All About Baseball
Deion Sanders’ Last Great Moment in MLB
Hey baseball fans! My name is Bankie Bruce and this is my debut for LegendsOnDeck.com. My friend Jon Harder has told me great things about this site and how much passion there is for baseball here. It’s an honor.
I’ve always been intrigued about obscure moments in baseball. Everyone always talks about the big stars and the big moments of all-time great games. But during the grind of the regular season, there are always one-offs that leave an impression on you, even twenty or thirty years later.
My role on LegendsonDeck.com is simple – to take you back in time and showcase some amazing moments that you might not remember otherwise.
And there isn’t a better way to do that than to take you back…to PRIME TIME.
Deion Sanders was an absolute phenom.
His football statistics are second-to-none. Two-time All American from Florida State University, six-time First Team All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowl, 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and two-time Super Bowl champion. Sanders was inducted to both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Most recently, Sanders won back-to-back Southwestern Athletic Conference championships as a coach for Jackson State University and has signed on with the University of Colorado to be its head football coach.
However, there was a time where “Prime Time” was a dual-sport athlete. Similar to Bo Jackson, Sanders played both professional football and baseball at the same time. In fact, before Sanders went to FSU, he was drafted in the sixth round of the 1985 Major League Baseball Draft by the future World champions Kansas City Royals. However, he elected to go play football at college instead and not sign.
Three years later, Sanders was drafted in the thirtieth round of the 1988 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees. Within one year, Sanders made his MLB debut. Although he only batted .234 in 14 games with the Yanks in 1989, he made sports history in September, as he hit a two-run home run in a blowout win against the Seattle Mariners on the fifth, and then, after signing a contract with the Atlanta Falcons, scored a touchdown off a 68 yard punt return against the Los Angeles Rams on the 11th.
After two more years in the Bronx, Sanders was released, due to the Yankees refusing to give him $1 million for 1991 after a subpar 1990. He then subsequently signed with the Atlanta Braves.
Now relegated to Atlanta instead of splitting time between two cities, Sanders settled in and made his impact. Deion peaked in 1992, batting .304 with 92 hits, eight home runs, 28 RBIs, and a league leading 14 triples in 97 games. Also, in the 1992 World Series, he went 8-15 with two doubles, an RBI, and FIVE stolen bases in four games.
After three and a half years, Sanders was traded to Cincinnati in the strike-shortened 1994 season. “Prime Time” split time between the Reds and the San Francisco Giants in 1995, before taking the 1996 season off. Sanders then signed with the Reds again for the 1997 season, playing in 115 games, batting .273 with 127 hits, five homers, 13 doubles, seven triples, and was second in the National League with 56 stolen bases.
Deion focused on football for the next two years until 2000, when Sanders signed a minor league contract with the Reds. After playing in 25 games and only batting .200, Deion went home to Texas instead of playing in Louisville. Then, in late May, Alex Ochoa had an emergency appendectomy. Reds General Manager Jim Bowden called Sanders and asked if he’d come up to the majors to replace the talented outfielder. Sanders declined, saying he wanted to just focus on football.
Approximately a week later, Deion was released by the Dallas Cowboys and picked up almost immediately by the Washington Redskins to a 7 year, $56 million contract. After a full season with Washington, Sanders once again signed a minor league contract with the Reds for the 2001 season. GM Bowden was a huge fan of Deion and really wanted him to resurrect his MLB career with the Reds.
Sanders began the year with the Reds’ Triple A affiliate Louisville RiverBats.
By May 1, 2001, Deion Sanders was back in the Majors.
On sheer chance, I went to check out his minor league statistics on Baseball Reference to see what Deion was doing prior to coming up.
In 19 games and 81 plate appearances, “Prime Time” was electric, batting .460 with 34 hits, four doubles, five triples, a home run, nine RBIs, 12 runs, and six stolen bases. His OPS (On-Base Percentage + Slugging) was 1.183.
Sanders came out with something to prove. On May 1, he would get that chance in a Reds uniform.
