Clarence “Ace” Parker made his major-league debut on April 24, 1937, as a pinch-runner with the Philadelphia Athletics. He would play just two seasons in the majors, then spend time in the minors until 1952. Like many of his generation, he spent years in the service during World War II. If his name seems familiar, it is because Ace Parker is in the Football Hall of Fame. He had a seven-season career in professional football, starting in 1937 and ending in 1946.

Ace Parker was born on May 17, 1912, in Portsmouth, Virginia. He attended school in Portsmouth and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School having lettered in five sports — baseball, basketball, football, golf, and track. He had a stellar senior season (1932) in football, guiding the Wilson Presidents to a second-place finish in the state. 

After the football season, he took to the hard court as a guard for the Presidents. In the spring, he handled field events for the track team, played baseball and found time to enter the state golf tournament, where he lost on a final playoff hole.

Parker was considering continuing his sports career while getting an education at Virginia Tech. A Duke University alumnus suggested that he visit Durham. He enrolled at Duke and limited himself to baseball, basketball and football. Basketball was dropped after his sophomore year, when he played sparingly as a second-string guard.

Freshmen were not eligible for varsity sports at the time, so Parker had to wait for his sophomore year to show his football talents on the collegiate level. He burst onto the national scene by guiding Duke to a 46-0 victory over VMI on September 29, 1934

The Blue Devils finished the season at 7-2 and in third place in the Southern Conference. Parker was one of five Duke players selected first-team all-conference In 1935 the team went undefeated in the conference and 8-2 overall. The following year they were 7-0 in the conference but lost to Tennessee to finish 9-1.

Many 1930s football offenses ran the single wing (four men in the backfield) before transitioning to the double wing or the wing T. The position of tailback in the single wing was designed for a man who could run, pass, and punt. Parker filled the role perfectly. Over his career the formations were altered and by the time he retired, the quarterback position as we know it now was in wide usage. In his career, he scored 21 touchdowns and added extra points to give him 134 total points. He still holds one school record from 1936, when he returned a kickoff 105 yards against North Carolina.

Parker piled up accolades for his play, earning all-conference all three seasons. In 1935 he was a second team All-American and in 1936 he was a consensus first-team choice. Ace served as team captain for the 1936 season. On December 12th he was a second-round selection of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the NFL draft.

In 1935 he patrolled left field for the Blue Devils as they posted a 23-4 record. In 1936 he returned to the outfield and moved into the cleanup spot in the lineup. When his Duke teammate Chubby Dean joined the Athletics in 1936, he insisted that Parker come to Philadelphia in the summer of 1936 and work out with the team.

Pleased with what he saw in the visit, Connie Mack made a tentative agreement that Parker would sign with the Athletics when college concluded. That timetable was moved forward by a few months when Parker signed with Mack in early February 1937. Mack added him to the roster heading to Mexico City for spring training. Ace played shortstop in the early exhibitions when the veterans were still working into shape. In later games he played a lot of right field plus second base and third base.

Parker struggled at the plate in limited action. In early June he was optioned to the Atlanta Crackers with a .136 batting average. In July the Athletics were hit with the injury bug. Connie Mack needed help and turned to the Crackers, who agreed to return him to Philadelphia. He had played 28 games with the Crackers and batted .270 with one home run. Ace played into the second week of August before being sent to the Portsmouth Cubs in the Class B Piedmont League.

In October he received permission from Mack to play football.  He would sign a four-game contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers to close out the 1937 NFL season.

Parker made the cut in 1938 with the A's and started the season as the utility-man. For the first third of the season, his main duty was to finish games at shortstop. In September it was announced that he had been sent with $20,000 to Baltimore of the International League. His major-league career was over. He played in 94 games and batted .179 while playing five positions.

Parker had an excellent season for Brooklyn in 1938 garnering first-team all-league honors from the United Press sportswriters. The Dodgers finished in third place in their division and Parker accounted for 1118 yards with his running and passing besides doing a neat job of kicking. In the winter of 1938 his football career was shining brightly. 

While he was on top of the football world, he had been dropped three levels in baseball. He responded to the baseball demotion with arguably his finest season in 1939. Playing shortstop, he batted .303 and slammed a career-high 16 home runs with the Class B Portsmouth Cubs. His performance turned some heads and he was acquired by the Syracuse Chiefs in the International League. He got off to a torrid start for the Chiefs. But on May 11th he broke his leg on a play at the plate in Toronto. 

Parker spent the summer recovering and working himself into shape for football. His football Dodgers (8-3) staged a season-long battle with Sammy Baugh’s Washington Redskins. The two teams split in the regular season but Washington (9-2) took the division by a game. Parker was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. After his MVP season, hi’s bargaining power was at its peak. In February he inked a two-year deal with Brooklyn that was reportedly worth $9,000 a season.

Parker’s baseball rights belonged to Pittsburgh and the Pirates hastily made a deal to return Parker to Portsmouth for the next season. But Pittsburgh wanted no part of a player who was not focused 100 percent on baseball and traded him to the Chicago Cubs. Parker opened the season playing left field for the Cubs. In his 10th game he broke his right ankle sliding into second base. 

After three months of inactivity, he joined the Dodgers for training camp and exhibited a noticeable limp. He was restricted to running and no scrimmaging for nearly a month. In his first exhibition action, he proved to his coaches that the ankle was healed. 

Events much bigger than Parker’s injuries ruled the news that winter. After Pearl Harbor, he wanted to enlist in the Navy, but doctors found a shoulder injury that disqualified him, at least temporarily. He joined the service as a chief specialist in physical training. The injury bug followed Ace into the Navy. It was reported in February 1943 that he had again suffered a broken leg and was hospitalized.

When he returned to civilian life in 1945, he signed with the Boston Yanks in early October and worked diligently to get back into game shape. He made his return on November 11th in Washington against Baugh’s Redskins and suffered a 34-7 defeat. Three more lopsided losses followed.

Undeterred, he then signed with the New York Yankees in 1946 for the inaugural All-America Football Conference campaign. He saw time at running back and at quarterback. He scored four rushing touchdowns and led the team with eight scoring passes. He scored four rushing touchdowns and led the team with eight scoring passes.

Parker always liked baseball and rejoined the Portsmouth Cubs for the 1946-48 seasons. He took over as manager in 1948. In 1949 he was hired as player-manager of the Durham Bulls in the Class B Carolina League. 

He then turned his attention to his alma mater, becoming an assistant football coach and head baseball coach at Duke in 1953. He would lead his team to three titles in that conference and two more NCAA appearances before he retired.

Parker was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1972, the same year he entered the Virginia Sports Hall. He had been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1955. Other honors were bestowed upon him by the North Carolina Sports Hall in 1963 and the Duke University Sports Hall in 1975.

Ace Parker, who suffered pulmonary problems, had been admitted to a hospital a month prior to his death. He lived until November 6, 2013. At the time of his death he was 101 years and 173 days old, the oldest living professional football player and the second-oldest major leaguer. He is buried at the Olive Branch Cemetery in Portsmouth, VA.