It doesn’t seem Russell Wilson will become the next Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson, but at least he’s indulging us. When Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels called him on Thursday morning, Daniels made clear he wasn’t trying to distract Wilson from football, but Wilson said, sure, he would love to come to spring training and field some grounders, take a few hacks.
The Rangers took Wilson away from the Colorado Rockies in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday, paying $12,000 for the privilege of doing so. Wilson figures to be a second baseman — or maybe a Mark DeRosa-ish utility player — with a strong arm and a base-stealer’s speed. Though, both because Wilson hasn’t had any considerable success during his brief and now-on-hold minor league career and because he’s a whit busy quarterbacking what might be the NFL’s best team, he doesn’t figure to ever actually play for the Rangers, either.
In Richard Durrett’s story for ESPN, the word “around” is repeated several times, in the sense the Rangers would just like to have Wilson “around” the baseball club. If you read the quotes from Texas’ front-office people, they sound like they’re trying to ask someone way out of their league on a date. They understand he’s got other more important things going on, but, y’know, maybe he could just hang out for a while. Or maybe, Russell, if and when football stops working out, you would do us the honor of being your backup plan.
As per usual with Russell Wilson stories, there’s nothing about this that isn’t delightful: the Rangers’ infatuation, Wilson obliging them and the slightest chance he could hit .270 in the major leagues and throw 30 touchdowns for the Seahawks. And in case you haven’t heard, Wilson’s a great guy with tons of character. He should loan out his character to other athletes, like the World Bank, but with character.
There’s something about multi-sport athletes that makes us giddy. I remember watching Julius Peppers, when he was a Tarheel, crash through ACC offensive lines on Saturdays and come off the bench for Bill Guthridge. It was, for whatever reason, more thrilling to watch a defensive end throw down dunks. A few years ago, whenever SportsCenter was running thin on content, it would occasionally have Mark Schlereth on to talk about whether or not LeBron James could play tight end in the NFL. This is a topic that’s inherently interesting to us.
This is perhaps because the two most notable multi-sport athletes are two era-defining talents. There’s no one quite like Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders, and there never will be. We also expect a lot from our athletes — see: every crowd booing its own players — but we would never set the bar so high as to require he or she to excel at two sports. It’s one of those propositions that sounds ridiculous. Just getting to the professional level of any sport is near-impossible. To play in two leagues at the same time is inhuman.
It’s difficult to say if we’ll ever see another Bo or Deion. There’s not just the basic restriction of having to be able to play two sports at professional grade. You have to be great at two sports that have seasons that don’t overlap too severely. Allen Iverson was a legendary high school quarterback, but he never could have split his time between the Sixers and Ravens. Youth sports have also become increasingly specialized. If you’re an exceptional 13-year-old baseball player, especially one living a warm-weather climate, you can and are encouraged to play baseball year-round. It also doesn’t seem like Nick Saban would tolerate having his safety also play shortstop for the Tide, does it?
On the other hand, two-sport pros are unicorns, so I wonder if the various factors discouraging the development of an MLB/NFL star tamp down on the odds all that much. Russell Wilson probably isn’t one such unicorn, but that the prospect of him playing for the Rangers is enticing speaks to our fervent desire to locate another one.