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60 Comments on "Quick poll: More gifted athlete–Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson?"

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Paul
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Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr need to be in this conversation. Coming out of high school, they were two of the best prospects ever. Incredible natural talents honed for baseball.

Lawrence Azrin
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“Other” option doesn’t allow you to type in a name.

I know it’s almost a century ago, but Jim Thorpe may have been as gifted an athlete as anyone who has ever played in MLB. Proof that it takes more than superlative athletic ability to be a good MLB hitter.

Brent
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I agree on Jim Thorpe, but since no one alive saw him compete, it is hard to really know how gifted he truly was. BTW, his career OPS+ is 99, so his hitting wasn’t horrible and honestly, he never really got a shot at playing full time (most games was 103 in 1917) and of course, the dead ball era really messes with his stats, so it is hard to analyze them (in 1918, his slashes were .248/.286/.381 and his OPS+ was 103)

Lawrence Azrin
Guest

It’s true that no one around now saw Thorpe perform, but we don’t disregard (well, most of us don’t) Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Larry Lajoie when discussing the all-time great MLB players, for that reason.

Besides, there were many writers around then who DID see Thorpe, and we have their observations to go by (as imperfect as that is). Plus, there’s that decathlon he won in the 1912 Olympics.

Richard Chester
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There are 2 other baseball players who were Olympians and participated in a sport other than baseball. They both competed in the 1900 Olympiad in Paris. One was Ed Minahan (track and field) and the other was Al Spalding (shooting, if you want to call that a sport).

nightfly
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According to legend, Sweden’s King Gustav V, upon hanging the decathlon gold medal around Thorpe’s neck, said to him, “You, Sir, are the finest athlete in the world.” (To wish the abashed Thorpe supposedly replied, “Gosh, thanks King!”)

So there’s that, anyway.

John Autin
Editor

I, too, would vote for Thorpe. Bo probably in the same league.

tag
Guest
John, It’s always hard to compare the older guys with recent ones. I mean, Bo’s 16-year-old decathlon times and distances shatter Thorpe’s mature ones. Okay, such a comparison obviously is unfair, but in Bo’s case you’re talking about a guy who at the state HS level would lead the decathlon by so much he wouldn’t have to run the final event, the mile, which he hated; a guy who after a few tutorials in the javelin and shot put was posting state-qualifying distances; a guy, basically, who competed in and dominated the decathlon just because he could, not because he… Read more »
Brent
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Bo, without a doubt. Deion could run and broke on a thrown football better than any defensive back I have ever seen, but he couldn’t tackle or block or do any of the other things a football player is expected to do. Bo knew tackling and blocking, as well as anything else a football player is expected to do. Neither was a polished baseball player, but Bo did things on a baseball field I have never seen anyone else do. Brian Jordan was a pro bowl caliber football player and was a better baseball player than either one. I don’t… Read more »
Hartvig
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And lets not forget Vince Coleman and Darin Erstad either.

But yes, Bo Jackson is the most talented athlete that I have ever seen. There were moments when he was on the field when it looked like Clark Kent had stepped out of the phone booth wearing a baseball uniform.

John Autin
Editor

Andy, I realize that you may have a specific purpose in limiting the pre-set choices. But I think a general poll of best all-around athletes ever to play MLB would do well to include Jim Thorpe, Jackie Robinson and Dave Winfield, for starters.

wlcmlc
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Found these comments about Dave Winfield.

– he never played in the minors
– drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Stars
– even though he never played a single down in college, the Vikings selected him in the 1973 draft
– No other athlete has ever been drafted in all three pro sports

Ed
Guest

How about Chuck Connors? Played in the MLB and NBA plus was drafted by the Chicago Bears. Later went on to have a long acting career, mostly known for playing the title role in the tv series The Rifleman.

tag
Guest

It’s a big question whether Winfield could have made it in the NBA, let alone become an All Star, as a 6-foot-6 ‘tweener who specialized in rebounding. He’d even have had less of a chance, I’d guess, in the pre-pass whacky NFL, though today he’d be a perfect tight end, a la Antonia Gates and Jimmy Graham.

no statistician but
Guest

All around athlete, no, but the best two professional sport performer might be Gene Conley.

