Which NFL Hall-of-Famer Played Pro Baseball in Upstate New York?
The Albany-Colonie Yankees existed under that name for ten years, from 1985 through 1994. After failing to qualify for the playoffs in three of their first five seasons, players like Dave Eiland and Jim Leyritz came to town and won a league title in 1988. Then, a young manager by the name of Buck Showalter came to town in 1989, and won the championship again.
Though the A-C Yankees ceased to exist following 1994, the franchise brought a great deal of memories to the Capital Region in their decade at Heritage Park. Not only that, but a few notable names stepped on the field in Albany at one point or another.
That list of notable names includes a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Hall of Fame Football Player Deion Sanders Played Baseball in Albany
When the New York Yankees broke training camp in the spring of 1989, a 21-year old athletic specimen joined the Yankees' Double A team in the Capital Region. The player in question was Deion Sanders, 30th round selection of the New York Yankees in the 1988 MLB Draft, who was embarking on his second professional baseball season.
Sanders played 28 total games the season before coming to Albany, including getting a cup of coffee in Triple A Columbus at the end of the season. Sanders would play in 33 games with the Albany-Colonie Yankees during the 1989 season, under new manager, Buck Showalter.
During that stint, Sanders hit a strong .286, with a .741 OPS, getting on base at a .380 clip. He only had one home run and six runs batted in, but stole an eye-popping 17 bases during his time in the Capital Region.
To no one's surprise, Sanders would be elevated to Triple A during the 1989 season, and ultimately, make his Major League debut on May 31, 1989. That same season, Sanders would become the only player in history to hit an MLB home run, and score an NFL touchdown, in the same week.
Sanders would go on to play in the NFL from 1989 through 2005, and Major League Baseball 1989 to 2001. He would retire with 54 interceptions, the career record for yards per interception return, and a .263 career batting average and 39 MLB home runs.
Simply put, he was an amazing athlete, and Capital Region sports fans should never forget that Sanders called Albany home before he "made it big" anywhere else.
Other Names to Play for the Albany-Colonie Yankees
As my esteemed partner, Charlie Voelker, wrote in his article on the Albany-Colonie Yankees, the team developed a number of remarkable ballplayers, including Bernie Williams, Al Leiter, Roberto Kelly, Jim Leyritz and Derek Jeter.
The team won Eastern League championships in 1988, 1989 and 1991, and never lost once they reached an Eastern League final, either. Attendance was strong when the team debuted in 1985, with 324,003 Capital Region sports fans filling Heritage Park during their inaugural season. As is typically the case in minor league sports, interest began to dwindle during the later years. By 1995, only 115,819 total fans were coming to the park.
The Yankees would choose to move their Double A affiliate ahead of the 1995 season, relocating to Connecticut, where the Norwich Navigators would serve as the Yankees' Eastern League team from 1995 until 2003.