Although their bread and butter will always be sports, some athletes pursue interests outside of their chosen profession as well. In the case of a lot of them, that chosen profession is music. Although sometimes the results can be hilarious, awful or both, there are some who can actually pull it off surprisingly well – whether it’s singing, playing jazz guitar or tearing it up on a drum kit. With that in mind, we’ll be taking a look at the five best and five worst athletes who have pursued a side career in music.
Certain athletes have played sets in lounge bars or for fun at events, while others have taken it a step or two further by actually putting out albums – just ask Shaq and Oscar de la Hoya, for example. But of course, whether or not that’s actually a good idea is either debatable, or just a definitive no. Some of them can do it well: former Yankee Bernie Williams is a talented guitarist who has not only played his own shows, but has been nominated for Latin Grammys and played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame" before the final game of his teammate, Yankees legend Derek Jeter. Considering that, there’s plenty of reason to believe that athletes can have genuine talents outside of professional sports, including in the realm of music. However, the idea of athletes trying many other activities outside of their chosen sport – especially music – is very hit or miss, with an equal amount of both.
While their talent levels are definitely of varying heights, you have to commend these athletes for going for a music career regardless of whether or not you think it’s anywhere near as good as their athletic talents. Here are the five best and five worst musicians turned athletes, starting with the worst.
10 Worst: Shaquille O’Neal
Man oh man, where to start. First off, the fact that his first album Shaq Diesel sold more than 800,000 copies when it was released makes it hard to tell whether or not people bought Shaquille O’Neal’s music because they thought it was genuinely good or if they bought it just because of the man rapping. Secondly, not only does he not rap particularly well, but his career in rap music in general is hard to take seriously. If anything, it goes to show that just because you can win multiple NBA titles and go to the All-Star Game 15 times doesn’t mean you’re king of the world.
9 Worst: Oscar de la Hoya
He might have been one of the greatest boxers of his generation, but as far as talents outside the ring, Oscar de la Hoya’s attempts at making music range from hilariously awful to just straight up horrible. More than anything, it’s just cheesy: in 2000, de la Hoya released an album of Latin pop songs – one of which was co-written by famous pop songwriter Diane Warren – and a cover of the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me”. Worst of all, the album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album, which is probably a testament to how Ricky Martin’s success at the time could make anyone with a latin pop album successful.
8 Worst: Manny Pacquiao
Speaking of boxing, Manny Pacquiao’s foray into a music career is not only just as cheesy, it’s also just as cringeworthy if not more so. It’s so bad that, when listening to his cover of Dan Hill’s schlocky ballad “Sometimes When We Touch” (with Hill himself accompanying him on backup vocals), you can’t tell if he’s being serious or doing it for a laugh. But alas, it appears as if it’s the former, as he’s also recorded a full album as well as other standalone singles sung in his native Tagalog. His first album went platinum in the Philippines, which probably has more to do with his star power in his home country than anything else.
7 Worst: Bronson Arroyo
A member of the curse-breaking 2004 Boston Red Sox team, former pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s accomplishments in baseball aren’t exactly matched by his foray into music. Releasing an album in 2005 titled Covering the Bases (we wonder how long it took for him to come up with that one), Arroyo’s repertoire comprises mostly of ‘90s alternative rock hits, and his covers are as mediocre as some of the album’s source material – although his cover of Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” includes a spoken word bit by author/Red Sox fan Stephen King, which is kind of neat. Apparently these covers were ones Arroyo would play for his teammates, but his technically limited voice and somewhat cringe-y rocker hair make his music career more bland than anything else.
6 Worst: Deion Sanders
If you’re an athlete that has won championships in two major American sports (and hit a home run and touchdown in the same week, no less), it’s pretty hard to be humble. In fact, it can maybe lead you to think you’re capable of anything you want to do. Sadly for Deion Sanders (and for our ears), his success in the NFL and MLB didn’t translate to his attempt at a music career. Instead, the end result was disastrous: his rapping style was gimmicky, and his debut album Prime Time was a commercial failure. This is all before acknowledging the fact that one of his songs was called “Y U NV ME?”.
5 Best: Bernie Williams
If there’s anything baseball players can do a decently good job of pulling off away from the game (except maybe not you, Bronson Arroyo), it’s music. The best example of this is probably former Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams: a classically-trained guitarist, the Puerto Rican plays with a Latin style and does so extremely well. He’s released two albums that have not only made the Billboard Jazz charts, but have nominated him for Latin Grammys, too: his 2009 album Moving Forward nominated Williams for Best Latin Jazz Album. Williams also played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at former teammate Derek Jeter’s last game.
4 Best: Mike Piazza
He might not have actually had anything to do with the Belle & Sebastian song “Piazza, New York Catcher" other than being the title’s inspiration, but former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza does have ties to music. In fact, he’s a fairly talented drummer: he got lessons from a drummer who’s played with David Lee Roth and Santana, and YouTube videos prove that he got a lot out of his lessons. Not only that, but he’s got some fairly significant ties to metal: he counts Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde as one of his friends, and was once seen singing and playing air guitar with thrash metal band Overkill in New York.
3 Best: Barry Zito
Having come from a musical family – his late father composed music for legendary jazz singer Nat King Cole, and his mother was also a musician – it’s hardly a surprise to see Barry Zito follow in his family’s footsteps by being musically talented himself. Currently playing for the minor league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, the former A’s and Giants pitcher has played his own concerts singing and playing guitar – including his yearly Strikeouts For Troops concert he plays to help injured American troops – and he once even got a chance to jam with Metallica a couple of years ago.
2 Best: Clint Dempsey
Okay, so this may not necessarily be the best thing you’ve ever seen, but current Seattle Sounders midfielder/forward Clint Dempsey doesn't make a bad effort here either. The native of Texas released a rap track in 2006 as part of a Nike campaign under the nickname of Deuce called “Don’t Tread” with Texas rappers Big Hawk (who sadly passed away that same year) and XO just ahead of that year's World Cup in Germany. Dempsey jumps between spitting rhymes with a surprising amount of swagger and conviction – even if it’s not particularly original – and dribbling a ball just like he does in his day job.
1 Best: Wayman Tisdale
Prior to his passing in 2009, former NBA player Wayman Tisdale was known for his musical talents off the court in addition to his abilities on it. In fact, the power forward for the Pacers, Kings and Suns was one of the athletes to have truly embraced making the music the most – and be extremely good at it. Having started as a bass player as a child, he ended up using his musical talents to his advantage and recorded eight jazz albums – one of which (2001’s Face to Face) made it all the way to number one on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart.