On February 1, 1913, 25-year-old multi-sport star Jim Thorpe—who won two gold medals at the 1912 Olympics—signs a Major League Baseball contract with the New York Giants. The signing comes on the same day Thorpe returns his Olympic medals to Sweden for a violation of amateur rules. Years earlier, he was paid to play minor league baseball.
READ MORE: How Jim Thorpe Became America’s First Multi-Sport Star
“The peerless athlete, chaperoned by Glenn Warner, his guide, philosopher and friend, arrived early in the morning from Carlisle [Pennsylvania], and on the same day that his prizes as amateur athlete were being returned to Sweden affixed his name to the document which will give him a fat stipend as a ball player,” The New York Sun reported.
“Pop” Warner coached Thorpe at Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Thorpe didn’t seem upset that he was forced to return his Olympic medals, The Sun reported.
Added the newspaper: “For a greater part of the day the offices of the New York club were filled with fans, rooters, bugs and nuts. Thorpe was the reason.”
Warner, a legendary football coach, said the popular Thorpe wasn’t a “freak attraction” for the Giants.
“I haven’t any doubt that he will develop into a first class ball player,” he told The Sun. “He has the ability, mental and physical. He’d rather have played baseball at Carlisle than gone to the track team and was always at me to let him play ball, but he was too valuable on the track team and so played baseball only occasionally.”
In addition to competing in track, football and baseball, Thorpe was adept at basketball, boxing, lacrosse, swimming, hockey, handball and tennis. He even won an intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship.
In his first MLB season, Thorpe—an outfielder and pinch-hitter—played only 19 games, batting .143. He played six seasons in the big leagues, finishing his career with the Boston Braves in 1919. Thorpe’s career batting average was .252.