If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would have been written not in the morning, but in prime time.
If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would include a link at the bottom of the page leading to its continuation at NFL.com.
If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would include not only a link to a previous Baseball Digest print edition mention of Sanders’ career, it would include a video making it stand out among the rest, done in Flash.
If we were to truly honor Deion Sanders, the right way, this article would no longer refer to Deion Sanders as ‘Sanders’, but ‘Deion’. ‘Neon Deion’ would be even better. However, like Sanders at the end of his induction speech this past weekend into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, applying a bandana to his bronze likeness, we’re going to simply make do.
As one of the greatest two-sport athletes of all-time, Sanders excelled in both football and baseball. Born in Fort Myers, Florida, Sanders attended Florida State University, where he made a name for himself on the basepaths, the gridiron, and in track and field competitions. One story has it that Sanders once played game one of a doubleheader, left to compete in a leg of a 4×100 relay only to return to start in the second game of the doubleheader.
Sanders wasted no time getting a jump on a collegiate career that would result in records being set and his football jersey number being retired. In his freshman year, Sanders started on the football team in the secondary, played outfield leading his team to rank fifth in the nation and took advantage of his base-swiping speed to help lead his track and field squad to a conference title. While the Seminoles had no reason the keep their receipt when it came to Sanders, it was Deion who would do all the returning. As a two-time All-American cornerback, Sanders intercepted 14 passes over his career including three in bowl games and broke the longest interception return for a TD by one yard when he managed to grab a pass on defense and return it the entire length of the field in 1988.
Considering how much Sanders accomplished in his collegiate career, it is no wonder both professional baseball and football teams alike were interested in signing him. I’m guessing if there were a National Track and Field League with the same impact across the nation as MLB or the NFL, where kids hang posters of track and field stars in their room the way they do their favorite baseball and football stars, an NTFL team would have looked to draft Sanders as well.
The New York Yankees selected Sanders in the 30th round of the 1988 draft and he signed with the team in June of that year. I give credit to the Kansas City Royals for having the foresight to draft Sanders years ahead of the Yankees. The Royals drafted Sanders while he was still playing for Fort Myers High School however, Sanders decided not to sign with a professional team at that time. The NFL also came calling for Sanders’ services as the Atlanta Falcons selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft.
To play two professional sports in a lifetime is an incredible feat. To play two professional sports within a same season is incredible. To play two professional sports within the same season at the level Sanders was able to is other-worldly. Bo Jackson is probably the only other athlete who could relate to what it took for Sanders to continue a professional football and baseball career at the same time. Sanders definitely knew what Bo knew, and vice versa.
In his young professional career, like at Florida State, Sanders got out of the box quickly in both sports. He returned his first career punt return for a touchdown. With the Yankees, in 1989, Sanders hit a home run in pinstripes and later that week scored a touchdown wearing Falcon black. He remains to this day, the only player to ever do so. Another honor bestowed to Sanders ,and only Sanders, is that he is the only professional athlete to ever play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.
Not a fan of arrogant professional athletes? Then you probably aren’t a fan of Sanders. Actually, according to this recent Hall of Fame speech, it’s not that you aren’t a fan of Sanders, you aren’t a fan of Prime Time. Prime Time is a character, a persona, that Sanders came up with at Florida State. He knew he would need to stand out amongst the other great athletes of his time and Prime Time was his way of putting his numbers up against the stats of other great players, and then giving himself the advantage when it came to being remembered and earning an unbelievable living for himself as a professional athlete. Once, as a Yankee, Sanders came up to bat, dug in, and drew a money sign with his bat before taking his stance. Future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, catching that game, took offense to the gesture and let Sanders have it after Sanders didn’t run out a pop up to the infield. Arrogance was something that Prime Time delivered to make Deion Sanders even more entertaining. High stepping touchdowns became a cultural phenomenon, and started with Sanders. I don’t recall ever seeing him high step in a run on the baseball diamond which is probably a good thing. I highly doubt Carlton Fisk would have appreciated that either.
