Sanders' 'double' probably first, last

JOHN EISENBERG

October 14, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

That was quite a moment the other night when Deion Sanders became the first athlete to play two pro sports on the same day. Simultaneously, in a stunning historical feat, he also became the last athlete to play two pro sports on the same day.

It won't happen again.

Well, after the sight of Dennis Eckersley getting pulled in the ninth inning the other day, it is best never to say never. But you get the idea.

Sanders may have succeeded in his primary goal of attracting attention and more endorsements, but he also proved that no one who actually had to play football and baseball on the same day could pull off such a cutting-edge doubleheader.

Not that it was beyond Sanders' physical limits, or those of any extraordinary athlete. That's not the point at all. The point is that, well, let's just say pro sports is not always a cradle of progressive thought.

As it happened, if you remember, Sanders didn't actually "play" two sports Sunday. After playing for the Falcons that afternoon in Miami, he didn't get into Game 5 of the National League playoffs in Pittsburgh. He watched from the bench, as he has watched almost the entire series.

That his baseball duties are nil this October was the only reason he felt able to charter a jet and, well, you saw it all, right? How could you not with CBS blaring trumpets the whole way?

Anyway, if he had actually been expected to do something for the Braves other than look good in a parka, he never would have jumped the team to go play football. "Deion wouldn't have tried it," Deion said the other day. Or something like that.

But it doesn't matter. Even if Sanders had been scheduled to start in the outfield, the Braves never would have let him have his fun. You can be sure of it. It wouldn't have mattered if he was their best player.

See, the perception is that football is the inflexible, militaristic sport that does not tolerate even a smile, much less folly, and, Holy Schembechler, that's basically true. But sometimes football has a higher tolerance than baseball for fancifulness.

You will notice that Falcons coach Jerry Glanville embraced the whole project and even got into it, playing Sanders on offense. You would never see that in baseball, in which the hidebound customs and rituals are considered inviolable.

Braves manager Bobby Cox is, like all managers, a career baseballist. Such men simply do not accept the idea that a ballplayer can just show up and play without the conventional preparatory regimen of batting practice, infield practice and sitting around in your underwear spitting and burping.

When Cox was asked about Sanders' stunt before Game 5, one look at his unflinching career baseballist jaw told you everything. As Deion might have said, "Deion wasn't going to play even if Deion offered Bobby a million dollars."

Not to single out Cox. No baseball manager would allow a player to prepare for any game, much less a possible pennant-clincher, by popping an IV in his arm, flying two hours, hopping helicopters and limos and showing up just in time for the first pitch.

Over Cal Ripken Sr.'s dead body would any baseball man ever allow such a sacrilege.

But what was to prevent Sanders from playing all nine innings Sunday and going 4-for-4? The armada of bulging major-league bellies should convince anyone that baseball is a sport of reflexes, not conditioning. You wouldn't want Sanders making a habit of showing up at the first pitch, but baseball has entertained far more outlandish propositions than a tired, late arrival having a big night.

But the talk among baseball executives and others Sunday was that Sanders was desecrating some shrine. Please.

Personally, I think it would have been fun to see him take his hacks. That Cox wouldn't even play him when the Braves fell far behind tells you about the humorless, conscientious mind-set Sanders was confronting.

The thing is, he was just posing when he said he never would have tried it had he actually had to play baseball. He was just trying not to come across as any more obnoxiously egocentric than he is. You know that deep down he believes that, publicity stunt or not, he could pull it off. And I agree.

But now the word is the Braves might drop him from their World Series roster. They're mad because he'd said he wouldn't jump to football during the playoffs. Now, it's probably not going to come up again -- now or ever. There's just too much baggage, too many people who can't handle it. It's too bad. I think it would be a hoot. But I just work here.

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