Did deion sanders play baseball? It’s safe to say Deion Sanders has taken the world by storm over the past month. After spending two years as the head football coach at Jackson State, Sanders over the winter accepted the head coaching job at the University of Colorado, where he turned a team that went 1-11 last season into an undefeated powerhouse that plays with an edge and style unlike any other team in sports.
But before Sanders was “Coach Prime,” he was “Prime Time” — a gifted two-sport athlete who put together a Hall of Fame career in the NFL while starring on the diamond, as well. Sanders played in 641 games in his MLB career with four different franchises.
“One of the fastest people I’ve ever seen,” said MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, who played against Sanders in his MLB debut. “He had style, flair and he was a heck of a player. It was fun to play and compete against him.”
The first six years of Sanders’ career were spent with the Yankees and Reds, with the highlight in 1992, when he tried to play in an NFL game and NLCS game in the same day. While it didn’t work out, Sanders ended up playing in that year’s World Series, where he hit .533 (Sanders still holds the distinction of being the only player to play in both a World Series and Super Bowl).
How Deion Sanders played baseball and football on the same day: Revisiting his historic 1992 NFL, MLB attempt
There have been many players attempt to be a professional athlete in multiple sports. Bo Jackson might be the gold standard. Brian Jordan was also an NFL Pro Bowler and MLB All-Star. Tim Tebow and Michael Jordan both spent time in the minor leagues in addition to their time in the NFL and NBA, respectively.
But for all the two-sport athlete success over the years, only one person has attempted to play in two professional sports in the same day. That would be the incomparable Deion Sanders.
“Prime Time” undoubtedly always will be best known as a star football player. He is arguably the best cornerback of all time, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and won a pair of Super Bowls in his career.
That football success didn’t prevent him from enjoying a successful MLB career as well. Though he was not an All-Star, he was a stolen-base threat throughout his big-league tenure and was a standout player on the mid-1990s Braves teams.
There is a slight overlap in the MLB and NFL seasons, however, with baseball’s postseason being played at the beginning of the NFL’s regular season. And early in 1992, with the Braves on yet another playoff run, Sanders was needed to help his team reach the World Series again.
So Sanders simply wound up doing both, playing in an NFL game in the early afternoon and an MLB playoff game at night. How did he pull it off? Here’s the story behind his historic day.
How Deion Sanders attempted to play baseball and football on the same day
While it wasn’t until October that Sanders made his attempt to play in both, certain things had to be set in motion well before then. According to MLB.com, part of Sanders’ NFL deal with the Falcons stipulated that he could not play baseball in the postseason due to its conflicts with the NFL schedule.
On Saturday, the Braves were in Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates. Atlanta led the series two games to one, but had dropped Game 3 the first night in Pittsburgh.
It was a different story on Saturday, though Sanders was not involved much. John Smoltz worked around five walks and six hits to give up only four runs (three earned) across 6.1 innings, while Doug Drabek and Randy Tomlin coughed up six runs (five earned) to the Braves over the first six innings.
Sanders entered the game in the bottom of the seventh as part of a double switch, replacing Ron Gant in left field. Sanders took his only at-bat in the top of the eighth and was caught looking at strike three to go down on three pitches.
The Braves wound up finishing off the 6-4 win to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, needing just one more win the rest of the way to clinch a second straight appearance in the World Series.
But Sanders had somewhere else to be in the morning. So his busy day began.
12:18 a.m. ET, Oct. 11
The NLCS game ended at 11:49 p.m. ET, according to Baseball Reference, and after 29 minutes, Sanders was in a limousine headed from Three Rivers Stadium to the Allegheny County Airport.
Sanders had a full entourage boarding the plane with him. In addition to himself and Scearce, his girlfriend, Carolyn Chambers, their daughter, his agent and several members of a CBS crew were all set to accompany him to Miami.
The plane landed at 3:52 a.m. ET in Fort Lauderdale, where Sanders slept before he had to be ready with his team to get on the bus headed to Joe Robbie Stadium.
10:45 a.m., Oct. 11
Sanders arrived in time to meet up with the Falcons and get on the bus headed to the stadium. Falcons coach Jerry Glanville told MLB.com it was the “first time we saw him all week.”
