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Bo's Baseball Bites 05/05/23

Gridiron or Diamond? Both

NFL Draft evokes memories of past greats who excelled in both football and baseball

DALLAS – That recently completed 86th National Football League College Draft evokes memories of many college greats who excelled both on the football fields and baseball diamonds.

One “prime” example is none other than Coach Prime--Deion Sanders, who now is guiding Colorado football after three ultra-successful campaigns at Jackson State.

Mr. “Prime Time” is the only player in history to win a Super Bowl, play in the Major League Baseball World Series, and be a first round NFL draft choice, out of Florida State by the Atlanta Falcons. And, there were even times in Atlanta when he practiced football in the morning and then changed uniforms to compete for the Braves in National League Championship Series baseball games. He competed for 17 seasons in the NFL and 9 in MLB, recording 53 pass interceptions on the gridiron and 39 career home runs on the diamond.

But, Deion is just one example of a collegiate two-sport star whose name has resonated on the professional sports scene, or who managed all-conference or All-America laurels in both sports as a collegian.

Did you recall that National Baseball Hall of Fame member and four-sport star (football, baseball, basketball, and track & field) Jackie Robinson of UCLA also won a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers? And, he probably would have competed in the 1940 or 1944 Olympics if they had not been interrupted by World War II – what could he have been in his role as a basketball standout or trackster as well?

The patriarch of the well-known sports family Manning – Archie Manning – was a three-year starting shortstop at Ole Miss, as well as architect to dozens of Rebel and Southeastern Conference football passing records. And, after Manning graduated in 1971, his 1972 quarterback successor Norris Weese also took over at short and helped the Rebels win the SEC baseball title over Vanderbilt that spring, not to mention a berth in the College World Series that wasn’t repeated for more than four decades.

Who can forget the late Southern University (LA) two-sport star, and National Baseball Hall of Fame member, Lou Brock, who was a standout for the Jaguars on the diamond and gridiron? His 937 career stolen bases stood as the MLB benchmark until Rickey Henderson surpassed the three-time World Series hero (1964, 67-68) for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Some others who might be traced in a good Google or Society For American Baseball records search are:

1934 World Series standout Eldon Auker, Kansas State - Detroit Tigers; Les Backman, Rose Poly (IN) - St. Louis Cardinals; Babe Barna (WV) – Philadelphia A’s; Emile Barnes, Alabama - Cincinnati Reds; Don Baylor, Los Angeles City College – Baltimore; Bob Bescher, Notre Dame, Wittenberg – Cincinnati; Mitchell Boggs, Georgia, Chattanooga – St. Louis Cardinals, Colorado Rockies; Mike Busch, Idaho State – Los Angeles Angels; Bill Carrigan, Holy Cross - Boston Red Sox; Scott Carroll, Purdue, Missouri State – Chicago White Sox; Joe Carter (before WSU dropped football in 1986), Wichita State - Toronto Blue Jays.

Award-winning Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon starred as a freshman team quarterback for Missouri under NFF College Hall of Fame Frank Broyles, who once said Shannon had enough talent to win the Heisman Trophy if he had not given up football for the pro baseball fields.

And one of the more interesting dual-sport stars is Cal Hubbard, the popular MLB baseball umpire for 16 seasons, after he earned All-America honors at Centenary (LA) and Geneva (PA) in football and then played in the NFL for 10 years, before moving fulltime to baseball arbiter duties.

There are hundreds of others who carved out careers in both football and baseball in college and then had sterling careers in MLB, the NFL, or even the Canadian Football League, as in the person of quarterback Jackie Parker.

Parker, who began a two-year two-sport career at Mississippi State 70 years ago, was named All-SEC in football once and baseball twice. He went on to have a playing and front office managing career that ultimately landed him in the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame. And, he wasn’t too shabby a baseball player either, his .418 batting average in 1953 placing him in the MSU record books behind only two iconic baseball names, Buck Showalter (.459) and Will Clark (.420), and ahead of another, Rafael Palmeiro (.415).

Some of the more prominent dual sport names from the last 50-60 years have been Doak Walker of SMU, Bobby Layne and James Street of Texas, Glen Young of Mississippi State, Jack Del Rio of USC, Norm Cash of Sul Ross State, Jake Gibbs (led the Rebels to a football national title at quarterback) of Ole Miss, John Elway of Stanford, and Dave Winfield (the only player ever drafted in three pro sports – football, baseball and basketball – and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame).

And, speaking of basketball, we haven’t forgotten about MLB/NBA star Danny Ainge of BYU, who’s joined by a dozen others with that dual distinction, including famous actor Chuck Connors.

Finally, let’s not omit several baseball-football stalwarts besides Manning who had solid careers in the NFL and MLB – Josh Booty of LSU, George Halas of Illinois, Bo Jackson of Auburn, the legendary Jim Thorpe of Carlisle, and John Stearns of Colorado – just to name a few from the past.

It might be worth taking an extra glance at your favorite college baseball players of ’23. Who knows, maybe the next Tim Tebow, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Todd Helton, Brian Jordan, Drew Henson, D.J. Dozier, or Jeff Samardzija will be coming to a college football field or basketball arena near you this fall.


Trivia Questions taken from the COLLEGE BASEBALL CENTRAL LIBRARY (answers below):

  1. Today’s Bo’s Baseball Bites mentions former Tennessee dual-sport star Todd Helton, who led the Volunteers to their second Men’s College World Series appearance in 1995. The Vols went 2-2, with both losses coming to the eventual National Champion. Who defeated Tennessee twice in Omaha?

  2. Fellow college quarterback James Street of Texas made it to Omaha with the Longhorns multiple times, as did his son Huston decades later. How many times did the father-son combination go to the MCWS, and for bonus points, can you name the years?

  3. Quarterback/shortstop Norris Weese led Ole Miss to Omaha in 1972, upsetting Eddie Stanky’s South Alabama squad in the regional final, but there was another Rebel quarterback on the bench that season. Who was it?

Bo Carter is the Executive Director of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and is a long time professional in sports media and information. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and has plied his trade in the Southeastern Conference, the Southwest Conference, and the Big 12 Conference. In addition to his NCBWA duties, he also serves as a consultant and columnist for the National Football Foundation. Follow the NCBWA, which produces ranking polls for D1, D2, and D3, as well as naming All America teams at both the D1 and D2 levels and the Dick Howser Trophy (presented each year in Omaha at the Men’s College World Series) at @NCBWA. And, if you’re a college baseball fan, you don’t have to be media to be a member, check them out at and join today!

Trivia Answers

1. Cal State Fullerton, 11-1 and 11-0. Wins were over Clemson 3-1 and Stanford 6-2

2. Six times, three each, 1968-70 and 2002-04

3. Jake Gibbs, in his first year as Ole Miss Head Coach, after taking over for Tom Swayze

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