Andrew
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The only thing about Deion is that he was basically just speed and spatial awareness/hand eye coordination, whereas Bo brought all of that plus ridiculous strength. On the football field Deion was known for being a poor tackler and never flashed much power with the bat (sub-.400 slugging, and that’s even helped by his big triples numbers) whereas Bo was a pummeling RB and was known for his tape measure jacks.

wlcmlc
Guest

Deion was good at football only. Bo was good at both.

3 of the 4 years Bo played football he had the longest rush of any player for the season while playing about 60% of the games.

Andrew
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While I agree that he was a considerably better football player, Deion probably could have developed into a pretty good baseball player if he’d dropped football to focus on it. In 92/93 he played 192 games for the Braves with a 118 OPS+ with 45 steals and 20 triples while playing a solid center field.

Of course, if he’d never played baseball he might have learned how to tackle and become the greatest CB of all time, so, you know.

John Autin
Editor
Just my opinion, but — In Deion’s best year, ’92, over half his hits were infield hits; his career rate was 25%. If you chop his infield hits in half, which still leaves him with a high rate, his career BA drops from .263 to .230. His RBI rate was horrible, because infield hits and outfield singles don’t drive in many runners. Even his Runs rate was unimpressive, since he didn’t walk or get extra-base hits. He never scored 60 runs, nor drove in 30. Even projecting his stats out to 700 PAs per season, he averaged 93 Runs and… Read more »
Luis Gomez
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Bo Jackson was better without question, in my opinion. He was an All Star in both sports. Considered by many, one of the most exciting football players in his prime, too bad an injury cut short his football career. On the baseball side, he had tremendous power an an incredible throwing arm. I still like to watch those highlights when he ran on the wall in Baltimore(?) or when he threw Harold Reynolds out at home plate with a perfect throw from left field in Seattle. Amazing athlete.

PP
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I voted Bo for two reasons: running thru Bosworth and that 91 yard run on MNF, and he could hit a 400 foot home run.

MikeD
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Bo is one of the ultimate “what if” athletes. He split his time playing baseball and football in college, and when drafted by the Royals was considered one of the most gifted prospects in a generation, perhaps ever, yet still quite raw. After a short time in the minors, he was rushed to the majors, perhaps in fear by the Royals they’d lose him completly to football once he re-entered the NFL draft. Not sure. He would have benefited greatly from more time in the minors, as well as playing in the fall leagues, and getting back the ABs he… Read more »
nightfly
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And on top of that – he came back and actually played with his artificial hip. This is a real thing that really happened. It’s like living in a cartoon or something… Bo could probably paint a hole in the side of a wall and run through it like the Road Runner.

Lawrence Azrin
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Bo Jackson ran like the Road Runner; Bo _Diddley_ recorded “Road Runner”.

Wiley Coyote couldn’t keep up with either of them. Why did he keep buying from Acme?

Paul E
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Not even close – Jackson was a fast as Sanders and 40 pounds heavier. Obviously, Jackson was a helluva whole lot stronger. A NYY scout had Jackson as the highest rated prospect he had seen for foot speed, arm strength, and power since Mickey Mantle. I’m sure Sanders also is losing points in this whole debate on the basis of being somewhat disliked by quite of few of us. When asked by esteemed bow-tie wearing, Washington Nationals’ fan and Princeton student George Will who he believed to be the greatest basketball player he had ever seen, Butch van Bredakoff responded,… Read more »
Brendan
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No mention yet of the MLBers who also played basketball at a high level (NBA or major college). Among these players, my vote might be for Kenny Lofton, Bob Gibson, or Dick Groat.

PP
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don’t forget Frank Howard

no statistician but
Guest

Gene Conley @12 above. I’m not sure, but I think he’s the only person to play in the World Series and the NBA Finals—on the winning side, too. He was a three-time All Star, twice for Milwaukee, once for the Phillies, and a role-player on several Celtic championship teams in the Cousy-Russell era.