Though the team had seen little of their starting corner that week, Glanville said he understood what Sanders was hoping to accomplish.
“The bottom line, I think everybody on the football team wanted him to go there and be successful,” Glanville told MLB.com. “So, I don’t think anybody was upset or mad. I know the owners were not. He wanted to do it, and we supported him all the way.”
1:01 p.m., Oct. 11
That didn’t mean Sanders was going to walk on the field as if everything were normal. Glanville announced he would not be the starting corner in the game, though he would receive the opening kickoff of the game.
“I said, ‘Deion, you’re not starting. You come in here without practicing all week and fly in on a helicopter, I’m not starting you,'” Glanville said, per MLB.com. “Everybody was shocked. In the locker room, you could hear a pin drop.”
Still, Sanders was the team’s best corner, and even missing practice, he was largely too valuable to keep off the field in South Florida. One play came and went, and Sanders was back on the field, with Glanville telling him that “your punishment is over.”
And Sanders was active during the game. He returned a pair of kicks for 42 yards and a punt, and he also caught his first pass of the season for 9 yards.
4:02 p.m. ET, Oct. 11
Atlanta came up short against the Dolphins, but it was on to join Atlanta’s next pro sports team in Pittsburgh. First, Sanders needed an IV treatment to build up the energy after playing in every defensive snap save for the first against Miami.
MLB.com reported he hopped in a limo at 4:55 p.m. ET that took him over to the helicopter that would take him and his crew from the stadium to the airport, where he’d catch a flight to take him up to Pittsburgh. There was only one problem: There were too many people.
The helicopter pilot told Sanders the helicopter could not take all the people, and asked about having Scearce hop off.
“No, she has to get on,” Sanders said, per MLB.com, “or we’re not leaving.”
The pilot wound up making two trips to bring over everyone from Sanders’ entourage to the Miami-Opa Locka Airport, where they all then got on a plane to take them to Pittsburgh.
7:45 p.m. ET, Oct. 11
The plane from Opa Locka Airport landed at 7:45 p.m. ET, about an hour before the scheduled start of the game. But Sanders’ escapade was still far from over.
Allegheny County Airport was still a bit of a distance from Three Rivers Stadium, which meant Sanders would need to get on another helicopter and then another limo.
Scearce said in order for the helicopter to land close to to the stadium, she needed to obtain a license for the aircraft to fly over Pittsburgh and get close to the stadium.
8:28 p.m. ET, Oct. 11
With 16 minutes until the official start of the game, Sanders officially reached the stadium. Unsurprising, he was not in the starting lineup.
There had been several in the Braves organization publicly annoyed by his decision to try and play both for the Braves and Falcons at the same time, particularly in the MLB postseason. Playoff rosters consisted of only 25 players, and Braves general manager John Schuerholz said that if he had known Sanders would attempt to play both, he would have left the dynamic speedster off the playoff roster.
Not everyone was against his attempt at history. Manager Bobby Cox called the situation unique, saying that “there’s never been a problem like this. … There’s never been a Deion Sanders, either.” Smoltz emphasized that Sanders’ attempt at both sports was not “a sideshow.”
“He was a weapon,” Smoltz said, per MLB.com. “It would have been in any team’s best interest to try to make this happen that didn’t sacrifice one or the other.”
The Braves lost the game, 7-1, and Sanders didn’t play.
“Those 24 hours should have been joyous, phenomenal, exhilarating, exciting, tremendous, captivating,” Sanders said, according to MLB.com. “But it wasn’t. And the one thing that bothers me: People say, ‘Prime played two sports in one day.’ I didn’t. I suited up for two sports in one day.”
After Oct. 11
There had been a belief that because of the spectacle of the affair, Sanders might be kept off the World Series roster. While the Braves lost in the World Series to the Blue Jays, Schuerholz, Cox and the rest of the Braves had to be relieved he was part of the team.
Sanders had a sensational World Series, appearing in four games and posting an eye-popping .533/.588/.667 slash line and swiping five bases, all of which led the Braves. No player that took double-digit plate appearances had a higher OPS than Sanders’ 1.255.
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