Al Baisi, Chicago Bears 1940-41, '46
Al Baisi played for the Chicago Bears in the team’s dynastic years, during an age when professional football players received $175 per game and little notoriety. He played next to the likes of Sid Luckman, George Musso, Joe Stydahar and Bulldog Turner after growing up humbly in West Virginia. After living a life that few have the chance to, Baisi now spends his evenings drinking coffee and chomping on cigars at Alary’s Bar in St. Paul, MN, which is operated by his son Al Jr. If you catch him at his designated bar stool, Baisi is always willing to share his Bears stories from a bygone era, and what stories they are.
Baisi grew up in Norton, WV, attended high school in Elkins, WV, and played guard for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Baisi was not picked in the 1940 college draft, which might lead the layman to think he wasn’t good enough. After playing in the 1939 College All-Star game (annually played in the spring at Soldier Field in Chicago), one would surmise that he had to have been “good enough” to be picked by an NFL team.
“I didn’t want to be drafted,” Baisi said. “In those days, representatives from NFL teams would come out and ask you if you would play professional football if you were drafted, and I said I wouldn’t,” he quipped. Of course he did want to play professional football, and specifically he wanted to play with West Virginia teammate Stydahar and only for the Chicago Bears. “The Bears were THE team you wanted to play for in those days, so through Stydahar I had it figured out that if I didn’t get drafted, the Bears would pick me up. And they did,” he said. “George Halas had connections to get things done,” he added.
Baisi wore #26 for the Monsters of the Midway in 1940, 41 and 46. After the 1941 season and December 7, the day that will live in infamy, he was drafted into the United States Army, in which he served through 1945. Baisi returned to the Bears in 1946 with other players coming out of the military, and the team promptly won another championship, the last they would win until 1963. Although Baisi was most definitely a part of that team, the Chicago Bears media guide doesn’t list him as being a part of that championship team. “I was in the hospital with an injury the day of the team photo, so I guess they figured I wasn’t on the team that year….I certainly was,” he said. When asked to tell about his favorite memory of serving his country during the war, Baisi remembers the day he drove in to begin his service in his Cadillac he purchased with his championship bonus. For a man raised on a small farm in the mountains of West Virginia, it was a proud moment.
Perhaps that appreciation for having a nice car was fueled by memories of his rookie year, during training camp at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, WI. “Sid Luckman was about the only player that had a car, and myself and Ray Bray (his best friend on the team) would wash and polish it for him in hopes that he’d take us out of camp in it. That was fine with Halas, because he wouldn’t let Luckman go out in public without a couple of offensive linemen to take care of him,” Baisi said with a chuckle. George Halas’ love of Sid Luckman as a human being is well publicized, and Luckman was undoubtedly the best QB in the NFL in his era, and the best in Chicago Bears history. The quarterback’s relationship with Halas was so strong that he even attended church to please the head coach, despite the fact that he was Jewish. “I used to sit in the back of the church with him,” Baisi said of Luckman.
According to Baisi, the legends of Chicago Bears lore were as strong as they are portrayed in the media. Halas was a tremendous athlete, respected by all, and he recalled the well-known story that Halas was the right fielder on the New York Yankees that preceded the man named Babe Ruth. “Halas was a terror on the sidelines; he would run end zone to end zone to chase after officials, and usually outrun the speediest players on either side of the field,” he said.
Halas is still as notorious for his thrifty spending as he is for his sideline demeanor. Baisi recalled that at the end of the season, players would meet with the owner/coach to discuss their salary for the next year. “Unfortunately, Halas would only remember the negative aspects of the season and where you screwed up when you’d meet with him at the end of the year. Most everyone would ask for a raise, and according to Baisi, Halas’ response would typically go something like:
"How much money do you make per game? $175? We play eleven games in a season, right? Well, if you make the playoffs, you get an extra game’s pay there, plus the championship bonus if you win that and an extra $175 for playing against the college all stars (the NFL champions played against the college all stars). So work hard and win, and consider that extra money from those games your raise."
