Sanders' Dual Role Irks Falcons

Posted: September 27, 1991

He was probably the first major-leaguer in history to work on the bump-and- run and the hit-and-run in the same day. And he's the only active player in baseball with as many career interceptions as homers (nine).

But when Deion Sanders jumped aboard that helicopter and ran his unique little fly pattern from the Falcons to the Braves this week, he did more than just make the greatest commute in moonlighting history.

He also set off a fascinating feud between Atlanta's favorite baseball and football teams.

First, speaking for the unhappy Falcons, here's disgruntled owner Rankin Smith:

"They didn't even see fit to call us while they were discussing this thing," Smith grumbled to the Atlanta Constitution the other day. "They just did what they chose to do without any regard for us."

And now, doing his best to keep this imbroglio from turning into the Battle of Deionkirk, here's Braves general manager John Schuerholz:

"I can understand how they might feel that way," Schuerholz said yesterday. "I can understand how they could be a little testy, if that's the right word, over something like this. I would probably feel the same way. They're responding to what's best for the Atlanta Falcons. And I understand he's a very important guy for them.

"We're not insensitive to that," Schuerholz went on. "We realize that. But we also realize we need a guy to steal bases. . . . So basically, we had to do what we had to do."

And what the Braves had to do, Schuerholz said, was two things. No. 1, they had to find somebody - anybody - to come off the bench and steal a base or two down the stretch. They couldn't trade for that somebody. So they wound up reactivating the best available cornerback.

But what the Braves also had to do was find something - anything - to put a charge into their club after a tough week in which they lost both their leadoff man, the suspended Otis Nixon, and a critical series in Los Angeles. So cue that helicopter.

"The emotional part entered into it quite a bit," Schuerholz conceded. ''We didn't just want Deion because he was a guy who could run. We also wanted him because of the emotional lift he could bring to our club."

And Sanders did indeed electrify the club and the ballpark with his helicopter entrance and fist-pumping ninth-inning stolen base in his debut Wednesday against the Reds. But no matter what he does in his Braves uniform over the next week and a half, neither he nor his baseball team has heard the last from the Falcons over this.

Next week, for instance, Sanders plans to play for the Braves in three games in Cincinnati. But if he does, he will miss two Falcons film sessions, a practice, a team meeting and a jogging session. The Falcons can - and probably will - fine him up to $7,500 for those absences.

Sanders, who already has been fined $65,000 by the Falcons for baseball- related diversions the last two years, says he would "willingly" pay those fines. And Schuerholz insists the Braves wouldn't pay them for him. But Sanders' attorney, Eugene Parker, says Sanders will be "compensated in a roundabout way" for his fines - whatever that means.

Regardless of who pays what, though, the Falcons still will be steaming over one of the most bizarre incidents in modern sports history.

"They've put us in a no-win situation with this thing from the very beginning," Smith said. "No matter what we do, we look like the bad guys here. That's not right. We're all big Braves fans. We want them to win. But they handled this thing in an unprofessional manner."

MORE DEION. Sanders' two-sport doubleheader Wednesday might have been a first for the big leagues, but it wasn't a first for him.

In 1987, when he was still a junior at Florida State, he pulled off an even weirder baseball-track twin bill.

First, in the morning, he won the 100-meter and 200-meter runs at the Metro Conference track championships. Then he strolled over to the baseball field (no choppers were available, apparently) and played in the first game of the Metro baseball-championship doubleheader.

Between games, he then sauntered over to the track and anchored for Florida State's winning 400-meter relay team, earning him an award as the meet's outstanding performer. Then it was back to the baseball field, where he got the game-winning hit in the title game.

"I don't think it even fazed Deion," baseball coach Mike Martin said. ''I'm sure he felt like it wasn't too much out of the ordinary."

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