Deion Sanders has one of the most unique legacies in sports. He is an inner-circle NFL legend. He is the go-to answer to “who is the best cornerback in NFL history?” for good reason. Sanders was a five-time All-Pro as a cornerback, and he won Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. He tacked on accolades as a returner specialist, and he even made the All-1990s Team in two positions.
All told, Sanders made eight Pro Bowls and won a pair of Super Bowls. He played 14 seasons for five teams before his Hall of Fame induction in 2011. He was a man of many talents, and he probably could have been a Pro Bowl receiver if the Dallas Cowboys had committed more heavily in 1996.
Only Devin Hester has more non-offensive touchdowns than Sanders’s 19. He is a one-of-a-kind player, and it matched his off-the-field personality.
However, now is a good time to look at his career in Major League Baseball.
Kansas City Royals
In the 1985 MLB Draft, the Kansas City Royals spent a sixth-round pick on Sanders. He did not sign with the Royals, opting to go to Florida State.
At Florida State, Sanders was a multi-sport superstar. He was the best conference in the country for most of his time at Florida State while being on an elite baseball team. He even ran track for a conference-winning team.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees drafted Sanders in the 30th round of the 1988 MLB Draft. Sanders signed with the team and made his MLB debut in 1989. He only played 14 games for the Yankees in 1989, posting a reasonable 92 OPS+.
Sanders returned to the Yankees in 1990 to less success. Across 57 games, Sanders posted a horrendous .158 batting average. His OPS of .507 was poor, and his OPS+ of 42 was 58% below the MLB average. In September, he was released.
The Atlanta Braves picked up Sanders in January of 1991. This move made sense for Sanders the baseball player and Sanders the football player. By this point, Sanders had finished his first two NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
In 1991, Sanders made his first Pro Bowl while he struggled on the diamond. Despite increasing his batting average by 33 points, Sanders was still a well below-average hitter in the Majors.
However, 1992 would be the peak of Sanders’ career in Major League Baseball. Across 97 games, Sanders slashed .304/.346/.495 for an OPS+ of 130. He led the Majors with 14 triples despite missing 65 games. He stole 26 bases, and he accumulated 3.2 bWAR. Over 162 games, Sanders would have been on pace for 5.3 bWAR and 23 triples.
After going 0-for-5 in the NLCS, Sanders lived up to his “Prime Time” moniker in the World Series. In 17 plate appearances, Sanders laced eight hits including a pair of doubles. He tacked on two walks. All told, he slashed .533/.588/.667. His five stolen bases in the series have only been surpassed by five players including Lou Brock twice.
The Braves lost the World Series, but Sanders laid the foundation for his unique accomplishment. He is the only person to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. 1992 was Sanders’ first All-Pro nod and his second Pro Bowl nod.
1993 would be Sanders’ final full season in Atlanta. His MLB-leading tally of triples turned into doubles in the season, and his OPS dipped by nearly 70 points. He did salvage a 105 OPS+, but he was not quite the star he had been. He was hitless in three at-bats in the playoffs.
Sanders notched a third Pro Bowl and second All-Pro nod with the Falcons before heading to the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
In 1994, Sanders played his final 46 games with the Braves. He batted .288 and had a sturdy .343 on-base percentage. In May, he was dealt to Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds (Part One)
Sanders spent 79 games across two seasons in Cincinnati. In 1994, he had 11 extra-base hits en route to an OPS of .700. In 1995, Sanders struggled at the plate, posting an OPS+ of 65. However, Sanders did steal 35 bases in those 79 games. After just 14 months with the Reds, Sanders was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in a seven-player deal.
San Francisco Giants
Sanders suited up for 52 games with the Giants. He posted 19 extra-base hits including five home runs and five triples. He had an OPS+ of 112, and he accumulated 1.4 bWAR. Sanders struggled on the bases, stealing eight bases in 14 attempts, but his batting and fielding were strong.
However, Sanders did not return to Major League Baseball until 1997. He signed with the Reds in February of 1997.
Cincinnati Reds (Part Two)
It took until his age-29 season, but Sanders finally played more than 100 MLB games in a season. He played 155 games for the 1997 Reds. However, his most regular playtime did not result in his best season.
Sanders swiped 56 bases, finishing second in the National League, but he had his fair share of issues at the plate. His batting average (.273) and on-base percentage (.329) were workable, but Sanders struggled to hit for extra-base power. He slugged .363, his lowest since 1991. He had an isolated power of .090, one of the lower marks in the league.
All told, Sanders accumulated 0.2 bWAR in 1997. He was credited with -14 batting runs and -4 fielding runs. However, he was an excellent base runner (+6 base runs), and his profile in centerfield made him slightly better than a replacement-level player.
Sanders took a three-year hiatus before returning to the Reds in 2001. His 32-game stint was a disaster. He slashed .173/.235/.240 for an OPS+ of just 21. On June 14, 2001, Sanders went 0-for-2 in his final MLB appearance.
Across 641 games with four teams, Sanders posted 558 hits, 72 doubles, 43 triples, and 39 home runs. He drove in 168 runs, stole 186 bases, and finished with an OPS+ of 89. While these numbers are not necessarily impressive, keep in mind that Sanders split his focus between preparing for the football season and the baseball season. Had he focused on just baseball, he perhaps would have been better.
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