Baisi said the typical response was to go along with Halas.
Chicago’s rivalry with Green Bay was every bit as brutal in his day, Baisi said. “Halas would tell us ‘you take care of the players, I’ll take care of (coach Curly) Lambeau’. He didn’t want us going anywhere alone while we were in town, and we had to wear our helmets any time we ran to the locker room, because people would be throwing rocks at us from the stands,” he remembered. At the same time, the deep respect between the organizations was evident, as “Lambeau once said that the only person he’ll ever call “coach” is George Halas,” Baisi said.
Without missing a step, Baisi said his all-time favorite memory of playing for the Bears was beating the Washington Redskins 73-0 on December 8, 1940 in the NFL Championship. He recalled how the Redskins called the Bears “crybabies” after they had beaten the Bears two weeks earlier, and how Halas fired up his team to avenge the insult. “On the first drive of the game, after only a few plays, Luckman faked a toss to George McAfee and pitched to Osmanski going the other way. It was a 68 yard touchdown, and that was just the start,” he remembered fondly.
After spending the 1946 season with the Bears, Baisi played several games with the Philadelphia Eagles, and eventually settled with his wife in Minnesota, where he raised a son and a daughter. He became a well-known character in the St. Paul community, operating several businesses and nightclubs until he deferred to retirement.
Neither pro football nor this world will see many more Al Baisi’s. For now, we can only appreciate those moments when we can pull up to a barstool and step back in time to what seems like a better era.
Obituary, April 19, 2005
Colorful barkeep was former Chicago Bear
Pioneer Press
Albert F. Baisi, a professional football player who became one of St. Paul's most colorful saloon operators, has died, according to his son. He was 87.
Baisi, who operated Alary's Bar at three downtown locations for fully half of the 20th century, died Friday and was buried over the weekend. He had requested no public notification of his death, said son Al Baisi Jr., who operates Alary's at 139 E. Seventh St.
"He wanted to go out under the radar," Baisi said of his father.
Nicknamed "Big Al," Baisi was once described in a newspaper profile as "blind, beefy and bellicose," though he was beloved by regulars at the bar who often had their own nicknames: Charlie the Belgian, Tone the Phone, Window Washing Bob and Jack the Rat.
Baisi also crossed paths with some rough characters. He was blinded in 1970 when a disgruntled patron shot him in the face with a shotgun.
A native of West Virginia, Baisi played professional football for the Chicago Bears during the team's 1940 and 1941 seasons and returned to the Bears for a final season in 1946 after playing on an Armed Forces football team during World War II. For the Bears, he played "both directions" - as an offensive guard and a defensive linebacker.
He bought into the local saloon business in 1950 after moving to St. Paul. After the first Alary's on Wabasha Street was torn down in 1960 for an urban renewal project, Baisi moved across the street to 457 Wabasha St. There he operated an establishment that featured exotic dancers until the property was cleared for construction of the World Trade Center in the early 1980s.
The saloon was notable for burlesque dancers who billed themselves with titles like "The Leopard Girl" and "The Girl With the Educated Tassels." Until he was blinded in the shooting, Baisi was the bar's proprietor and its bouncer.
The shooting took place early in the morning Feb. 25, 1970, when an unidentified assailant with a shotgun pulled up next to Baisi's car at White Bear and Arlington avenues. According to reports, Baisi pulled a pistol from under his car's seat and returned fire before a second shotgun blast blinded him. The gunman fled and was never charged.
Even after the injury, Baisi continued to hold court at his bar, often with a favorite hunting dog at his side.
He later engaged in a long legal struggle with St. Paul officials over licensing after the bar on Wabasha Street was razed in 1984. Ultimately, a judge ordered the city to transfer a license to the new Alary's Bar on East Seventh Street, although entertainment there was limited to instrumental music.
In more recent years, Alary's became a meeting place for sports enthusiasts and off-duty police officers. The bar is decorated with police memorabilia.
Baisi and his wife, Gesella, had two children, Albert and Cindy. The family did not provide information about survivors.
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