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
BY DAVID HAWLEY
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
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
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
In more recent years, Alary's became a meeting place for
sports enthusiasts and off-duty police officers. The bar is decorated with
Baisi and his wife, Gesella, had two children, Albert and
Cindy. The family did not provide information about survivors.