas' favorite sons.
The Gulf Coast League, which was in its first year of existence, would last only three seasons. But Rote quickly proved that he was more than just a publicity stunt, becoming one of the league's most popular players. He spent seven weeks there, tearing up the circuit while leading many to believe he had missed his true calling.
There is some dispute, however, as to how many games he actually played for the Corpus Christi Aces. The Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia credits him with having appeared in 22 games while Noe Torres, the author of "Ghost Leagues: A History of Minor League Baseball in South Texas," has him appearing in 16 games. The one thing the two sources agree on is that he had 23 hits, seven of which were homers. The encyclopedia doesn't list what he batted, though Torres has Rote going 23-for-64 (.360). KyleRote.org, the website run by Rote's family, says he hit .347. Torres credits him with 17 RBIs while the Encyclopedia gives him 13.
"Sure the pitchers have better control and are faster [than amateur ball] but batting against them is easier," Rote, an outfielder, told The Valley Morning Star at the season's outset. "At least they know where the plate is."
Details about much of Rote's time in the GCL are sketchy, but there are a few facts that aren't in dispute. Like the three-homer, six-RBI game he had against Galveston on April 26. Then there was the May 22 game against Harlingen when he had a homer, a triple and two singles before leaving the game in the sixth inning after getting hit by a pitch.
The next day he announced he was leaving the Aces to get ready for football. Whether getting hit by the pitch expedited his departure -- NFL training camp didn't start until July -- isn't clear. But it was obvious that he had left a mark on the GCL, where Corpus Christi was atop the standings with a 24-18 mark.
Torres quoted Schepps in his book about Rote's departure.
"It is with regret that we have to lose Kyle Rote. It is my opinion that he has a bright future as a prospect in baseball," Schepps said.
Torres, who is a Texas baseball historian, concurred with Schepps.
"If Rote had focused all his attention and abilities on baseball, he would surely have been one of the "giants" of the diamond rather than the gridiron," Torres said. "I assert this based on the documented evidence that Rote was a successful ballplayer at every level in which he played. He was considered a top baseball prospect coming out of high school.
"The fact that he played Class B baseball in 1951 was not an indication of weak baseball skills as much as it was a reflection of how fearful the New York Giants were of allowing their top rookie to play another sport prior to NFL camp. They grudgingly permitted it but apparently kept hounding him to give it up for fear of injury. As it turned out, Rote played very well in the Gulf Coast League and did so against some excellent ballplayers."
Rote would star for the Giants over the next decade, retiring after the 1961 season. He became the original founder of the NFL Player's Association, was the Giants' captain for 10 years and would also be named as the receiver when New York honored its all-time team in 1995. He died in 2002 at the age of 73.
His name remains legendary in NFL circles, though, and in the minds of many baseball fans in a little corner of Texas.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.