Deion: More celebrity than player Bit role on Braves just one of many on his public stage

October 08, 1992|By Dan le Batard | Dan le Batard,Knight-Ridder

ATLANTA -- Don't be at all surprised if Deion Sanders moonwalks into Joe Robbie Stadium to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon.

He's still being coy about it, but he has told his baseball teammates he intends to charter a plane and play in a National League playoff game in Pittsburgh Saturday night, a football game in Miami on Sunday afternoon and then another baseball game in Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

When asked about it yesterday, Sanders had only a five-word reply: "Tell Marino I said hello."

Sanders wears the same uniform number as "Hammerin" Hank Aaron, but his personality is tailored more along the lines of his friend Hammer. He is a millionaire sneaker salesman who sometimes drops into Braves or Falcons practice in a limousine or helicopter, depending on his mood.

He has his own television show in Atlanta, with a format similar to "The Arsenio Hall Show." The only difference is that it costs more to produce one of Arsenio's suits than it does to produce all of Deion's half-hour shows. There is another difference, too. Deion's fiancee, who has no television experience, isn't the producer of Arsenio's show.

On Deion's All-Stars, which looks like it was filmed by your children with a home-video camera, your host Deion chats pleasantly with guests such as Pete Townshend, Evander Holyfield and Barry Bonds. Deion's comedy routine consists pretty much of telling his guests that they have (we are quoting directly here) "a booger right there." Commercial breaks include flashy advertising for Deion's local hair salon.

It is all kind of cute, if you like real-life cartoons, but it is becoming tough to tell whether Sanders is an enormous celebrity (if you believe the national television ads) or a glorified pinch runner (if you believe the box scores).

"I went shopping with Deion earlier this week," teammate Terry Pendleton said, "and it was like being out in public with Michael Jackson."

Sanders, 25, does whatever he likes, if you hadn't noticed. He is becoming larger than the two sports he plays. His baseball boss, Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz, asked Sanders yesterday if he intended to play for the Falcons on Sunday. The man pays Sanders $2 million a year, mind you, but never got a straight answer. Sanders called it a rumor and left it at that.

Keep in mind that, when he was completing his playoff roster, Schuerholz got Deion's assurance that he would be a full-time baseball player until the Braves were eliminated.

Sanders' football boss, Falcons coach Jerry Glanville, doesn't know what is going on, either. He says he doesn't want to disrupt team harmony by starting a player who never shows up to practice, so if he does show up to face the Dolphins, it probably would only be as a kick returner.

Falcons teammate Andre Rison is miffed that Sanders gets all sorts of preferential treatment. Rison has caught more passes in his first three seasons than anyone in NFL history, but Sanders makes more money.

"I'm quite sure Deion will play both games Sunday," Pendleton said. "I've known that for about a week."

Pendleton was told that Sanders hadn't made that announcement to Schuerholz or Glanville yet.

"Oops," he said. "Maybe I shouldn't have said anything."

Sanders is hogging the playoff stage, which is pretty amazing considering that he hasn't said anything (he isn't talking to the press) and he isn't doing anything on the field (he has one playoff at-bat).

But Atlanta fans are just as interested in talking about whether Deion will play two sports Sunday as they are in discussing why Barry Bonds seems to strangle himself during the playoffs.

"A lot of people make a big deal about this guy. I'm not," Schuerholz said. "I'm not interested in talking about individuals. Our team is trying to win in the playoffs."

Deion is bigger than the team, maybe even bigger than the playoffs. Sunday, he might become the first athlete to play in two professional sports in one day, but also the first one to play in two baseball games and one football game within 24 hours.

Bonds has his autograph. So does Pendleton. Minutes before last week's football game, Green Bay receiver Sterling Sharpe came over in uniform and asked Deion to sign something for him, too.

By the way, Deion got his first playoff at-bat in the eighth inning of a 13-5 Atlanta victory yesterday.

The crowd gave him a louder ovation than they had given any other player.

He struck out on three pitches.

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