Sunday, February 13, 2005


February 13th, 1980

Drew Henson Born

Drew Henson was lured away from a potential career in the NFL by the New York Yankees, who gave him a seventeen million dollar contract after Henson forced the Cincinnati Reds to trade him back to the Yankees (he had been part of a deal that landed the Yankees Denny Neagle) under the threat that he would have turned to football otherwise. As it turned out, Henson probably wishes that the Reds had forced him to follow through, he quit baseball after three mediocre minor league seasons, walking away from all but five million dollars of the contract, and saw action in seven games (including one start) for the Dallas Cowboys in the 2004-05 NFL season.

Names like Henson's are inevitably thrown around when discussions of the “world's best athlete” is raised. Such discussions tend to focus on athletes like Bo Jackson, Brian Jordan and Deion Sanders who played two sports, and did so at the highest professional level. In contrast, people like Henson, Danny Ainge and most famously Michael Jordan are often discussed for showing how people like
Jackson and Sanders are at a different level. I've never quite bought into this theory. Michael Jordan was an astounding athlete, as anyone who watched him during his Bulls' days could have told you. He was also a terrible baseball player, batting just .203 in double-A and plainly had no future as a baseball player (and, some would argue, no right occupying a Double-A roster spot). That he failed however is looking at it the wrong way. Double-A is a relatively high level, there are (with due respect to the Japanese and Cuban leagues) only two leagues more difficult than Double-A. Jordan was thirty-one when he took up baseball again and had not played seriously in fifteen years, yet still managed to perform, if poorly, at the third highest level possible. In contrast, both Sanders and Jackson played baseball throughout their college years, and one wonders if they could have managed to repeat their dual-sport success if they had to pick one up at after fifteen years of layoff.

This is not to take anything away from either Bo or Deion, who were both exceptional athletes, but to appoint them the best athletes and dismiss Jordan simply based their success at various activates is foolhardy. Pro athletes are, and I mean this as nicely as possible, genetic freaks, with physical abilities simply outside the normal range. With the rare exceptions of those who physical attributes simply force them into one sport or another, any athlete could have been successful at any game had they chosen that path exclusively. This is not to say that Michael Jordan would have succeeded in baseball as he did in basketball, one was clearly the sport for him. But to rate those athletes who choose to pursue one sport over two as inferior isn’t right.

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