Corny as the concept is in 2013, people still fall in love with athletes — no, not THAT kind of love — even though their adopted faves might end up scandalized, bimboized and the lead item on TMZ. Through time, no athlete has tantalized the masses quite like the dual-sport star. The most legendary, a larger-than-life Bo Jackson, is romanticized to this day on documentaries because his career was so damned bittersweet, taking us to singular places in football and baseball before his hip deteriorated.
Deion Sanders? He once double-dipped with a playoff baseball game on a Saturday night, followed by an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon, but is better known as a Hall of Fame cornerback who dumped a bucket of water on baseball analyst Tim McCarver. Brian Jordan played baseball and football. Danny Ainge took a shot at baseball, then wisely shifted to basketball. John Elway leveraged baseball to force a football trade from Baltimore to Denver. I’m not talking about Herschel Walker doing MMA at 48 after a football career. Nor am I going ancient school to Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski.
I’m talking now. Who could do it?
The Texas Rangers have provided a possible answer: Russell Wilson.
Just as America begins to embrace Wilson as a dynamic, classy MVP candidate who could quarterback the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory in seven weeks, the Rangers shocked us by choosing him in the normally trivial Rule 5 draft. The fee was $12,000. If Wilson heeds my plan, that investment might be one of the smartest in baseball history.
And a decision that could ensure Wilson a good, healthy life until his dying day while fulfilling his — and everyone else’s — two-way fantasy.
I understand he is preoccupied in his football moment and likely will be locked in it another few years. He’s in a blessed place — the offensive leader of an NFL powerhouse that could win multiple championships, which in turn could turn the affable, upstanding Wilson into one of the nation’s most celebrated sportsmen. When he was informed of the news, in a 6:15 a.m. PT phone call by Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, he seemed taken aback. But having been drafted twice before by major-league teams — Baltimore in 2007, Colorado in 2010 — and having played in the Rockies’ system with mixed results before he was drafted by the Seahawks last year, Wilson also knows this is no publicity stunt by the Rangers. They want him, at some point, and they’re willing to wait a while knowing he just turned 25.
“We talk to our scouts about the makeup we want of our players and the work ethic it takes to win, and Russell Wilson has been an example of that,” Daniels told the media at baseball’s winter meetings. “He has off-the-charts character and focus. We want to be respectful of where he’s at right now. I got a chance to talk to him, and he was excited. We wanted to welcome him to the organization and told him, `Don’t be insulted if you don’t hear from us again until you’re done playing because we don’t want to get in the way of what you’ve got going on.’ ”
For now, Wilson is viewing baseball as an offseason hobby. “It’s a pretty cool thing,’’ he told reporters. “That’s my third time being drafted in baseball. It’s a blessing, but obviously, my focus is on football, and Mr. Daniels knew that. I’m sure I’ll go down there (Surprise, Ariz.) for spring training and just talk to some of their players and hang out some. It’ll be kinda cool, but that’s down the road. I’m trying to win a game this week.”
And he let it be known that his only professional concern is football. Period. “I love baseball. It’s a relaxing sport and I’ve played it my whole life. But football is where my first love is,” he said. “There’s nothing better than playing quarterback in front of thousands of people and it being third-and-6 and the game on the line and having to make a play. That’s why I decided to play football. I love moments in big games.”
But in the same conversation, Wilson drops a bombshell: Yes, he has thought about life as a two-sport athlete. “I’ve thought about it before,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, but I’m just focused on football. The last time I picked up a baseball bat was when I won the home run derby here.” That was in Seahawks training camp, a culture that sometimes might involve yoga and sometimes performance-enhancing drugs.
But Wilson is a unique position. He can consider baseball not during his football career, but after it. Say he wins a Super Bowl or two, an MVP award and has conquered his every football goal in the next five years. Why not retire early and then launch a baseball career? He would have to sacrifice tens of millions, I know. And he would have to improve his offensive production since his last minor-league season. But more importantly, he would preserve his head and body and avoid taking countless hits in his 30s, when an NFL quarterback is most vulnerable physically. If you haven’t noticed, Wilson has been knocked around by defenders like a pinball this season with his line overcoming injuries. Sunday, in a loss to the 49ers, he was sacked four times, hit three more times and hurried 14 times — 21 pressures. He has been sacked 32 times and been hit close to 100 times.
Not to be harsh, but has Wilson pondered quality of life in his 40s and beyond? Might he want to avoid depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s and other long-term neurological and degenerative disorders that have weakened thousands of former players? For now, young and on top of the world, he shrugs it off, saying, “I’m kind of a stocky guy. I can take those hits.” That is true, one advantage of being a 5-10 quarterback.
But he’s also a smart guy who can do the math. How many times does he want to be hit and sacked the rest of his life? If he doesn’t believe me, maybe he’ll believe a Tweet from a bigger authority on the subject.
“If I were @DangeRussWilson i would seriously consider baseball and weigh all options with the Texas Rangers. Truth”
Signed, Deion Sanders.No Two-Sport Career? Hear Me Out, Russell by Jay Mariotti