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What would a modern two-sport athlete look like today?

It’s been almost 20 years since the last true two-sport athlete. How might a modern player be able to pull off playing in both leagues?

Kyler Murray Signs Contract Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

For obvious reasons, tonight’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots South Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been dominating the sports news cycle. What you might now know, however, is that the two center quarterbacks for each team, Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, have baseball backgrounds. In addition to being the son of former big leaguer Pat Mahomes, the younger Mahomes was drafted by the Tigers after shining in amateur showcases and playing one season at Texas Tech, and Brady was selected as a high school catcher in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB Draft by the Montreal Expos. (Neither player signed.)

Inspired by the Super Bowl, our resident weird baseball facts connoisseur Matt Ferenchick wrote yesterday about four former Yankees who found success both on the baseball diamond and the gridiron. Reading his article, I noticed that of those four, two of them dated to the 1920s, one to the 1960s, and only one (Deion Sanders) to the 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, since the 1970s, only seven players have played at the highest level in both sports — Sanders, Bo Jackson, Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson, D.J. Dozier, and Matt Kinzer. None besides Sanders and Jackson, however, played both sports simultaneously.

The immense salaries invested by teams into players in both sports has, unfortunately, meant that a superstar two-sport athlete will almost certainly never happen. A baseball team is not going to want to pay a player who has to leave the team for large parts of August and September for training camp, while a football team is not going to want an important player missing practice or risking soft-tissue injuries playing baseball. For this reason, elite athletes who could have hypothetically made an attempt to play both sports, such as Kyler Murray, ultimately had to pick between the two sports.

So that eliminates superstar two-sport athletes, but could two-sport journeymen exist? After all, there is an immense number of “Quadruple-A” players and “career special-teamers.” Of course, players who are not projected to have elite ceilings generally pick one sport earlier in their career to focus on, only swapping when that first one falls flat (e.g., former Yankees farmhand Brandon Weeden, whose biggest contribution on the baseball field was to unfortunately help the Yankees acquire Kevin Brown).

To make this work, our hypothetical two-sport journeyman would need to be a special teams ace, playing primarily on punts and kickoffs. A specialist on these types of plays, although very important to a team’s success, could probably afford to miss practices during the baseball season, as they do not involve learning an extensive playbook that differs between teams. On the baseball side, he could play any position, so long as it’s not an everyday role; a mop-up guy at the back of the bullpen or a spot starter, perhaps. Most likely, he would not be a player that the team counted on as anything more than an easily-replaceable depth piece, closer to a Jayson Nix or Luis Avilán than a Tyler Wade or Luis Cessa.

Unfortunately, although such a player with the right skill set could potentially pull a dynamic dual career like this off — and may even be able to make more money than he would focusing on one sport, able to earn two veteran-minimum salaries instead of one — it’s nearly a lock to remain nothing more than a thought experiment, as the teams would almost undoubtedly prefer to avoid the media circus that would surround such a player. One day, perhaps, we may get to see the two-sport athlete again, but probably not for the foreseeable future.