Tim Tebow cannot get enough of the spotlight.
After a standout football career at the University of Florida, the Denver Broncos drafted the quarterback in the first round. Buoyed by his unique style of play and personality, Tebow became one of the most popular players in the NFL.
However, Tebow has become an enigma since Peyton Manning replaced him in Denver. He has bounced from the New York Jets to the New England Patriots to the Philadelphia Eagles to broadcast work for ESPN, and finally to hosting “Home Free,” a reality television program for FOX.
Now, Tebow’s latest stunt is an attempt at a professional baseball career. He is planning to host an open showcase for major league teams, and hopes to join a rare club of athletes to play in both the NFL and MLB.
Since 1970, only seven athletes — Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, Brian Jordan, Drew Henson, D.J. Dozier, Chad Hutchinson and Matt Kinzer — have played in both leagues. Henson, Dozier, Hutchinson and Kinzer each played fewer than 30 career games in MLB, meaning that only three players have had significant careers in both sports in the last three decades.
Jackson, Sanders and Jordan were all uniquely talented athletes, and each started his professional football and baseball careers almost immediately after leaving college; their skills were relatively refined in both sports at the beginning of their careers. Tebow, by comparison, has not played baseball full-time since his junior year of high school in 2005.
A better comparison for Tebow’s attempted baseball career is Michael Jordan’s short career in the Chicago White Sox minor league system — a perfect example of how difficult it is for an inexperienced and rusty baseball player to break into MLB.
Michael Jordan, who is widely acknowledged to be the greatest basketball player of all time, was pathologically competitive and possessed a superhuman work ethic. He was also gifted with tremendous athletic ability and possessed great speed, coordination and precision.
But when he tried baseball, he did not experience the same success. In his one season in Double-A minor league baseball, Michael Jordan had a batting average of just .202 with just three home runs and 114 strikeouts.
But here’s the crazy part: In my opinion, Michael Jordan’s baseball performance was excellent, considering the circumstances. He had not played baseball in years and had dedicated his life to another sport, and yet he was able to compete at a relatively respectable level in minor league baseball. But despite Jordan’s incomparable talents, both athletic and intangible, he was nowhere close to breaking into MLB before he returned to basketball.
Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult feats in sports. In today’s MLB, many pitchers are throwing upward of 95 miles per hour and complementing the fastball with wicked breaking pitches.
Hitting these pitches requires years of refinement and practice. Even the very best prospects, coming straight of college or high school baseball, need years of seasoning in the minor leagues in order to prepare themselves for the majors — and even these top prospects often fail to make it to MLB.
Tebow is a good athlete, and he was an All-State baseball player in high school. But his high school days were more than a decade ago, and he has nowhere near the athleticism of Jordan, Sanders or Jackson, who are three of the greatest pure athletes in the history of American professional sports.
Another factor that is working against Tebow is his age. He is 28 years old, which should still be in his athletic prime, despite the fact that he has not received significant NFL playing time since the 2011 season. Even the very best baseball prospects, coming straight out of high school, usually need at least four years of minor league play to prepare for MLB.
Even if Tebow progresses quickly, he would be over 30 after a couple years of minor league play — and moving out of his prime.
I believe that some team — whether it is an MLB minor league team or a team in an independent league — will give Tebow the opportunity to play professional baseball. However, the signing will be primarily motivated by his popularity and potential to draw fans to otherwise anonymous minor league games.
To me, this feels like one last desperate grab for the spotlight for an athlete who failed to live up to the hype. Tebow is seeking an impossible dream.