Top 10 College Football Players Who Went on to Have Distinguished MLB Careers
Much attention has been paid to Jameis Winston playing baseball for Florida State this spring. After leading the Seminoles to a BCS National Championship as a redshirt freshman, the Heisman Trophy winner is back for his second season on the FSU baseball team, both as a pitcher and an outfielder.
Winston has a 0.64 ERA with four saves as the closer and is hitting .182 for the top-ranked Seminoles (23-5), who are still in search of that elusive first national championship in baseball. But Winston is hardly the first big-time college football player who also stars in baseball for his school.
There have been a number of college football players who went on to productive Major League Baseball careers. We have compiled quite an All-Star list that includes a Heisman Trophy winner, a College World Series MVP and a player whose number was retired by not just one MLB team—but all of them.
Here's our list of Top 10 College Football Players Who Went on to Have Distinguished MLB Careers:
College: Notre Dame
MLB Draft: 5th Round (2006, Chicago Cubs)
MLB Service: 7 seasons, 189 games (active, stats as of 2013 season)
Jeff Samardzija was an All-American wide receiver for the Fighting Irish, finishing his football career as Notre Dame's all-time leader in receiving yards with 2,593.
After college, Samardzija decided to forgo a shot at playing pro football to concentrate on baseball. He has since emerged as the Chicago Cubs' staff ace, as the right-hander was Chicago's opening day starter for both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
College: Ole Miss
MLB Draft: 2nd Round (2004, Colorado Rockies)
MLB Service: 8 seasons, 729 games (active, stats as of 2013 season)
Seth Smith hit .402 for Ole Miss as an All-American freshman, but he became better known as the guy who held the clipboard as the backup for Eli Manning. Smith never took a snap under center in a game, but he appeared as a wide receiver for the Rebels.
When Smith made it to the Rockies' MLB club in 2007, the outfielder and teammate Todd Helton shared an interesting distinction—both were backup quarterbacks to a Manning in college. Smith signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres after the 2013 season.
College: Florida State
MLB Draft: 30th Round (1988, New York Yankees)
MLB Service: 9 seasons, 641 games
Before Famous Jameis, there was Prime Time, who split his time between the gridiron and the diamond, in Tallahassee. While there was never any doubt that Deion Sanders was going to play pro football, he managed to find time on the side to spend nine seasons in MLB for four different teams.
Sanders once quipped that "football is my wife and baseball is my mistress." And the cornerback/outfielder was quite successful in juggling the polygamous sports lifestyle, having played in both the World Series and the Super Bowl (winning two) and being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
MLB Draft: 1st Round (1988, St. Louis Cardinals)
MLB Service: 15 seasons, 1,456 games
Brian Jordan is a contemporary of Deion Sanders and the much better baseball player. After playing both sports at the University of Richmond, Jordan was picked by both the NFL (seventh round in 1989) and MLB. While toiling in the Cardinals farm system, he played defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons for three seasons and was a Pro Bowl alternate in 1991.
But after the Cardinals called him up to the big league club and signed him to a new contract, Jordan agreed to give up football. The All-Star outfielder ironically also enjoyed the most successful portion of his baseball career in Atlanta, as he was an integral part of the Braves' NL championship team in 1999.
College: Cal State Fullerton
MLB Draft: 1st Round (1992, Houston Astros)
MLB Service: 12 seasons, 1,217 games
Phil Nevin is considered one of the greatest college baseball players. He was named the Golden Spikes winner and the College World Series MVP after leading Cal State Fullerton to the 1992 championship game. Before hitting .571 in the CWS, Nevin was chosen first overall by the Houston Astros in the amateur draft.
What's less known about Nevin is that he was the kicker/punter for the Titans football team and an All-American as a freshman, converting 15 of 21 field goal attempts, including a 54-yarder. The All-Star infielder also was credited with popularizing the Oakley wrap-around sunglasses in baseball.
MLB Draft: 1st Round (1995 California Angels)
MLB Service: 14 seasons, 1,654 games
Darin Erstad was also the first overall pick in the MLB Draft, going to the Angels in 1995 after a junior season in which he hit .410 with 19 home runs and 79 RBIs for the Cornhuskers. He also collected a national championship ring right before that, averaging 42.6 yards per punt for Nebraska's football team.
Erstad spent most of his MLB career with the Angels, earning three Gold Gloves. The two-time All-Star outfielder had a key home run in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, helping the Angels rally to their first championship in franchise history. After retirement, Erstad returned to Nebraska in 2012 to coach its baseball team.
MLB Draft: 1st Round (1995, Colorado Rockies)
MLB Service: 17 seasons, 2,247 games
Todd Helton was selected seven picks after Darin Erstad, eighth overall by Colorado. He's since become Mr. Rockie, the man most identified with the one-time expansion franchise. The five-time All-Star first baseman played his entire 17-year career in the Mile High City, retiring at the end of last season.
But before all that, he was a starting quarterback in the SEC, taking over from Jerry Colquitt in the 1994 season opener before he was injured a few weeks later. Helton was replaced by a precocious freshman named Peyton Manning and never made another start for the Vols again.
MLB Draft: 4th Round (1986, Kansas City Royals)
MLB Service: 8 seasons, 694 games
Bo Jackson is without a doubt the greatest two-sport athlete. He's the only player to have won the Heisman Trophy and be named to both the baseball All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl. If it weren't for a devastating hip injury that cut short his football career in 1990, Jackson would've been a lock for Canton and had a good shot for Cooperstown.
Jackson excelled in both sports at Auburn—as a running back and outfielder—before he was picked first overall by Tampa Bay in the 1986 NFL draft, though he never played for the Bucs. Incidentally, a year after Bo left Auburn, freshman tight end Frank Thomas caught three passes for 45 yards in his only season before giving up football to concentrate on what would become a Hall of Fame baseball career.
College: Michigan State
MLB Draft: 1st Round (1978, Detroit Tigers)
MLB Service: 17 seasons, 1,635 games
Kirk Gibson is best remembered for his mammoth 3-run bomb that clinched the 1984 World Series for the Detroit Tigers and the one-legged miracle shot that lifted the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the 1988 World Series. But before he became the league MVP and now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gibson was an All-American wide receiver for the Michigan State Spartans.
Gibson attended Michigan State on a football scholarship and played baseball for only one season, but that was good enough to make the outfielder the Tigers' first-round pick. Exactly 10 years before Gibson, another Spartan also gave up a football career after one collegiate season to focus on baseball: 10-time All-Star first baseman (and defensive back) Steve Garvey.
MLB Draft: Free Agent (1945, Brooklyn Dodgers)
MLB Service: 10 seasons, 1,382 games
Thanks to, of all people, UCLA's crosstown rival USC, we now have this rarely seen film of Jackie Robinson in action on a football field as a running back (No. 28) in the same backfield that also featured All-American Kenny Washington.
Robinson lettered in four sports for the Bruins—football, baseball, basketball and track and field. His weakest sport was actually baseball, as he batted just .097 in his only season. No matter. UCLA named its baseball field in his honor anyway because he only, oh, was named both MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season, led the Dodgers to their only championship in Brooklyn and broke baseball's color barrier.