Remembering two local pros

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John Stanger

John Rigney and George Trafton were natives of River Forest and Oak Park, respectively, who gained prominence in the areas of major league baseball and pro football.

John Rigney, born in 1914 in River Forest, was a starting pitcher for the White Sox from 1937-42 and 1946-7.

His best year was 1939 when he won 15 games. In fact, he was the winner of the first night game ever played at Comiskey Park, and he was also the first pitcher since 1919 to shut out the Yankees in an extra-inning game.

During World War II, John served in the Navy. He returned to the Sox, but he was forced to retire due to arm problems. In his career, he had a 63-64 won-loss record and a 3.59 earned run average with 10 shutouts and five saves.

John married Dorothy Comiskey, the granddaughter of Charles Comiskey, founder of the White Sox, and the daughter of J.L. Comiskey, a one-time team president.

John served in the front office of the Sox in an administrative capacity until 1956 when he became co-general manager. He died in 1984 a week before his 70th birthday. The Rigneys lived on the northwest corner of Lathrop and Augusta in River Forest.

George Trafton was a professional football player and sometime boxer who was the center for the Chicago Bears in 1920-1 and 1923-32. In 1922 he took a year off from the Bears to serve as an assistant coach at Northwestern.

George was born in Oak Park in 1896 and got his start in football at Oak Park and River Forest High School playing under the legendary Bob Zuppke. George graduated from high school in 1916 and worked and played semi-pro football until he enlisted in the Army in 1918.

While in the service, he captained the football team at Camp Grant in Rockford. In 1919 he entered Notre Dame where he played football for one year before being expelled by Knute Rockne for playing semi-pro football. In 1920 he was signed by the Staleys (precursor of the Bears) as a center,

While a member of the Bears, Trafton took part in a boxing bout against Art Shires, a member of the White Sox. Trafton won by decision in five rounds. He fought a few more bouts in 1930 before boxing Primo Canera, a future world heavyweight champion.

Trafton didn't last long against Carnera, hitting the canvas for a 10-count in the first round. It appeared to the Missouri Boxing Commission that Trafton had "taken a dive," so he was suspended indefinitely.

After his retirement from the Bears, Trafton held coaching jobs with the Bears, Rams and Packers, respectively. From 1951-53, he served as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Canada. He was elected to the American Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964. During his career, he was an All-Pro six times and a member of the 1920s All-Decade Team. Known as an innovative player, he was the first center to snap the ball with one hand.

George Trafton passed away in 1971 at the age of 74.

I wish to thank the reference librarians at the Oak Park Public Library for assisting me with finding materials relevant to the lives of both Mr. Rigney and Mr. Trafton.

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