Long before such two-sport sensations as Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan came along, there was Clarence "Fats" Jenkins.
Don't be deceived by the nickname. Jenkins wasn't a heavy man. On the contrary, he was a wiry, 5-foot-7 speedster who carved out quite an athletic reputation in the 1920s and 1930s as an outfielder in the Negro Leagues and as a backcourt player for the Harlem Renaissance basketball team.
In both sports, quickness was Jenkins' forte. He used it in baseball to get on base and make things happen. He used it in basketball to penetrate past taller players and break down an opponent's defense.
"He certainly wasn't fat," said the Negro Leagues historian James Riley. "That nickname came about because Jenkins had a brother who was heavier. The things that Jenkins is most associated with are speed, defensive play, baserunning and a good average."
Statistics for the first four years of Jenkins' career are sketchy, but BaseballLibrary.com credits him with a .319 batting average in 1924 and a .307 mark in 1925 while playing for the Harrisburg Giants. He had a particularly big year in 1929, with a .358 batting average for the Atlantic City Bacharach Giants.
Riley credits Jenkins with a .331 lifetime average in the Negro Leagues.
"I would call him a very good player rather than great," said Riley. "He wasn't a guy noted for power, but he could do a lot of things with his speed."
When he wasn't playing baseball, Jenkins focused on basketball, his other sporting passion.
"The Harlem Renaissance was one of the well-known pro teams of that time," said Riley. "Jenkins was really small for a basketball player, but became recognized as a standout in that sport, too."
Jenkins, who was born in 1898, had a 20-year career in baseball. His last job was managing the 1940 Brooklyn Royal Giants. By then, the quickness that had marked his career was diminishing. But just five years earlier, at 37, he hit .305 for the Brooklyn Eagles and stole nine bases in 42 games to lead the league.
Whether it was stealing the ball or stealing a base, Jenkins was ahead of his time as a two-sport stalwart.
Over two decades, he spent his summers with the New York Lincoln Giants, Harrisburg Giants, Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, New York Black Yankees, Philadelphia Stars, Brooklyn Eagles and Brooklyn Royal Giants. In the winters, it was time to turn his attention from the small white ball to the large orange ball.
"Jenkins really proved himself as a very valuable player in both baseball and basketball," said Riley. "He distinguished himself as an all-around athlete."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.