Atlanta's Sanders to double up, stealing passes and bases

September 25, 1991|By Evan Grant | Evan Grant,Knight-Ridder

ATLANTA -- Since college, when he ran in a track meet between games of a doubleheader, it has been Deion Sanders' dream to play two sports at one time.

Yesterday that became a reality.

Sanders, who starts at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons, rejoined the Atlanta Braves as an outfielder for the remainder of the regular season. He will be used mainly as a pinch-runner and as a late-inning defensive replacement.

He will become the first professional athlete to play two different sports in one overlapping season. (Two-sport star Bo Jackson always completed the baseball season before beginning his football season with the Los Angeles Raiders.)

"I pulled on baseball pants and kept pulling them up," Sanders said. "I thought they were supposed to stop at my knees, not my ankles. This is all right. It's really OK. The first thing is, though, I want to help these guys. That was my first thought. Then the part about nobody doing this hit me. To me it would be much more unique if we win this thing."

The Braves signed Sanders to a 14-day contract extension of his $150,000 contract that expired July 31. With a roster bonus, he is expected to make approximately $17,000 for the remainder of the season.

"His speed and determination will be a big asset to us as we battle hard for the National League West title," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said before last night's game against Cincinnati was postponed. "We hope to have him for as many games as possible for the remainder of the season."

Sanders is expected to practice with the Falcons today and tomorrow, then join the Braves for night games against Cincinnati. He will not travel with the Braves this weekend when they go to Houston and instead will play for the Falcons at home against New Orleans.

The Falcons are idle the next week and Sanders would like to join the Braves in Cincinnati for three games, then return to Atlanta for the team's final three games of the season. However, Falcons officials said yesterday that the team's workweek would be the same as during last year's bye week, meaning conflicts would exist on Monday and Wednesday for Sanders.

The Falcons were not pleased with the decision.

"We have been informed by the Braves about their decision to re-sign Deion Sanders during football season," Falcons president Taylor Smith said in a prepared statement. "We understand that he will attend all practices and meetings as we prepare to try and win our third consecutive game against the undefeated New Orleans Saints. Even though we are supportive of the Braves, it would be our preference that he devote himself entirely to football now that the 1991 season is under way."

The Falcons did not indicate whether they would take any legal action against Sanders.

Despite efforts by the Falcons to reach him, Sanders said he did not contact the team yesterday and did not expect to be fined.

"I don't usually call them on my off day," Sanders said. "I don't see how they can fine me. I'm going to fulfill all my football obligations. What I do in my own free time is my business. The Braves basically came to me and said whenever I'm able to, just stop by and grab a uniform."

With the Braves this year, Sanders hit .193 in 49 games with four home runs, 13 runs batted in and nine stolen bases in 12 attempts.

He started the year as the team's leadoff hitter and leftfielder but fell out of the order when Lonnie Smith returned from a knee injury and Otis Nixon emerged as a team leader. Ironically, it was the loss of Nixon to a suspension for violating the league's after-care policies regarding drug use that led to Sanders' return to the Braves.

He has been exceptional in the Falcons' secondary this season, gaining the ultimate compliment -- he rarely has been thrown against by opposing quarterbacks. Last Sunday in the Falcons' 21-17 win over the Los Angeles Raiders, Sanders intercepted a pass and caused a fumble with a cornerback blitz.

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