Batter Up, Mr. Heisman
It takes a special talent to win a Heisman Trophy.
Sometimes that talent reaches beyond the confines of college football and into other athletic pursuits.
There’s a long list of past Heisman winners who played at a high level in multiple sports. Some so brimmed with talent, they may have turned out to be just as famous had they never strapped on a football helmet.
Baseball was one of the sports that often lured Heisman winners away from the gridiron. Here’s a look at those Heisman winners who made names for themselves on the diamond:
The Major Leaguers
Two Heisman winners made it to the Major Leagues. The first to do so was Ohio State’s 1950 Heisman winner, Vic Janowicz. The Buckeye legend was an all-state performer at Elyria (Ohio) High and was offered contracts by both the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers. Janowicz instead chose to go to Ohio State, where he was an outstanding runner, passer, placekicker and punter. After winning his Heisman, however, Janowicz passed up professional football for baseball, despite not having played the sport since high school. He broke into the Major Leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 31, 1953. The 5-9, 185-pound right hander played catcher, left field and third base in his three seasons with the Pirates. He played 82 games during that time as a bench player, batting .214 with two home runs and 10 runs batted in. He returned to football in 1954 and was the starting halfback for the Washington Redskins in 1955.
The other Heisman winner to make the majors was Bo Jackson, who won the trophy for Auburn in 1985. Jackson was a fabulous athlete coming out of McAdory High in McCalla, Ala. In addition to starring in football and track, Jackson hit 20 home runs in 25 games for the baseball team during his senior year. After graduation, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1982 baseball draft, but he instead chose to attend Auburn, where he went on to star as a football tailback and baseball center fielder for the Tigers.
Jackson hit .338 with 30 home runs and 70 RBIs in just 90 games for Auburn. He batted .401 with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs in 1985, but he missed most of his senior year due to eligibility issues. After being selected as the top overall pick of the 1986 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson opted to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals, the defending World Series Champions, who had drafted him in the fourth round in the 1986 draft. He spent 53 games in the minors playing for the Class AA Memphis Chicks and was called up to the majors in September of 1986. He played in 25 games that year and hit just .207, but he made the Royals roster the following season and hit 22 home runs while notching 53 RBIs.
In 1989, Jackson hit 32 home runs with 105 RBIs and was the MVP of that season’s All-Star game. In 1990, he tied a Major League record when he hit home runs in four consecutive at bats, including one that came off of future perennial all-star Randy Johnson. The Paul Bunyan-like Jackson was often known for snapping his bat over his knee or over his head after a poor at bat. In his nine baseball seasons, he hit .250 with 141 home runs, 415 RBIs and 82 stolen bases. He remains the only athlete in history to be named an all-star in two professional sports.
The Minor Leaguers
Mike Garrett, the 1965 Heisman winner out of USC, hit .309 as a junior outfielder for the Trojans and was named to the all-conference squad. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 41st round of the 1965 MLB amateur draft and by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 35th round of the 1970 draft. Garrett was a star running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, winning a Super Bowl in 1970, but baseball beckoned. “I just want to try something else,” Garrett said before leaving football to join the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His stint didn’t last long. He was instantly traded to the San Diego Padres, so he quit and instead joined the AFL’s San Diego Chargers. His baseball days were over.
Baseball is the reason Chris Weinke is the oldest Heisman winner. Weinke starred in football, baseball and hockey at Cretin-Durham High in Minneapolis, Minn. In 1989, he was regarded as the top prep quarterback in the country and he signed with Florida State. He spent only four days in Tallahassee, spurning football to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, who had selected him in the second round of the 1990 first-year player draft (62nd overall). He played third base and first base in Toronto’s minor league organization, working his way up to the AAA level by 1996. He batted .248 with 12 homers and 69 RBIs during his six minor league seasons, but that was enough for Weinke. He returned to Florida State as a 25-year-old freshman in the fall of 1997 and went on to lead the ‘Noles to a 1999 national title. He won the Heisman in 2000 at the age of 28.
Before winning the Heisman for Texas in 1998, Ricky Williams was a multiple-sport athlete. At San Diego’s Patrick Henry high, he played football and baseball, ran track and also wrestled. The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Williams in the eighth round of the 1995 amateur draft. Though he played shortstop in high school, Williams was an outfielder in the minor leagues. He hit .248 for the Class A Martinsville Phillies in 1995 and then moved up to the Class A Piedmont Boll Weevils in 1996, where he hit .259 with three homers and 20 RBIs. He played for Piedmont again in 1997, hitting .265 and then hit .283 for the Batavia Muckdogs in 1998 — the same year he won the Heisman for the Longhorns. He was selected in the 1998 Rule V draft by the Montreal Expos (who traded him to the Texas Rangers), but his baseball career was jettisoned in favor of the NFL.
Several other Heisman winners were pretty good at baseball but didn’t pursue the sport much beyond the high school or college levels.
— Nile Kinnick played on a little league team with future Major Leaguer Bob Feller and later made all-state while leading his high school squad to the city baseball title.
— Tom Harmon threw two no-hitters as a pitcher in AAU baseball.
— Glenn Davis was an all-CIF center fielder for Bonita (Calif.) High. At Army, Davis was also a star centerfielder on the baseball team. Many think he could have played professionally. Several teams were interested in Davis’s services, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, who offered him a $75,000 contract plus a significant signing bonus. Davis declined to pursue baseball because after fulfilling his military commitment, he would have been very old for a major league rookie at the time and feared he would not be able to catch up.
— Doak Walker lettered for SMU’s basbeall team.
— Howard Cassady also played baseball for Ohio State. He led the team in home runs in 1955 and stolen bases in 1956.
— Joe Bellino played baseball in high school and batted well over .400. He was courted by major league teams and offered a contract by the Pittsburgh Pirates after high school.