Deion Sanders, the no. 1 draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons and one of the best defensive back prospects pro scouts have ever seen, suddenly found himself playing centerfield for the New York Yankees last week. Not so surprisingly, he has been hearing the name Bo Jackson a lot. But if "Neon" Deion had his way, no one would compare him with Jackson. "I never thought of pulling a Bo," says Sanders. "I'd be pulling a Deion."
Until last week that would have meant little more than biding his time before reporting to the Falcons' training camp in July by playing Double A ball in Albany. But when the Yankees unexpectedly called up Sanders last Wednesday, "pulling a Deion" became a meaningful phrase.
In his first major league game, on May 31, the All-America cornerback and kick returner from Florida State gunned down a Seattle runner at third, got his first hit and drove in his first run, sparking the Yanks to a come-from-behind 9-5 win. On Sunday he hit his first major league home run. All of a sudden, it looked as if Deion might be capable of pulling a Bo. "I had planned on being at football camp July 3," says Sanders, "but now a lot of things have changed."
In fact, a lot of things have changed since Jackson announced his intention of pursuing football as a "hobby" in 1987. Many scoffed at first, but when Bo pulled off the double, front-office types had to reevaluate their options, and some top athletes began to think more seriously about a dual-sport career. Sanders, though he hasn't yet made any loud noises about trying to be both a Falcon and a Yankee, is the first to show the kind of talent needed to follow in Jackson's footsteps.
Others may soon try the same path. D.J. Dozier—the Minnesota Viking running back, a first-round draft choice in 1987—has been working out in the Mets' extended spring-training program. Seattle Seahawk running back Bobby Joe Edmonds has signed with the Phillies' Double A club in Reading, Pa. University of Miami running back Cleveland Gary, the first-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams this year, has talked with the Atlanta Braves about a contract.
With Jackson earning $585,000 this season with the Royals and $840,184 with the Raiders, the monetary benefits of a two-sport career are hard to ignore. And having an alternative sport gives a player a handy bargaining chip. Says Sanders, who has not yet signed with the Falcons, "Whichever sport pays the most, that's my natural personality." The Yankees have already arranged for a $300,000 loan for Sanders that becomes a signing bonus if he continues to play baseball.
For his part, Sanders is playing his cards close to the vest. "I've always said I love football and that baseball is my girlfriend," says Sanders. "Well, that girlfriend is really getting friendly now."