It's a football kind of week, even in the world of baseball.Before we get to Spring Training (less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers!) and before we even get to Sunday's Super Bowl 50, there is today's college football National Signing Day.• Two-sport stars face national signing dayNaturally, all
It's a football kind of week, even in the world of baseball.
Before we get to Spring Training (less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers!) and before we even get to Sunday's Super Bowl 50, there is today's college football National Signing Day.
• Two-sport stars face national signing day
Naturally, all this palaver about pigskin has us thinking about the glorious occasional conversion between the stars of these two very American athletic undertakings.
So to celebrate this big week for football and the imminent beginning of baseball in 2016, here's an All-Star team made up of a baker's dozen of Major League Baseball players who made a major impact on the diamond and gridiron:
The Rockies' all-time leader in games, runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, doubles, total bases, double plays grounded into and clubhouse wisecracks (unofficial stat on that one, but sources say it's accurate) has a well-known football pedigree. Helton, a quarterback, backed up former first-round NFL Draft pick -- and United States Representative! -- Heath Shuler at Tennessee. During his junior year in 1994, Helton was actually ahead of Peyton Manning on the Volunteers' depth chart prior to injuring his knee.
One of the most important players in Major League history also was one of its best-ever all-around athletes. Jack Roosevelt Robinson lettered in baseball, football, basketball and track in high school, junior college and at UCLA. Robinson was the nation's leading punt returner in average yards in 1939 and '40 for the Bruins, and he led UCLA in passing, rushing, scoring and punt returns in '40, his senior year.
Henson was a good enough quarterback at the University of Michigan to share time with some guy named Tom Brady in 1998-99, and he was a good enough third baseman to be drafted by the Yankees and eventually make it to The Show. Henson's big league career didn't last long, but he still had some football life left in that right arm and made the most of it, playing for the Dallas Cowboys while also being signed by the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.
He's Neon Deion, he's Prime Time, and he's the only guy to ever play in a Super Bowl and a World Series. Sanders was an electrifying defensive back at Florida State, then with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens. He won two Super Bowl rings and ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the best to play his position in history. Sanders was quite a baseball player, too. He played for the Yankees, Braves, Reds and Giants in a 12-year big league career, batted .304 with 26 stolen bases and 14 triples in 1992, and hit .533 with five steals for Atlanta in that year's Fall Classic.
We remember Bo's mammoth homer in the 1989 All-Star Game just as much as we remember his steamrolling of Brian Bosworth in his all-too-short NFL career. We also remember the "Bo knows" commercials and the fact that he was one of the greatest athletes ever to play both sports. A hip injury derailed the gridiron career of the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner out of Auburn, but he would star for the Royals and White Sox afterward and become the only player to achieve All-Star status in both sports.
Coming out of the University of Richmond, Jordan was a first-round MLB Draft pick by the Cardinals in 1988 and a seventh-round NFL selection by the Bills the next year. He was a solid defensive back for the Falcons while working his way up the ladder to St. Louis in baseball's Minor Leagues. Then Jordan finally made it to the bigs in 1992 and enjoyed an excellent 15-year career that saw him hit 184 homers and drive in 821 runs while playing for the Cardinals, Braves (two stints), Dodgers and Rangers.
The legendary 1988 World Series homer was predated by some spectacular play at wide receiver in the Big Ten conference. Gibson was an All-American split end at Michigan State and only tried baseball because Spartans coach Darryl Rogers told him he should. Baseball in general should be a big fan of Rogers. Dennis Eckersley? Maybe not so much.
Beginning at Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Thorpe was one of the greatest athletes ever to be put on Earth, so of course baseball and football were among the many sports he tried -- and mastered. Aside from his multiple Olympic gold medals, Thorpe played baseball for four big league teams from 1913-19 while embarking on a lengthy pro football career that saw him reach the NFL in 1920 and play 52 games over eight seasons.
The future Angels center fielder and first baseman was the punter for the 1994 national championship team at Nebraska. In 2005, after a violent collision with Braves catcher Johnny Estrada at home plate, Erstad was asked if a hard-nosed play like that was indicative of his football mentality. "I wasn't a football player," Erstad said. "I was a punter." Still, he was a good one, averaging 42.6 yards per attempt for that decorated Cornhuskers squad.
The quiet, smooth-striding, sweet-swinging Smith was a star baseball player at Ole Miss and has done just fine in the Majors, but he gets just as many headlines these days as the answer to the trivia question of "What MLB player also was the backup QB to Eli Manning?" Hotty Toddy.
The Big Hurt and future Hall of Fame baseball player spared the college football world most of the damage he could have done at the tight end position. Thomas played only one year for Auburn, catching just three passes, before focusing fully on the sport that would bring him Cooperstown immortality.
"The Shark" tested the waters of big-time college football and became an All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame, where he was also making strides as a hard-throwing right-hander on the Irish baseball team. Samardzija considered playing both sports professionally but ultimately opted out of the NFL Draft and was taken by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB Draft.
Before Mauer was a No. 1 overall Draft pick and future American League batting champion and AL Most Valuable Player Award winner, and long before he was a first baseman, the ever-popular Twin was a catcher and a stud high school quarterback who made All-American lists for throwing for more than 5,500 yards and 73 touchdowns in two seasons. Well-played indeed, Mauer. Everyone else on this list played in the Majors and at least college football, but we made an exception for Mauer, because many recruiting experts believed he was the top quarterback in the Class of 2001, when he was primed to play for Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Other MLB notables with football scholarship offers
Mickey Mantle (Oklahoma), Harmon Killebrew (Oregon), Jim Rice (Clemson, North Carolina, Nebraska), Ryne Sandberg (Washington State), Giancarlo Stanton (UCLA, UNLV), Adam Dunn (Texas), Carl Crawford (Nebraska, Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Tulsa), Grady Sizemore (Washington), Billy Hamilton (Mississippi State).
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.