Who Was the Best Baseball Player: Michael Jordan, Deion Sanders, or Bo Jackson?
By Kyle Koster
It takes an incredible amount of skill and determination to play one professional sport. To play two is the rarest of rare feats. When one of them is a baseball, a completely different animal than either basketball or football, it's even more mind-blowing. Most recently Tim Tebow attempted a second act. He was slightly less successful than Michael Jordan, whose 1994 campaign in the minors is legendary. But just how close were either to capturing the magic displayed by Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, the mega-watt two-sport stars that ruled the 1990s?
Michael Jordan Baseball Stats
Michael Jordan shocked the world when he announced he was retiring from basketball to pursue his first love. He rode the bus for one season (1994) with the Birmingham Barons, a Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and performed remarkably well considering the level of competition he was stepping into and his decades of rust. That may not jump off his Baseball Reference page, which shows that he hit .202 in 127 games as an outfielder. Jordan drew 51 walks to boost his on-base percentage to .290, showing he was an early subscriber to the Billy Beane method, but those free passes were buried by 114 strikeouts in 436 at-bats. His Airness also had decent extra-base power, collecting 17 doubles, a triple, and three home runs to earn a .556 OPS. On the bases he was a formidable threat, swiping 30 bags. To say he held his own would be fair, though he probably made the correct choice in returning to basketball to cement his legacy as the greatest player to ever grace the hardwood.
Tim Tebow Baseball Stats
It seems like a much simpler time not so long ago when we waited on bated breath for the exploits of a former Heisman Trophy winner trying to earn a call up — or be gifted one — by the New York Mets. Tebow's sideshow came with considerable power and honest-to-goodness production before the dream died. Tebow played in St. Lucie, Columbia, Binghamton, and Syracuse — a trip that spanned Single to Triple A — and came to the plate 1,048 times. He hit .223 with an on-base percentage of .299 and slugged .338. There were 48 doubles, three triples and 17 home runs in his bat, and in Binghamton he put together a season in which he hit .273 and had a .734 OPS. Strikeouts, however, proved problematic as he fanned 327 times against 85 walks during his minor-league career.
So grading on a curve, both of these players performed quite well. They were not laughingstocks and the ability to come off the sidelines and produce at these levels is incredibly impressive. Let's not get it twisted, though. Even on their best days they were nowhere near the baseball players Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were. That, of course, seems obvious. How obvious?
Bo Jackson Baseball Stats
Okay. First the bad. Bo Jackson struck out a lot. He led the majors with 172 whiffs in 1989. Now the good. Sometimes he'd become so angry he would snap his bat over his knee like a toothpick. Few things have ever been cooler. Also in 1989 Jackson blasted 32 dingers, was an All-Star and finished 10th in American League MVP voting. During a four-year stretch he hit at least 22 homers and had an OPS north of .750 while showcasing a world-class arm in the outfield. Injuries would eventually cut his career short of potential, yet even still he emerged with a .250/.309/.784 slash. That final number would be gladly excepted on a big league roster right now.
Deion Sanders Baseball Stats
When Sanders wasn't putting together a Hall of Fame career he was anchoring the Atlanta Braves lineup as they made postseason after postseason. In 1992 he led the National League in triples with 14 as the Fighting Bobby Coxes won the World Series. He played 641 games in his nine-year career and stole 186 bases. His slash was .263/.319/.392 when all said and done — a remarkable side job for one of the best defensive backs of all-time.