Over the weekend, Kyler Murray of the University of Oklahoma won the Heisman Trophy. As the weekend was concluding, a popular discussion, and one with precious little bearing on the Cubs, became quite popular: “Who is the best two-sport athlete ever?” As I watched one such discussion quickly devolve into “Who has the best YouTube highlight package ever?”, I spun a different web. How would one assess who the best multi-sport athlete has been?
The discussion I was watching became mostly a Bo Jackson-only discussion. That’s not to rip on Jackson, who excelled at the top level at both football and baseball. However, when I hear one person getting all the respect, I tend to look other places.
My first leap was to Jim Thorpe, who won the Pentahlon and Decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. He had to return the medals, as he was found ineligible for playing semi-professional baseball. He would play, after his Olympic exploits in both pro baseball and pro football.
Eventually, I pivoted to Jackie Robinson. It’s a bit useless telling long-time baseball fans about Robinson’s lengthy shadow in the sport. However, he was as good, if not better, in track, basketball, and football in college at UCLA.
Deion Sanders played, the same day, in an NFL game and a World Series game. That’s tough to top. He was an elite cover-corner, and had 23 post-season at-bats. Murray, who created the discussion this week, was a baseball first-round choice in June, along with his football expertise.
There may be others you would lump in with those four. However, all of these played major league baseball, and played at least one other sport rather well. You can comment on either or both halves of the discussion. Both could be equally as important. Which of the above do you consider the best athlete? And why?
If the argument is about the multi-sport angle, one would need to adequately assess a “point value” for each of the sports. Is the primary sport the most important? Is the secondary equal to the primary? Do the third and fourth tally points, as well?
As with some logic puzzles, the answer might tell quite a bit more about the assessor than the athlete being assessed. Yes, Bo Jackson made some sensational plays on television that are burned into out collective retina. Those should not be subtracted from. However, that Thorpe was obscenely good at track and football, and reasonably good in baseball, oughtn’t be dismissed, either.
After thinking it over, though I’ve seen very little film of him, my vote leans Robinson. Along the lines of Thorpe, he was better than the competition at about anything; football, basketball, track, tennis, and baseball. In addition to his on-field talent, he was required to tolerate discrimination that is lost on many in a society where the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” serves as a current trigger mechanism.
You can choose any of the four, or add another. My question is, how you are defining the search? “Because I like him” doesn’t seem an accurate assessment. All four were likable, yet probably rubbed quite a few people the wrong way.
Thorpe played against the Cubs in the “Double No-Hitter” of 1917 between the Cubs and Reds, driving in the only run. Robinson has his number retired by all MLB clubs. Neither Jackson nor Sanders has especially close ties with the Cubs.
Who is your choice, and why? All were very good at baseball and at least one other sport. The sports panorama is better for each having been able to play. Now, the discussion is yours.
Who is the best multi-sport athlete ever?
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