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How Juan Gonzalez Cost the Univesity of Michigan a Football National Championship

First off, both my wife and I have both our degrees from Michigan State, so when I comment on these things, it’s without the animosity a lot of local people have towards Drew Henson, who has publicly announced he’s giving up baseball to play football.

Let’s flashback to 2000. UM has come off a good, but for them, disappointing season behind their upstart QB and Heisman hopeful, Drew Henson. Later that year, after a controversial trade to get Juan Gonzalez, (the superstar player Mike Ilitch wanted to open Comerica Park with) the Tigers were hovering around the .500 mark, and were actually in contention for a Wild Card spot going into September.

Earlier in the year, when the Tiger’s season was less rosy, and after a multimillion dollar offer to Juan Gon had been snubbed, the Tiger’s were trying to shop Juan. In fact, they had a suitor. The New York Yankees were willing to trade a couple of their top prospects, of which Drew Henson was the top guy, so they could have Juan for the rest of the season.

Of course, Juan then vetoed the deal, and the rest is history. Juan left Detroit for Cleveland the next year. Drew left UM to play baseball full time, and left his football career in the dust.

Had Juan let the deal go through, the Tigers would have had the upstart third basemen. He would have played football, possibly taking UM to the championship, and then Detroit could have evaluated whether Henson was even worth keeping.

So we have two big losers in all of this. George Steinbrenner lost a lot of money on a guy who never developed. UM fans lost their star QB.

So that brings us to two-sport athletes. Rarely do you find a guy who’s a star in both sports. Brian Jordan comes to mind, but we never really had a chance to see how good a football player he could become before he left to play baseball. He then went on to have a decent baseball career. Danny Ainge played for the Blue Jays before having a nice career for the Boston Celtics. Even former Tiger Tony Clark played basketball for the Univesity of Arizona while playing minor league ball for Detroit. And Dave Winfield was drafted in four different leagues for three different sports. Finally, Deion Sanders struggled in baseball before giving it up to become a pro bowl, and potential hall of fame, cornerback.

Probably the best example of a player who succeeded in both sports was Bo Jackson, and even he didn’t have a long career. He started out with Kansas City Royals, and eventually became a dominating, if part time, running back for the Oakland/LA Raiders. Although his batting average was never there, Bo Jackson had a run of four nice seasons, his best of which was 1989, when he hit 32 homeruns, and finished 10th in the MVP voting.

So, maybe Henson, in admitting he’s failed in baseball, is making the right choice. All of these athletes were at least good, or even great, in one of the sports they played. Maybe for Drew, it’s football.

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