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John Smoltz: Deion Sanders was ‘the best athlete I’ve ever seen’


Deion Sanders was a shutdown defensive back at Florida State and then in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. In the present, Sanders is entering his fourth year as a head coach in college football, his first with Colorado.

Once upon a time ago, Sanders did double duty on the diamond while still giving quarterbacks fits.

FOX Sports MLB Analyst John Smoltz, a teammate of Sanders’ with the Atlanta Braves from 1991-94, explained to Ben Verlander how Sanders could’ve been equally elite of a baseball player as he was a cornerback.

“He’s the best athlete I’ve ever seen. There’s no question,” Smoltz said. “Bo Jackson is obviously in that conversation, two totally different types of athletes with raw potential to play two sports in a different way. And I still maintain that if Deion Sanders would’ve played baseball his entire career, he would’ve been one of the greatest leadoff hitters to ever play the game because he was raw. He didn’t even know what he was doing; he wanted to hit homers; he was so fast; he didn’t even learn how to bunt yet, and he had such a capacity to change a game. He was great for us.”

Sanders made his MLB debut with the New York Yankees in May 1989, roughly three months before his rookie season with the Falcons, primarily as a center fielder. After two seasons, Sanders signed with the Braves, whom he’d play for until he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1994 and then traded to the San Francisco Giants the next year. Sanders then made scattered MLB appearances with the Reds from 1996-2001, as he focused on football.

Across his nine-year MLB career (641 appearances), Sanders led the sport in triples once (14 in 1992), was a combined .263 hitter and finished with a .982 fielding percentage.

Sanders’ 1992 World Series performance against the Toronto Blue Jays was one for the ages, as he finished with a combined .533 batting average while swiping five bags. He famously played for the Falcons in Miami and then hopped a plane for the Braves’ Game 5 NLCS affair on the same day.

Smoltz marvels at how Sanders was able to pull off both sports.

“We got a chance to experience greatness; it was jaw-dropping,” Smoltz said. “He even played in the postseason. He would’ve been the MVP in ’92 if we would’ve won and beat the Blue Jays, he would’ve been the MVP. That’s how important he was. He was playing with a stress fracture in his foot. Words can’t describe [it]. I’m trying to think of another scenario that would even be close. It would be like me playing in a major golf tournament, and then flying after the major golf tournament to go pitch a game. It’s just impossible to think that someone could do this at the level that he did it.”

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