By Richard Cuicchi | September 03, 2016 at 09:30 AM EDT | No Comments
Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is back in the headlines again, but this time it’s not for another attempt to catch on with an NFL team. On Tuesday he attended a workout at the University of Southern California campus, where scouts from 28 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams watched him take batting and fielding practice and then bat in a “live” hitting situation. However, it’s a long shot whether he can land a contract with a major-league organization, since he hasn’t played competitive baseball since high school.
Tebow last played in NFL regular season games in 2012 with the New York Jets. Since then, he has continued to pursue a roster spot in the NFL with pre-season tryouts with the New England Patriots in 2013 and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015. Since his original signing with the Denver Broncos in 2010, he has struggled with transitioning from one of the greatest college football players in history at the University of Florida to the pro game. He did manage to lead the Broncos to the playoffs in his rookie season, but his football career plummeted after that.
Tebow’s baseball quest isn’t unprecedented for NFL players. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are the most noteworthy examples of pro football players who also excelled at the diamond game. However, one big difference from Tebow’s situation is that Jackson and Sanders were stars at the college baseball level, in addition to their gridiron prowess. Furthermore, Jackson and Sanders played in the major leagues soon after their college careers, at ages 23 and 21, respectively, while Tebow is currently 29 years old.
Other former NFL players who played in the major-leagues include Brian Jordan and Drew Henson.
Jordan was a defensive back with the Atlanta Falcons for three seasons while also playing minor league baseball. But then he secured a permanent major-league roster spot with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1992 and wound up dropping football. Jordan played fifteen major-league seasons, including an all-star season with the Atlanta Braves in 1999.
Henson was a highly-touted high school football and baseball player, drafted by the New York Yankees in the 3rd round in 1998. He played minor league baseball in the Yankees organization while also playing quarterback at the University of Michigan. But he initially chose baseball as his career after college, eventually making brief appearances with the Yankees in 2002 and 2003. However, he subsequently turned to football again, making backup quarterback appearances with the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions in 2004 and 2008.
Michael Jordan, the NBA’s all-time greatest player, attempted to play professional baseball in 1994 for the Chicago White Sox organization, after leading the Chicago Bulls to three NBA championships. His relatively poor performance was proof that skills and experience in one professional sport, even for a superior player, don’t automatically mean an athlete can apply them successfully in a different sport. Jordan’s hitting was a struggle in his lone baseball season, posting a meager .202 batting average, although, he did manage to steal 30 bases.
It’s a rare breed that can excel in two professional sports. Obviously, the athleticism of Jackson, Sanders, Jordan and, to a lesser degree, Henson allowed them to reach the pinnacle of both pro sports. Jackson became a power hitter, while also being able to run down fly balls in the outfield. Sanders used his tremendous speed and quickness on the base paths to be disruptive to opponents.
It’s really unknown yet whether Tebow’s skills can be applied to baseball at a high level. In his hitting workout at USC, the results were mixed. The left-handed batter managed to hit several balls over the fence during two rounds of batting practice. He then moved to live hitting for three “innings” against two former major league pitchers, when he almost hit a real home run after experiencing several strikeouts.
Tebow was an all-state baseball player while in high school in Florida. However, despite his athleticism, he lacks the critical baseball experience and instincts, usually acquired at college and minor league levels, to allow him to rapidly advance through baseball’s minor league system to the big-leagues. If he can’t do that within a couple of years, he’ll be too old to be a viable player for most major league clubs.
What Tebow does have going for him is his high personal character and team-oriented approach. Despite his lack of success in the NFL, he seems to have an endless popularity among sports fans who appreciate his college days. On Wednesday he received an offer to play for a team in the Atlantic League, an independent professional baseball league. That is likely his best chance to test and develop his baseball skills. Former NBA player Tracy McGrady tried that approach unsuccessfully a couple of years ago, after deciding he wanted to pursue his dream of a baseball career.
One thing’s for sure though. Tebow would be a big draw for whatever team or organization he would play for, and that would keep him in the public eye a bit longer--something he’s not able to do through football right now.