Neon Deion: From football to baseball


In celebration of Deion Sanders being elected into the Football Hall of Fame, I pose a
question: Will baseball ever see another Deion Sanders? In my recent article about
Brian Wilson being baseballʼs most interesting personality, I expressed my belief that
baseball is lacking strong characters for the media and fans to latch onto. Major League
Baseball is brimming with talent at the moment, especially young pitching talent, but
they are somewhat lacking in showmanship compared to the other major American
sports. After all, sports are for entertainment, right? We pay money to be entertained.
And Neon Deion, like Wilson, was born to entertain.

A multi-sport athlete, Sanders was the epitome of a superstar. Like Bo Jackson before
him, he not only played professionally in two different sports leagues but he did so at a
very high level (unlike, say, Michael Jordan in his attempt to play baseball or, God
forbid, Charles Barkley attempting to swing a golf club – that should be ruled a public
health hazard). Playing only part of each baseball season because of the overlapping
time constraints of his football career, Sanders never put up huge stats or was “the guy”
for his team, but he was a spectacle, he drew fans, and when he did make it onto the
diamond he made his presence known.

While most will, and should, remember Sanders for his football career, his baseball
career was one to be commended, and lasted much longer than most guys who spend
a lifetime in the minors. Two historical achievements where Sanders not only stands out
– he stands alone – illustrate how gifted he really was. The first is that he is the only
person in history to play in a World Series (1992 with the Braves) and a Super Bowl
(1996 with the Cowboys). The same year the Braves went to the World Series, Sanders
led the Majors in triples with 14 in only 97 games. Calling that an impressive athletic
achievement would be an understatement, thatʼs just not fair. The second, is that in
1989 while playing for the Yankees, Deion cranked a home run, and then scored a
touchdown that very same week playing for the Falcons. He is the only person ever to
hit a home run and score a touchdown in the same week.

Still not convinced the man was more than just a sideshow to sell tickets? Letʼs take a
more in depth look at Deionʼs 1997 season with the Cincinnati Reds where he had more
at bats than any other year of his career. During that season, Sanders hit .273, had 25
XBHʼs, scored 53 Rʼs, and stole a whopping 56 SBʼs in only 115 games played. Those
56 SBʼs were good enough for 5th most in the Majors that year, and he missed 47
games. I think that says enough.

But, again, Sandersʼ greatest contribution to baseball wasnʼt his statistics, it was his
ability to bring the spotlight with him from the football field onto the diamond. He was a
showman, an entertainer, a phenomenal athlete, and a good ballplayer. Deion made it
cool to play football, and baseball, and that is what I will remember about him most. He
made the baseball games he played exciting, and he did it his way, always giving the
fans their monies worth. Deion will never see his plaque in Cooperstown, but I would
hope Canton suffices. As a Cowboys fan, a baseball fan, and a fan of a great show,
thanks for the memories, Deion.

On one final note, I pose a question to you, the reader. As a fan of baseball, and sports
in general, I often wonder what athletes would transfer over to another sport and excel.
Obviously, Deion wasnʼt a power hitter, but his speed more than made up for his lack of
power. Plus, his tremendous instincts as a cornerback had to aid in his base stealing
ability and made him one of the biggest threats in the game once he got on base. With
guys like Carl Crawford, the Upton brothers, Jacoby Ellsbury, Michael Bourn, Andrew
McCutchen, and Dexter Fowler, baseball is seeing a shift back to the speed game and
away from the power hitting. With that said, are there any professional athletes you
think could be successful crossing over from their sport into baseball? Do you envision
another Deion Sanders coming along anytime soon, or are the days of the
(professional) multi-sport athlete over? And lastly, would you want a player on your team
that could only play part of the season because he also plays another sport?

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5 Comments

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  1. Rudy,

    As duke says, don’t forget Brian Jordan. He made an impact in both Football and Baseball as well.

  2. Great read, Alex. While I think professional athletes exist with superior talents, I don’t see athletes risking their reputation to attempt another professional sport. For example, LeBron James is clearly a singular specimen, but he’s too scared to even do the dunk contest in his own sport. Obviously, the dunk contest is ultimately meaningless, but his refusal to participate hints at LeBron’s fear of losing, and subsequently compromising his brand and its attached mystique. I think what Deion did alludes to his true swagger, having the unwavering confidence to attempt both sports. And in his case, successfully attempt. Could one argue that Deion was one of the first professional athletes, in our generation, that carried himself as his own brand? Conversely, just about every professional athlete today, deserving or not, carries themselves as a brand that can’t appear vulnerable or be perceived as weaker than. I look forward to reading more of your work. Keep it up!

  3. Sweet. I had that card.
    Don’t forget the guy with the best baseball career of the multi-sporters of that era: Sanders’ one-time colleague in the Falcons’ secondary, Brian Jordan.

  4. EDIT: Bo Jackson*, not Bo Sanders. The guy is so electric he’s stealing other people’s names.

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