8 athletes who excelled in two sports
The chances of becoming a professional athlete are long. The odds of playing well more than one sport against an elite competition are astronomical. Here are some athletes who have had the chance to excel, some even briefly, in several sports:
1. “Bullet” Bob Hayes Wins Two Olympic Gold Medals… Then Becomes Hall of Fame Catcher
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Hayes set a world record in the 100-meter before running perhaps the fastest 100-meter of all time in the 4×100-meter relay, winning gold medals in both events. Hayes then took his talents to the football field, becoming one of the best deep threats in NFL history with the Dallas Cowboys. Hayes made three Pro Bowls, two All-Pro Teams, won a Super Bowl, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. As his Florida A&M football coach Jake Gaither once said, “Bob Hayes, he’s a soccer player and he happens to be the fastest human in the world.
2. Bo Jackson wins MLB All Star Game MVP and makes NFL Pro Bowl
From 1989 to 1990, Jackson went on to become one of Major League Baseball’s top outfielder and one of the National Football League’s top running backs. In the 1989 MLB All Star Game, he crushed a first home run and won MVP honors. A year later, Jackson was selected for the NFL Pro Bowl. Sadly, a hip injury ended his career in both sports, but as Jackson later said United States today, “There is no reason for anyone to feel sorry for what happened to me, or what could have been. I did not play sports to enter the Hall of Fame. I just played for the love of the sport.
3. Deion Sanders prepares for an NFL and MLB game on the same day
On October 11, 1992, Sanders, one of the best defensive backs in NFL history, started for the Atlanta Falcons against the Miami Dolphins during the day, then boarded a chartered jet for join the Atlanta Braves in Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the National League. Championship Series. While amazing, the crisp baseball community took offense. Sanders, an elite baserunner, didn’t play that night.
Braves general manager John Schuerholz later said: “If we thought he was going to play football, we wouldn’t have put him on the 25-player list.” New York Daily News Columnist Bill Madden described Sanders’ odyssey as a “24 hour whirlwind of pure selfishness.”
While Sanders did not play in his own doubles program, he remains the only athlete to appear in a Super Bowl and the World Series. He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
4. Babe Didrikson Zaharias: gold medalist, golf star
The Babe was one of the greatest athletes of all time. Among her countless athletic achievements, she won three athletics medals at the 1932 Olympics: 80-meter hurdles (gold), javelin throw (gold) and high jump (silver). After choosing golf for fun, she won 10 major LPGA titles, including the 1954 US Women’s Open despite colon cancer. When he died in 1956 at the age of 45, Jimmy Powers of the New York Daily News wrote: “When you look back and consider how many idols in our gaming world have succumbed to dread killer cancer… Babe Didrikson top[s] the list of impressive victims.
5. Bob Gibson plays pro basketball before dominating baseball
After an impressive basketball career at Creighton University, Gibson played a professional ball season for… the Harlem Globetrotters in 1957-58. Gibson impressed globe-trotting legend Meadowlark Lemon enough to tell him Omaha World-Herald: “I thought Bob was a better basketball player than a baseball player.” Lemon’s understanding of Gibson’s prodigious baseball talents appears to have been underdeveloped. Gibson, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959 to 1975, won an MVP, two Cy Young Awards as the National League’s top pitcher, two World Series MVPs, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Lemon’s assessment of his basketball talent confirms how much of a special athlete Gibson was.
READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Harlem Globetrotters
6. All-star outfielder Brian Jordan becomes Pro Bowl replacement ahead of MLB career start
Jordan was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1988 MLB Draft, but decided to try his luck in the NFL first. Jordan caught the Falcons, became their starting safety in his second year (playing alongside Deion Sanders), and was even named a Pro Bowl replacement in 1991. When the Cardinals convinced Jordan to focus exclusively on baseball with a good contract, Sanders blamed Jordan’s agents for selling their client short and lamented, “I can’t believe he gave up football.” However, it turned out to be the right move for Jordan as he continued to play for 15 years and was named a star in 1999.
7. Dave DeBusschere Launches MLB Shuout… and Has NBA Hall of Fame Career
On August 14, 1963, a towering 6-foot-6 pitcher took the mound for the Chicago White Sox and netted a shutout in a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians. The name of the White Sox pitcher that day: Dave DeBusschere. He went on to win the NBA Championships with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973 during a career that led to his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
DeBusschere’s ruling night on the mound was more than a tick in the win column. This was in retaliation against his hometown, the Detroit Tigers, who balked at the opportunity to sign the local legend who had played the role of multi-sport athlete at Austin Catholic High School, University of Detroit Mercy. and had been selected by the Pistons in the 1962 NBA. Draft. The Tigers, according to the Chicago Tribune, told DeBusschere that “baseball and basketball, despite their size, don’t mix well.” His success in major tournaments was fleeting – a 3-4 loss record in two seasons.
8. Danny Ainge hits the MLB home run at 20… then breaks out of the NBA
The former Boston Celtics goaltender was once a prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays and, at age 20, became the youngest Blue Jay to hit a home run on June 2, 1979 (Vladimir Guerrero Jr., also 20 was 18 days younger when he broke that team record in 2019.) Pat Gillick, the Blue Jays executive who selected Ainge, later told the Toronto sun, “I think if he had stayed he could have been a really good second baseman …[and] would have reached about 0.280. Ainge, who played at Brigham Young University, ultimately focused on basketball. He was selected by the Celtics in the 1981 NBA Draft, kicking off a champion career – both as a player and an executive – with the legendary franchise.
READ MORE: 10 Amazing Professional Football Hall of Fame Classes