Deion started that game in Cinergy Field in front of 21,473 fans, batting second, behind future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, and in front of underrated Michael Tucker. Having not played a Major League game since September 1997, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of pressure on Sanders to be “Prime Time”.
Sanders would be batting against Eric Gagne. This was a year before Gagne became an absolute electric closer for the Dodgers, including his 84 straight game save streak over two seasons, which led him to the 2003 National League Cy Young Award, becoming the last reliever (as of this writing) to win it. In 2001, Gagne was still trying to find his way as a starter in the fledgling Dodgers lineup.
In his first at-bat, with one out, Sanders swung at the first pitch he saw and laced a line drive that bounced in short center field for a base hit. 1 for 1. Nice and simple.
One inning later, with the Reds winning 2-1, thanks to an Aaron Boone solo shot and an RBI single by Pokey Reese following a balk from Gagne, Sanders came up to bat with two men on – Reese on third and Larkin on first.
In the first pitch he saw in his second-at-bat, Deion took a high pitch and just TURNED ON IT. Down the right field line, Sanders hit a three-run home run, putting the Reds up 5-1. 2 for 2.
After a curtain call, you got the sense that “Prime Time” was back.
Bottom of the fifth, Sanders led off, this time facing Jose Nunez, who took over for Gagne after four tough innings. It was a battle of matchups, lefty vs lefty.
On a 1-0 count, Deion laid down a PERFECT bunt to the right of the pitching mound. Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek was playing deep, and had to break in to get the ball. Sanders’ speed was just too much and he beat it out. 3 for 3.
Michael Tucker sacrificed Sanders over to second base with another bunt, putting him into scoring position with one out. With Nunez prepping to face Dmitri Young, Sanders pulled off a surprise. In one fell swoop, Deion stole third without a throw. After Young struck out and Nunez was pulled for Gregg Olson, Aaron Boone drove in Sanders with an RBI single to right-center field, putting Cincinnati up 6-1.
By the bottom of the seventh, Los Angeles fought back to tie the game at 6, thanks to a three-run double by third baseman Dave Hansen, driving in Gary Sheffield, Shawn Green, and Eric Karros off Mark Wohlers in the top of the inning. Facing Matt Herges, Barry Larkin got on with a single back up the middle.
Sanders, up next, laid down another bunt, this time a sacrifice. Herges threw him out at first, but Larkin advanced to second. Because it was a sacrifice, the at-bat did not count; thus Sanders remained 3 for 3.
Two batters later, Young drove in Larkin with an RBI single to left field, making it 7-6 Reds.
The Cincinnati bullpen of Scott Sullivan and Danny Graves held onto the lead, ending the game with a double play to get Sheffield and Green (Boone-Reese-Young). The Reds held onto that 7-6 score.
Deion’s statline: 3 for 3 in four plate appearances – two singles, a three-run home run, a sacrifice bunt, a stolen base, and two runs.
It was a perfect day at the plate for Deion Sanders. It was also his last great moment in baseball.
Sanders wound up playing in 32 games for the Reds, batting .173 in 84 plate appearances, with 13 hits, two doubles, four RBIs and three stolen bases.
On June 22, 2001, Sanders was released by the Reds, but five days later, he was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays. After one month in Syracuse, their Triple A affiliate, the Redskins found a loophole in his contract, stating that if he was not in MLB, he was forced to come to training camp. Technically being in Triple A, he was legally bound to DC. Deion was released, and immediately announced his retirement from baseball. A few days later, Sanders abruptly retired from the Redskins, leaving the NFL for three seasons before returning to the Baltimore Ravens for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
“Prime Time” was an anomaly in professional sports. His unique talents made him wanted for two leagues. Although he was an all-time defensive great in football, his baseball skills leave the mind to wonder: if he was more focused on baseball, could he have been as good as he was in the NFL?
My opinion: Yes. Anyone that is talented with his physical gifts would have succeeded and become great with a full-time focus to it. Deion Sanders was that good.
Doubt me? Look at May 1, 2001. That speaks for itself.
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