BY CHUCK OLIVER
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – One thing the 1995 Atlanta Braves weren’t short on was Hall of Famers. By my count there were four future HOFers on the field, one in the dugout and another upstairs wearing suspenders.
Now, consider the phrase I really did need to preface that last statement with: “By my count . . .”
It’s not normal for a fan to need to include that disclaimer when recalling a team from the franchise’s past. Hall of Fame players or managers and even execs, you don’t lose track of those. For the 1995 edition of My Team, yeah, you might.
But even with John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones on the active roster, Bobby Cox managing and John Schuerholz moving pieces around the board, there really could have been one more Hall of Famer wearing a tomahawk that season.
I won’t romanticize why Deion Sanders wasn’t still with the Braves when the team started the 1995 season. He had been traded the previous May, to Cincinnati for Roberto Kelly, and there was some baked-in justification.
Ron Gant had broken his leg in the offseason and the team needed a right-handed bat. That much was true. It also was completely unrelated to Deion’s exit. He had simply become too much of a distraction in about 10 different ways and the team made the decision to move on. About those “distractions” . . .
The biggest hurdle to any major league team getting more than a tease of Sanders’ talent was the part-time outfielder was also a full-time cornerback in the NFL. It was already generally agreed by the early 90’s, certainly by 1994, that Deion could be the best corner in league history and was destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Deion, himself, was certainly of that opinion and he pursued . . . successfully, mind you . . . an almost impossible outcome: to make more money playing pro football than pro baseball, and for a longer time. He was THAT good, and knew it.
If you go back to the beginning of this, the “ . . . really could have been one more Hall of Famer” on the Braves roster that season, that part, that wasn’t word play and, “OH, he meant the Pro Football HOF.”
Folks, Deion Sanders could have been in Cooperstown, he could have been a Hall of Fame player in baseball, if he had committed full time.
Check the back of his baseball card and there are some impressive numbers, stand-alone, no context needed. Throw in the combination of almost no off-season attention to getting better at the sport and most seasons playing about half the games and then moving on to football, and you have a recipe for failure, not the partial seasons Sanders strung together.
The science of swinging a curved surface to hit a round object traveling 90+mph is absurd. It takes an impossible amount of talent combined with consistent prep, both personal technique and studying pitchers, to give you a chance to be successful about 3 out of every 10 times.
Deion did things like play fewer than 100 games in 1992, yet lead the league in triples with an insane 14 and also hit .304 for the year. Then he left to play in the NFL. He stopped playing baseball altogether for almost two calendar years, returned to the bigs in 1997 and finished second in the NL in steals with 56, despite playing only 115 games.
The bottom line is Deion made the Hall of Fame in his chosen sport and had the talent to make it another sport’s Hall, as well. An additional bottom line is that if he wasn’t traded for Kelly, then Kelly wouldn’t have been traded for Marquis Grissom and the Braves don’t win the 1995 World Series. Turns out, six Hall of Famers was enough!