Some athletes retire at the top of their game — Joe DiMaggio walked away from baseball in 1951 just after winning his ninth World Series, and David Robinson walked off the NBA court for good in 2003, immediately after winning his second league title. Some other athletes just couldn’t stay away from the game they loved, for better or for worse. (For worse, mostly.)
“Neon Dion” was a sports and pop culture sensation in the early 1990s. The flashy, telegenic Sanders played as a cornerback in the NFL and won two Super Bowls and was named to the all-star Pro Bowl squad eight times. He also played Major League Baseball for nine years, amassing a respectable .263 career batting average. Somehow, Sanders also found the time to record a pop-rap album and host Saturday Night Live. With the ‘90s over in 2000, the member of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team retired from football, and then baseball a year later. But then, out of the blue in 2004, Sanders wanted back in on the gridiron. The 37-year-old landed a spot on the Baltimore Ravens roster — some friends on the team convinced Sanders and team management that it was a good idea. In two seasons, he grabbed five interceptions and converted them into 144 yards.
Jordan, probably the greatest basketball player ever, loves basketball. So much so that he’s un-retired from the NBA twice. In 1993, shortly after winning his third straight NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls, he abruptly and surprisingly quit to pursue a career as a professional baseball player. He didn’t get far in the Chicago White Sox far system, and returned to indoor sports in 1995…and won another three NBA titles with the Bulls. Just before the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season began, Jordan retired again, seemingly for good, only to change his mind in 2001 and join the Washington Wizards for two seasons. During that stint, Jordan turned 40, making him one of the oldest NBA players ever.
The Boston Celtics absolutely dominated the rest of the NBA in the 1950s and 1950s, winning 11 league championships between 1957 and 1969. A lot of that was thanks to point guard Bob Cousy, a 13-time all-star, 1957’s Most Valuable Player, and holder of a career 18.4 points per game average. “The Houdini of the Hardwood” walked away in 1963, right after winning his sixth championship as a Celtic. Seven long years later, Cousy suited up once more. Already the coach of the Cincinnati Royals, he put himself into seven games at the tail end of the 1969-1970 season. His scored five points…total. (Then he went back to the bench and coached the Royals until 1963.)
There must have been something about surrounding himself with the trappings of baseball when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990 that got legendary Baltimore Orioles star pitcher Jim Palmer wanted to return to the diamond. Having retired after winning a World Series in 1983, 46-year-old Palmer hit the mound for the Baltimore Orioles during 1991 spring training. (He didn’t have a lot of options — he’d been working as a sportscaster for ESPN, but contract renegotiations hit a snag.) During his big (re)coming out party, Palmer pitched two innings…and gave up five hits and two runs, and that was after tearing a hamstring when he warmed up. Palmer then re-retired (permanently).