Certainly the best pitcher who did well as a pro in another sport. The best MLB player in the NBA? Danny Ainge, unless I’m forgetting someone.

Richard Chester will correct me, if I’m wrong.

tag
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Yes, nsb, I’m pretty sure you’re correct about Conley. Tim Stoddard played in both the World Series and the NCAA basketball championships. I think he won a game in the ’79 Series but the Os fell to the Pirates, and at NC State he won the ’74 NCAA title, though due far less to his efforts than those of David Thompson and, probably, those (i.e. the questionable recruiting practices) of Norm Sloan. Stoddard’s same East Chicago, IN high school also produced Kenny Lofton, who is the only other player to play in a WS and an NCAA Final Four. Must… Read more »
Ed
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Actually the best MLB player in the NBA would be Dave DeBusschere who’s in the basketball HOF and was named as one of the 50 best players in NBA history. His MLB career was short but it looks like he could have been a very good pitcher if he had stuck with baseball. Career ERA+ of 124 in 102.1 innings, pitching as a 21 and 22 year old.

PP
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Frank Howard, the original Hondo?, was 2nd team all america at Oho State in ’58 though I’ll be darned if I can find any stats for him

Ed
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Here you go…Howard averaged 17.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per game for Ohio State. He still holds the OSU record for most rebounds in a game with 32.

http://oldsite.bucknuts.com/index.php/component/option,com_idoblog/Itemid,1347/id,6812/lang,en/task,viewpost/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_State_Buckeyes_men's_basketball

tag
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Yes, the baseball Hondo played on OSU just before the basketball Hondo. The latter was on the NCAA championship squad in 1960 with Jerry Lucas and Bob Knight before going on to his all-time great career with the Celtics.

PP
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Thanks, I see he still holds the team record for rebounds in a game, 32

latefortheparty
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Thanks for mentioning Gibson, who starred in hoops for Creighton and then played for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Before signing with the Dodgers, Sandy Koufax played basketball at Cincinnati.

Richard Chester
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There are quite a few baseball players who excelled in college football including Harry Agganis, George Stirnweiss, Eric Tipton, Sam Chapman, Vic Janowicz, Paul Giel, Ernie Nevers and Ace Parker. Some of them like Stirnweiss and Chapman had some good years. Agganis tragically died in his second year. Parker quit the game and went on to become a pro football HOFer.

Jim Bouldin
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Kirk Gibson. He was sure to be a high NFL pick among wide receivers, or maybe even overall, but his senior year he decided to play baseball also, and based on that one year performance the Tigers drafted him and the rest is history. I was on the MSU JV team at the time and saw this unfold. The guy was a stud in all respects. And there was also this skinny fellow with a big smile taking the college basketball world by storm the same year, and that’s a whole nother story. It was quite a year to be… Read more »
tag
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Jim, A lot of people don’t realize the package of speed and power that Gibson was. He may have been the fastest white football player of his generation, and as you said was a stud in every respect. I covered him when he as at Evansville and he was a monster in the making. Gibson almost posted 30 HR / 30 SB seasons several times but always just fell short. I think Bo’s career was paralleling Gibson’s before Bo’s injury. They both struck out a lot early, but improved markedly with each passing season. Bo’s OPS+, as MikeD pointed out… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
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tag, very cool that you got to see Kirk in his early years when he was quite the raw phenom. Re “monster in the making”: some folks tried to pin “the next Mickey Mantle” label on him. I don’t know how that affected him. He has a very good head on this shoulders, very grounded, but when you’re only 19,20 years old, things like that can of course affect you. I also respect the fact that he decided not to try to be Bo Jackson #2 when he was considering trying to play some pro football at one point. He… Read more »
Paul E
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Jim B:
MSU ? Are you an acquaintance of Darwin “Big Daddy” Gibson or Elliott Tabron?

