We all should be so lucky to be as gifted athletically as Kyler Murray.
Which is why no matter what Murray decides — football or baseball — he’ll be a fortunate young man. But the Oklahoma Heisman Trophy quarterback/outfielder would be better off on the baseball diamond than the football gridiron for reasons of self-preservation.
The Oakland A’s, who drafted him ninth overall last year, and Major League Baseball are doing everything they can to make sure it happens, even holding a meeting with Murray last weekend to come up with a creative way of getting him more money than the $4.66 million signing bonus he got last spring.
They should go all out, because baseball needs another great African-American athlete, and it needs a win over the NFL, a sport that basically recreates a car accident on every play.
There have been many gifted two-sport players in the past. Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Drew Henson, John Elway, Brian Jordan. On and on. Some have made the right decision and some the wrong one.
What I remember of Jackson on a baseball field is astonishing. His arm strength. His power. I once saw him hit an Oil Can Boyd pitch in spring training about 550 feet. He could hit the catcher on the fly from some of the deepest parts of the ballyard.
My goodness, you just wish he had stuck with baseball, because the 1991 dislocation of his hip while with the Los Angeles Raiders ruined both careers.
Elway could have made it in baseball, but he was great at football. Right choice. Sanders was an outstanding football cornerback, and a decent leadoff man with speed in baseball. He was good at both sports. Jordan was a gifted athlete, a safety for the Falcons and an outfielder for the Cardinals, Braves, Rangers, and Dodgers in a baseball career that lasted 15 years.
When you’re 21 years old and a phenomenal athlete such as Murray, you’re probably not thinking about a Bo Jackson injury or the many football players who are having lifelong health issues because of the potential for many more concussions in that sport. You’re thinking of money and fame and what your heart tells you about which sport you prefer.
I don’t pretend to read Murray’s mind or know where his heart is, but it seems to me his heart is in football. The fact that he declared for the NFL Draft is certainly procedural, but when you win the Heisman Trophy, you see what it means from a fame-and-fortune point of view to be a quarterback in the NFL.
Murray threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns and ran for another 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns this past season. That’s how good he is at football.
Murray earned that bonus of $4.66 million when the A’s drafted him in June 2018. If he becomes a first-round pick in the NFL — and many football experts think he will — he could double that.
The high draft picks tend to get to the highest level quicker, of course. Patrick Mahomes served as a backup for one year under Alex Smith in Kansas City before becoming a superstar this season.
If you’re thinking that Murray’s rise in baseball would take longer, well, not really. College players are getting to the big leagues a lot quicker these days.
Murray’s size — 5 feet 10 inches (and that is considered a stretch) — seems ideal for baseball rather than football. Some of the greatest players in baseball, including Mookie Betts, are that size, while NFL quarterbacks are generally taller (though Russell Wilson comes to mind as a smaller QB who has made it big).
While Murray had a tremendous football season at Oklahoma, he took some big hits in the Orange Bowl against Alabama. He hadn’t been hit that much all year, but against a stronger, faster, tougher defense — which he would face a lot in the NFL — he took a pounding.
Whether at that moment baseball looked good to him, who knows? What we do know is that baseball needs great athletes like Murray. It also needs great African-American athletes.
While baseball is making inroads on that front — with Betts at the head of the class — does Murray have the potential to be a great baseball athlete as an outfielder? Of course he does. Scouts love his tools. They will tell you he’s a better baseball player than Wilson was.
Wilson, who played in the minors after being drafted by the Rockies in 2010, still shows up to spring training — now with the Yankees — but he’s obviously a great NFL quarterback and doesn’t regret his decision.
With a nonroster invitation to spring training, Murray is required to show up for A’s camp by Feb. 15, but he could get out of it with the team’s permission if he wants to take part in the NFL scouting combine, which is Feb. 26-March 4.
The A’s are trying to rework his deal with agent Scott Boras to see if Murray can sign a major league contract, which would be useful in getting him closer to what he might earn as an NFL quarterback. That magic number is anyone’s guess. A $15 million figure has been speculated upon in various media reports.
MLB would have to approve a major league contract for a drafted player, though that’s open to interpretation. Murray was taken in last year’s draft, so what is to prevent him from making the major leagues as a nonroster player, and why wouldn’t the A’s be able to adjust his salary any way they want to? MLB changed its rules two CBAs ago to prohibit draftees from signing major league contracts.
You can bet Boras is working hard on his client’s behalf to find a loophole or get a negotiated agreement to bypass the rule. You can also bet Boras is pleading to his client about the benefits of baseball over football, foremost being health if the money is close.
One solution might be for MLB to amend its rules so that major two-sport stars fall under a special category.
To say baseball needs Murray more than football does is an understatement. Baseball needs to win one of these. As concussions become more and more of an issue in football, baseball has a great opportunity to take advantage.
Again, it’s probably hard for a 21-year-old Heisman Trophy winner to realize that playing football has its risks down the road, especially if you’re a quarterback who relies on his speed and athleticism to make plays.
But you’re bound to meet up with some of those big, nasty linemen who like to hit the little guys.
“If I’m in his position,” Sanders told ESPN, “I’m picking up a bat and never looking back.”
Sanders, who played for the Yankees, Braves, Reds, and Giants, said he regretted not devoting more time to baseball, even though he’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
So baseball has a great opportunity to seal this deal and win a great athlete for its sport. Whatever has to be done with the contract is justified. And even if Murray’s heart is with the NFL, someone needs to convince him that his head is better off in baseball.