TORONTO — TORONTO -- Silent since his two-sport exhibition two Sundays ago, Atlanta Braves outfielder Deion Sanders finally spoke up yesterday. Stung by criticisms leveled at him by Braves officials, particularly general manager John Schuerholz, Sanders broke his media moratorium to defend himself on the eve of Game 3 of the World Series.
Sanders, saddened by the belief that his credibility has been severely damaged by Braves claims he broke a verbal agreement by playing two sports during the baseball postseason, yesterday gave his side of the well publicized, oft-criticized two-sport effort of Oct. 11. That day, he played cornerback for the Falcons in Miami in the afternoon and then hired a jet and flew to Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
During an exclusive 15-minute interview, Sanders said he never promised he would play baseball exclusively during the postseason, only that it would be his "full-time job." The Braves believe otherwise.
Sanders said: "Nobody said that I couldn't play football. We gave our word I'd play baseball full time, and that's what I did."
Sanders also said he is so unhappy with what he considers to be a publicity campaign against him by Schuerholz that he will "never" forgive him for it.
"It hurts. I don't like [Schuerholz] trying to damage my credibility," Sanders said. "One thing I pride myself on is being real. If a man ain't got his word, he ain't got nothing."
What hurts Sanders is his belief that Schuerholz deliberately made him look bad. Sanders said: "They used the press against me. I wasn't talking to the press then because I don't get along with them down here [in Atlanta]. Why did he go to the media? Because he knew I wouldn't retaliate."
Schuerholz could not be reached for comment last night.
Sanders' critical comments come at a time when he seems to be working his way back into favor with the Braves, and he stressed that he was not unhappy with manager Bobby Cox or with his teammates. Given a surprise start in Game 2 of the World Series, the multi-talented Sanders responded with a single, two walks and two stolen bases, and Cox indicated yesterday he is considering keeping Sanders in the lineup.
Sanders said he is not going to worry about what Schuerholz thinks, saying: "I only have to please one man, and that's the man upstairs. If he saw me do anything bad, wouldn't he have taken me out of the air? I was up in the air plenty that day."
Sanders arrived for Game 5 of the NLCS about 15 minutes before game time. He did not play in the game, which the Braves lost to the Pirates, 7-1. He did not start any playoff games, so Sanders wonders what all the commotion is about.
"You've got to think, what did I miss? How did it affect the team?" Sanders asked, rhetorically. "Shoot, I don't know what I missed? Some locker-room time maybe."
However, Schuerholz has indicated he was unhappy, even angered, by Sanders' two-sport jet-setting.
Asked on the eve of the World Series whether he expected Sanders to stay with baseball during the Series, Schuerholz said, "I'm assuming he will, based on the same assumption I made last week. My understanding is that he would be here full time."
Sanders stressed that his understanding was that he would not miss any baseball time. He feels he has fulfilled his obligation.
"I never told them I wouldn't play football," Sanders said. "I told them my priority would be baseball. We never discussed football."
Sanders added that when he was calling himself a "full-time" football player last year, he still joined the Braves during their pennant run. "The thing that hurts is that I did the same thing for them. When I was a full-time football player, I came here and pinch ran," he said. "If you do it for one, you have to do it for the other."
Sanders also said he believes Schuerholz is painting him as a selfish player. Sanders said: "He said, 'The guy's not a team player.' . . . I've never been a negative influence on a team. Talk to any of my teammates. How can a guy be egotistical if his teammates love him to death? If people who work with you can't see you for who you are, who can?"
Sanders said this episode would not affect his ability or desire to play for the Braves. "I can't let it get in the way," he said. "I've got to do my job."
Actually, two jobs.
"People around the country talk about how negative it is I'm playing two sports," Sanders said. "I do it because I can help two teams. I don't need no publicity. My contract with Nike is set."