Albert Henry “Hank” Soar

Inducted: 1967
Born: 08/17/1914
Died: 10/24/2001

Hank Soar was arguably the most talented, versatile athlete ever to come from Rhode Island. He was born in Alton, Rhode Island, on August 17, 1914, to Arthur and Edith (Nelson) Soar. He played football, basketball, and baseball at Pawtucket High School and captained all three teams. Soar also played goalie in soccer. He was First Team All-State at halfback in football, guard in basketball, and first base in baseball in his senior year in 1933. Soar enrolled at Providence College and continued to play all three sports, making All-New England in football in 1934. He left Providence in 1936 to pursue professional football with the Boston Shamrocks of the American Football League, playing for $100 a game. He earned MVP honors with the Shamrocks and got the attention of the New York Giants. He signed with the Giants in 1937, playing for $200 a game and a $100 bonus. Soar led the Giant’s ground game in the late 1930s and also played safety on defense. He enjoyed a nine-year NFL career as a running back and defensive end.

His signature moment came when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the 1938 NFL Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers at the Polo Grounds. With the Giants at the Packer 23-yard line and trailing by 17-16 in the third quarter, quarterback Ed Danowski threw a pass that Soar reached for at the 2-yard line. “It was a jump ball, and I outjumped a bunch of guys from Green Bay, Soar said. The Packers star back, Clark Hinkle was hanging onto Soar’s leg, but Soar dragged him into the end zone, and the Giants went on to win, 23-17. Soar also scored the winning touchdown in the 1939 NFL Championship Game, plunging over the line to make the winning touchdown in the game’s final minutes. In 1941, Soar made a bit of history as one of the first two players ever to be fined by the NFL’s league office when commissioner Elmer Layden assessed $25 fines on Soar and Green Bay Packers quarterback Larry Craig for fighting. 

In 1947, Soar became the head coach of the Providence Steamrollers, a member of the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the National Basketball Association. After compiling a record of two wins and 17 losses, team owner Lou Pieri fired Soar. When Pieri tried to hire Red Auerbach as the new coach, Auerbach advised him to fold the team. “You have the worst talent ever assembled on a basketball court,” Auerbach warned Pieri. After taking his advice, Pieri was key in bringing Auerbach to the Boston Celtics. 

Soar married Alice Fairman of Providence in 1937. The couple had two daughters, Marjorie and Elizabeth. During World War II, Soar umpired a baseball game at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, while serving in the Army. He was spotted by Connie Mack, the Philadelphia Athletics’ manager. “You belong in the majors,” Mack told him. After umpiring in the New England League in 1947-48, and the American Association in 1949, Soar made his major league debut on April 18, 1950. He was an American League umpire from 1950 to 1978, working in five World Series and becoming assistant supervisor of umpires in the mid-1980s. “He’s consistent, and that’s the most important thing when calling a pitch,” Ted Williams said when asked to rate Soar as an umpire. Soar was the first base umpire when Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 Series. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson hit a drive that caromed off the third baseman’s glove, then bounded to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw to first. “His foot was about six inches above the bag when Joe Collins, the Yankee first baseman, caught the ball,” Soar remembered. “I called Robinson out, and Jackie didn’t say a word,” Soar said after the game. He was umpiring at first base on June 1, 1975, when Nolan Ryan of the California Angels pitched his fourth no-hitter to tie Sandy Koufax’s major league record. Soar also officiated in four All-Star Games (1952, 1955, 1959, 1963), calling balls and strikes for the last contest, as well as the 1971 American League Championship Series, when he again served as crew chief. He umpired his final major league game on September 3, 1978. 

While umpiring in the major leagues, Soar sometimes called on the physical presence that served him well on the football field. When Billy Martin, regarded by Soar as particularly belligerent, returned to the Yankee infield in 1955 after military service, Soar greeted him with a smile and an outstretched hand; Martin returned the handshake, and Soar squeezed tighter and tighter. “I never had any trouble with Billy Martin after that handshake,” Soar said. 

Soar has a memorial marker at Slater Park in Pawtucket, next to the tennis courts. The athletic complex at Prospect Street in Pawtucket is named after him.

Soar was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1967 and the Providence College Hall of Fame in 1970.

For additional reading:

  1.  “Hank Soar Stats, Height, Weight, Position, Draft, College”. Pro-Football-Reference.
  2.  Goldstein, Richard (2001-12-30). “Hank Soar, 87, Former Umpire and Football Back, Is Dead”. The New York Times.
  3.  The Sporting News Baseball Register. 1971. p. 533.
  4.  “Layden Fines Two Pros for Fighting”Pittsburgh PressUnited Press. August 26, 1941.
  5.  “Albert Soar: Coaching Record, Awards”Basketball Reference. Sports Reference LLC.
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