The Oakland Athletics drafted Kyler Murray with the 1st round, 9th pick in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft. They were excited. Murray could have been drafted in the first round three years ago but wanted to go to college to play football. As he was drafted by the A’s this June he was preparing to battle for the starting quarterback job at the University of Oklahoma, recently vacated by Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. After a season that ended with Oklahoma making the College Football Playoff and Murray winning the Heisman Trophy, he now has filed to be eligible for the NFL Draft.
When I first heard this news, I was a little upset at Murray. After all, the A’s had used a first round pick and at the time and by all intentions was set to be an Oakland Athletic after just one more year of playing football.
Ah, one more year.
Here is what the A’s Billy Beane said at the time after agreeing to terms on a deal that included a $4.66M signing bonus:
“He’s really fun to watch on a football field, and he’s going to be fun to watch on a baseball field. It’s neat that he gets to do both, and that the country gets to see both, but we’re going to get the best years, and he’s going to have a great baseball career.”
Manager Bob Melvin might have been even more honest about the A’s thoughts: “We have a little vested interest in watching Oklahoma football this year — with our eyes closed and our ears plugged.”
Though Murray avoided any injuries on the season that might jeopardize future baseball playing, he did excel on the gridiron. His height is still against him long term as he is just 5’10”. The last NFL QB that short was Doug Flutie. Yet Murray’s athleticism gives him an edge and Mel Kuiper Jr (who still has a job doing one thing..about 4th best) still projects him to go first round, though not number one overall.
Most experts would agree that long term – baseball is a safer bet financially. The draft money is likely to be moot – and in fact unless the A’s sweeten the deal he will likely make more as an NFL first round pick.
After that it gets murkier. Murray’s baseball experience is actually pretty limited. He was really good in high school, but in 2017 his sophomore season went just 122/.317/.122 with no home runs, six RBI and 12 stolen bases in 27 games played. He improved in 2018 to .296/.398/.556 with 10 HR, 47 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Pure stats of course don’t always project college to MLB, and he is certainly raved about. One former two sport star Brian Jordan had this to say to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic:
“Baseball is definitely a safer play. You can play for 15 to 20 years. It’s harder to do now – baseball is going a lot younger. But he can play for a long time and make a lot of money in baseball. The instant gratification for him is in the NFL, of course. He’ll make a lot of money up front being a quarterback and in three years, he’s an elite quarterback, man, these guys are making $20 million a year. Either way, he’s going to make a lot of money.”
For comparison’s sake, let’s say that his bat doesn’t develop as many expect it to. What if he turns into Billy Hamilton? Hamilton was drafted in 2009 and first came to the majors in 2013. While his wheels have left him – the Reds finally did this year – shipping him to Kansas City. He has made about $9.5M in his career.
Deion Sanders – an NFL Hall of Fame player – said this: “If I’m in his shoes, I’m picking up a baseball bat and never looking back.”
Murray’s father was actually drafted as a baseball player after just a handful of summer games, left and went back to college at Texas A&M to play football. Playing two sports as a quarterback is what makes him different than say Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan. The preparation needed to be a starting Quarterback make it impossible to say, play an NFL game and then helicopter to your baseball playoff game that evening.
In the end – I’m surprising myself and not being upset with Murray for choosing football. I don’t believe he is looking at this from a purely monetary perspective – and I like that. If he just wanted the money, he would’ve taken the A’s money and not played football at all. Murray said this at his A’s press conference after being drafted and signed: “A little surreal, obviously, getting to play a professional sport, whichever one it was, but it’s been a great day, and I’m just thankful and blessed…I can’t put it into words, but I’m just thankful.”
In my biased opinion the sport of baseball could use an athlete and personality like Kyler Murray. I don’t know if he will be a great NFL Quarterback, who can? Perhaps the success of Heisman winning QB Lamar Jackson this season who some expected to not make it as an NFL QB as he led the Raves to the playoffs. Possibly he wants to give it a shot before making an eventual return to baseball?
Drew Henson was a good college quarterback and baseball player who chose baseball, labored in the minor leagues for several seasons. By the time he went back to football his skills had lagged and he didn’t make it there either playing in 9 total NFL games.
In the end, we wish success for Kyler Murray, and if the NFL doesn’t work out and he wants to come back to baseball, baseball should welcome him home. What is important is that he makes a decision and pursues it with all intensity.