John Autin
Editor

Grrr … I was in ANN ARBOR from 1977-81, and the way I saw it, whatever Gibson did on the gridiron was quickly superseded by one ANTHONY CARTER. 🙂

John Autin
Editor
School-ties posturing aside, Kirk Gibson was quite a specimen when he reached the Tigers, but unbelievably raw. His misadventures in the outfield became legendary — as I recall, he had a ball bounce off his head and out of the park long before Canseco made that his signature move. The most eye-popping athletic thing I ever saw Gibby do was in a 1983 game that I watched from the CF bleachers. With Whitaker on 1st and 1 out, he drove one over the CF’s head. Lou didn’t get a great jump, and by the time he reached 3rd, Gibby was… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
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uh oh, a Wolverine and a Spartan/Buckeye on the same board…this could get ugly quick 🙂

The play you describe surprises me not in the least John–that was vintage Kirk. He’d as soon run over a defensive back as around him.

Voomo Zanzibar
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According to this article, Gibson’s earlier homer was 523 feet. And they mis-identify the catcher:

http://articles.latimes.com/1988-03-27/sports/sp-446_1_kirk-gibson

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Here’s a great description pf the play:

http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/07/plays-at-the-plate/

John Autin
Editor

Great finds, Voomo! My memory mussed a few details from 29 years ago.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

John Elway deserves mention also, opting for football instead of baseball.

Max
Guest

Bo was the goods. I have never seen anyone like him before and doubt anyone will every see his likes again.

Deion was great, but don’t sleep on Brian Jordan. While he played for teams I despise, he was a damn good baseball player and football player.

As for old time guys, my knowledge begins and ends with Joe Thorpe, sort of the Bo Jackson of his time.

Richard Chester
Guest

And then there was Charlie Berry. He was selected by Walter Camp for his All-American football team, played in the NFL and in the ML. He later became a baseball umpire and an NFL head linesman. In 1958 he umpired in the WS and was the head linesman for the NFL title game between the Colts and the Giants. He probably was the only guy to officiate in a WS and an NFL title game.

no statistician but
Guest
As long as we’re going ancient—like you and me, RC—I’ll drop the name of George Halas, a three-sport star at Illinois and MVP of the 1919 Rose Bowl playing for Great Lakes Naval Training Station. He came up briefly with the Yankees late that year, broke his hip, and subsequently turned his focus to football as a player, coach, and owner, coincidentally helping to found the NFL, in an iconic career that lasted over sixty years. He was All-Pro as a player, outstanding as a coach, winning his first pro championship in 1921 and his last in 1963, with a… Read more »
bstar
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Here’s the video of Deion Sanders as a Florida State freshman attempting to tackle Bo Jackson. I’m not sure if it’s this commentary or not but I heard him somewhere describe the stiff-arm shiver that Bo gave him at the 10-yard line as a “sit DOWN, young man” kind of play:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ0292GRh00

Doc_Irysch
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Great clip, this should be posted at the top of this.

Scott
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I went with Bo, though if we were to go further back, Jim Thorpe and even Jim Brown were excellent athletes in their own right who did two sports.

Cookie
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“Gifted athlete” is sort of a nebulous category, but I will say this: Deion Sanders actually played a sport at a Hall of Fame level (he may be the greatest defender of WRs footabll ever saw), while all of Bo’s incredible raw skills never added up to a particulary great career in either sport. Yes Bo was as impressive a RB as we’ve seen (5.4 yards a carry, several 70+ yard runs), but he never rushed for even 1,000 yards in a season, got close only once. He simply did not do enough to make the football HOF, while Deion… Read more »
no statistician but
Guest
It’s kind of late in the string of comments to raise this, but I will—what the heck. Opinion: If you can excel at baseball, at least as a position player, you’re likely to have skills that make you capable of excelling at other sports. Excelling at football, basketball, swimming, track events, soccer, golf—most often these are focussed and narrow endeavors compared to those required in baseball. I can see Mantle and Mays as great running backs. I can see Ted Williams at end or forward. I can’t see Tiger Woods or pick almost any name you like (I admit some… Read more »
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