We won’t lie – This is yet one more article inspired by the man that is Michael Jordan. Obviously, we’ve been watching The Last Dance and thinking about MJ’s dual basketball and baseball careers, which got us thinking, “Which other athletes played more than one professional sport?”
Turns out, more than we thought.
Here’s a list of professional athletes who just can’t have just one – Sport, that is.
Probably the most obvious person on this list, Michael Jordan, MJ, The GOAT – Whatever you want to call him.
In 1993, Jordan announced his retirement, and a career playing professional baseball. He kept it in Chicago, however, signing with the White Sox and playing for the Birmingham Barons, part of the Southern League, during the ’94 season.
How was the 6-time NBA ring winner at baseball? Jordan had a .202 batting average, out of 127 games. He also struck out 114 times out of 497 times at the plate, making his average 22.9%, while the Southern Leagues’ average was 16.4% – However, he did hit three home runs, which sounds low, until you consider that nobody from their team really hit home runs that year.
As most people are likely well familiar with by now, MJ effectively retired from basketball retirement, returning to the NBA for the ’95-’96, ’97-’98, and ’99-01 seasons, before finally retiring from as an NBA player in 2003, playing the ’01-’03 seasons with the Washington Wizards.
Neon Deion. Prime Time. Reality Star. Okay, that last one might not be what he’s most known for, but, it’s still true.
In addition to these names and occupations, Sanders not only had a professional career in football, but baseball, as well (Are we sensing a pattern here?) Sanders played for the Atlanta Falcons when he was drafted in 1989, and won two Super Bowls in a row with the Cowboys and 49ers.
However, Sanders also played baseball in high school (in addition to track and field) and was also drafted to the New York Yankees in 1988, playing baseball in left part-time for 9 years. Sanders was initially drafted to the Yankees (after being drafted in ’85 by the Kansas City Royals’ and ultimately not signing with them), and played for a variety of teams, the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants.
Another fun fact, in addition to starring in a reality show (Deion Sanders’ Family Playbook), Sanders’ is the only athlete to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.
Widely known as one of the best athletes of all time, Bo Jackson played football and baseball. Why is he considered the best? Jackson was an All-Star in both sports.
Jackson started his baseball career ‘with a bang’, being the first pick for the 1986 NFL draft. However, this relationship went South, with Bo Jackson talking about his early experiences with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30.
Jackson describes a trip where Hugh Culverhouse, owner of the Buccaneers, arranged for Jackson to visit a Buccaneer-owned facility for a physical, and likely have some discussions with the team and executives when there. Before he took the trip, he made sure to ask Buccaneers’ authorities if they cleared the visit with the NCAA – They said they had.
When he returned from Florida, he was taken aside from his baseball coach who informed him the trip Jackson took to Florida was not actually cleared with the NCAA, and apparently, officials never asked. Due to the trip, Jackson was disqualified from participating in NCAA college sports that year. Jackson believes this was Tampa’s attempt to distract him from baseball, and effectively ruin his career.
On an episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30 (the shows’ highest-rated episode, natch) Jackson said, “I sat down there on the ground and I cried like a baby.”
Jackson swore he would never accept a draft from Tampa, and he didn’t, even though the Buccaneers’ had drafted him as their number 1 pick. He decided to team with Kansas City Royals, who were just coming off a 1985 World Series Win.
When it comes to the All-Stars football career, Jackson went on to play for the LA Raiders in 1987, and played for four seasons. He also played baseball for the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels.
Jim Thorpe competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics, winning gold for both the decathlon and pentathlon.
The Olympic committee ended up stripping Thorpe of his medals, due to ‘professionalism’ – What is ‘professionalism’, in this case? Playing minor league baseball and being paid for it, which violated IOC rules.
One of the reasons this was so controversial, is that The IOC later restored his gold-medal status, awarding the medals to this family in 1982.
He went on to play professional baseball and football, playing each sport during its respective season, and even went on to be the first president of the American Professional Football Association, which later became a little ol’ organization known now as the NFL.
Thorpe’s professional sports career ended with the onset of the Great Depression, and he went on to work odd jobs before dying in 1953.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Thorpe had a Pennsylvania town named after him, an eponymous movie, Jim Thorpe – All American, starring Burt Lancaster, and numerous professional accolades, including induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963, its inaugural year.
Thorpe continued to create controversy even after his death, with a legal battle over his remains and their final resting place happening to this day.
We’ve got to make a confession — We almost completed this article without including this famed multi-sport athlete, but upon a little reading we had to backtrack and include him. We’re sorry we almost didn’t.
Jim Brown played football and lacrosse, playing for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 until 1965 – In addition to being voted MVP three times, winning the NFL championship a year before his football retirement, he was named to the NFL’s All-Time Team three times, which are made up of the best players in NFL history. Oh, and he was a movie star after this – If you’re not excited yet, may we suggest you revive your lifeless self?
If this wasn’t enough, Brown excelled in lacrosse, football, track, and basketball. In fact, the Carrier Dome, home to the Syracuse Orange teams, has a 800-square foot homage to Browns’ football and lacrosse careers.
Although he played lacrosse at the college-level, he’s known for his tremendous talent on the lacrosse field. In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, Brown said “Lacrosse is probably the best sport I ever played.”
There are certainly more athletes who’ve played more than one professional sport, but these are the athletes who stand out to us.
We’ve definitely noticed baseball, whether it’s an athletes first professional choice or not, baseball seems to be a sport that’s kinder to aging athletes, doesn’t take as big of a toll on the body, and is likely something most of these American athletes played in their youth.
You won’t find a one-trick pony on this list – Some people just can’t stay away from the game, no matter what it is.