Tonight the Heisman Trophy for the best player in college football will be awarded. You may be wondering what this has to do with the Yankees or baseball, and at least for this year’s finalists, the answer appears to be: not much.
However, there is a decently long history of athletes competing in both sports. Thanks to the lack of an overlap in seasons in the non-professional levels and a crossover in skill sets (especially for quarterbacks), many players who make the highest levels in both sports have a history in the other.
That includes Heisman Trophy winners. In honor of tonight’s ceremony, here’s a look at the Heisman winners who have a history with the Yankees.
Despite having a relatively short career in both sports, Bo Jackson’s feats on the baseball diamond and football field were legendary. He was only near the beginning of that career when the Yankees selected him out of high school in the second round of the 1982 MLB Draft. They offered him a quarter million dollars to sign, but Jackson opted on a full ride to Auburn, and it’s hard to say he made a bad choice.
Jackson had an incredible career in both sports as a Tiger, and won the Heisman in 1985. He initially decided to just play baseball out of college after less than stellar dealings with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him No. 1 overall in the NFL. However, his rights eventually ended up in the hands of the Raiders, who let him play both sports. He eventually became the first and so far only person to play in both an MLB All-Star Game and Pro Bowl, and his feats in both sports are almost talked about in mythical ways.
Ward is one of the most impressive athletes of all time, having won the Heisman Trophy, getting selected in the MLB Draft, and then played professionally in a third entirely different sport, playing 11 seasons in the NBA.
Despite never actually playing baseball in college, Ward was twice selected in the MLB Draft as he was tearing it up on the football field and basketball court at Florida State. For whatever reasons, MLB teams have occasionally taken fliers on college football players, especially quarterbacks, even though many never even end up playing a single baseball game after that. Johnny Manziel getting drafted by the Padres is one such example. Ward is another, as the Yankees took him in the 1994 MLB Draft, a few months after he won the Heisman and led Florida State to a national championship.
However, he never saw a baseball field or even a football field after college. He was also on a Florida State basketball team that made the Sweet 16 in 1992. After going for over 10 points per game in his senior year and going undrafted in the NFL, Ward chose basketball when the Knicks selected him 26th overall in the NBA’s version.
Nicknamed “Hopalong” after Hopalong Cassidy, the fictional cowboy character, Cassady played on both the football and baseball teams at Ohio State. However, his football career took prominence after he won the Heisman for the 1955 season. After that season, he was selected third overall in the NFL Draft and played several years in the pros, winning a championship with the 1957 Detroit Lions. It wasn’t until later in his life where any Yankees connection came along.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was attending graduate courses at Ohio State when Cassady was a player, and later hired him to do work for the franchise. The Columbus native would go on to spend many years as a scout and coach with the team, often working for his hometown Clippers when they were a Yankees’ minor league affiliate.
One other Yankees-Heisman connection is the time the reigning trophy winner, Jameis Winston, played an exhibition with his Florida State team when the Yankees were down south for spring training. There’s also longtime Yankee Jake Gibbs, who nearly won the trophy, finishing third in voting for the 1960 Heisman while at Ole Miss. There also could be other winners out there whose connections I missed.
Good luck to all the finalists tonight, and who knows, maybe someday they end up with some tangential connection to the Bronx Bombers.