The June 2004 edition of Baseball Digest featured an article displaying how Curt Schilling felt about Sanders’ antics on the baseball diamond. You can read what he had to say here.
It was while playing with the Atlanta Braves that Sanders’ juggling act really stepped up a notch. Clearly, the longer the baseball season lasts, the more it interferes with the football schedule. The Yankees weren’t exactly making the playoffs in the late ’80s, however, once Sanders started wearing a jersey with Atlanta across the chest, this calendar juggling became more of an issue because the Braves were in the post-season and in the early ’90s, on quite a regular basis.
In 1991, Sanders contributed to the Braves’ run to the National League West division title. However, because of a clause in his contract with the Falcons, he had to report to his football job the very next day and went on to miss the postseason. This prompted a reworking of his deal with the Falcons. He would now be able to report to the Falcons for training camp in August after playing baseball April-August, however, if the team were to make the playoffs, he could now rejoin the Braves for the postseason.
That renegotiation came with some impeccable timing. The Braves did in fact make the playoffs in 1992 and even earned their way into the 1992 World Series. If it weren’t for Dave Winfield’s heroics in game 6, the Braves may have found a way to win that Series and Sanders would have been a great reason why. Sanders played in four games in the 1992 World Series and batted .533 with 4 runs, 8 hits, 2 doubles and 1 RBI. All of that was accomplished while playing with a broken foot.
One knock on Sanders, in which he called out his critics during his Hall of Fame speech, was that people believed he didn’t like to tackle. That he avoided contact. While Sanders had his own answer for his football critics, the baseball folks that followed his career would be slow to say the same thing. On the baseball diamond, Sanders enjoyed contact. He amassed 558 hits in his career and led the NL in triples in 1992 with 14. Sanders is a career .263 hitter, with 39 HRs and 186 stolen bases, having played with the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants.
Showcasing your athletic skills on two grand stages provided to you in the way that MLB and the NFL do, the media is bound to take notice. College Football News named Sanders #8 in its list of 100 Greatest College Football Players of All-Time. ESPN named Sanders #74 in its list of the 100 Great Athletes of the Century, released in 1999. While Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past weekend, you won’t see a Deion Sanders plaque in Cooperstown. His numbers simply don’t warrant that type of honor. However, there is no doubt that Sanders had an impact on the game of baseball. Attend a Braves game at Turner Field. Do you hear that annoying chant all around you? That’s the tomahawk chop and Sanders is credited for bringing it to Atlanta upon his arrival.
This article will not continue in a link leading to NFL.com and while that would be appropriate given the subject of the piece, it’s simply not going to happen. Canton is a more appropriate place for Sanders to be enshrined as opposed to Cooperstown. The fact that he left his mark on two professional sports while in his ‘prime’ is impressive enough to warrant a feature story here.
In Sanders’ Hall of Fame speech, he made it very clear that he did all of it for his mama. All the hard work, all the antics, all the dedication and desire. He had a lot to thank her for and he made it clear that she was his motivation behind his success. Obviously there is one more thing he has because of her, that helped make all things possible. One more thing to thank her for, Deion. Look at today’s date. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
Also Born Today:
Jayson Heyward turns 22 today. Heyward, a current stand out and right fielder for the Atlanta Braves, was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey. With stars like Chipper Jones aging and soon to wrap up his time with the team, it will be on youngsters like Heyward to carry the load and continue the success the team has seen in recent years forward. Heyward hit a home run in the first at-bat in each of his first two years in the majors and is a career .277 hitter.
Troy Percival turns 42 today. Percival played in the majors from 1995-2009, splitting time between the Angels, Tigers, Cardinals and Rays. He is one of only six Angels pitchers to strike out 100 batters in a season with starting a single game. Percival, a four-time All-Star selection, has a career ERA of 3.17 and won the World Series with the Angels in 2002.
Ryan Maloney is a Staff Writer for BaseballDigest.com, author of the popular Chicago Cubs blog, Prose and Ivy and contributing writer to MLB.com/Entertainment.
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