Searching for the Next Bo Jackson

Russell Wilson likely isn't the next great multi-sport athlete, but we can dream. (USA TODAY Sports)

Russell Wilson likely isn't the next great multi-sport athlete, but we can dream. (USA TODAY Sports)

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.

13 thoughts on “Searching for the Next Bo Jackson

  1. There very well could be another Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders and that guy might be Russell Wilson. But, it sure will be a lot harder to find another Michael Jordan, who gave baseball a serious shot for a year in the minor leagues. The differences in those two sports are perhaps too great. I do remember a fine basketball player at the Univ. of Maryland, John Lucas, and he played good NBA ball for the Houston Rockets, among other(s) perhaps. He was also an top flight college tennis player. Tennis and round ball match up much better for the skill sets common to both sports are much more similar than basketball and baseball. Still, the time demands of training and practice required to excel at one sport, let alone two, will make this type of transition much more difficult these days…especially given the specialization in pro sports!

  2. John Elway was drafted by both MLB AND THE NFL. He began playing baseball until he got traded to Denver for whom he agreed to play.

  3. Would be weird for the next pro baseball/football crossover star to come from a college that doesn’t have a varsity baseball team. As in Wilson and Wisconsin. Bring back Badger baseball!

  4. Gene Conley, MLB debut 1952 Boston Braves. MLB and NBA, two-sport pro athlete for 10 years.

  5. Jameis Winston the Florida state quarterback has a mid ninety mph fast ball with a huge hook for a 2 pitch. Maybe he could be the next Bo or Deion.

  6. Does no one remember Brian Jordan? Played a couple of years in the NFL, was even selected as a Pro Bowl alternate, then went to baseball full time for almost 15 years, earning an All Star bid along the way.

    He wasn’t the level of athlete that Bo or Deion was, but he showed that he could be successful in either sport. Guy gets no love.

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  9. What about Wilt Chamberlain? He played pro volleyball while in the NBA.

    And, of course, there’s Otto Graham, who played one season of NBA ball and won a title, while winning seven NFL titles.