Calling plays, calling balls, running a field, running the bases – they’re all the same, right? Baseball, football, what does it matter – if you can play one sport, you can play them all.
At least, that seems to be the thought during the MLB First-Year Player Draft, which occurred last week for the 2014 class. Among those selected for the draft were prominent high school and college athletes, as well as one well-known rookie quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, Johnny Manziel.
Manziel was drafted as a shortstop by the San Diego Padres in the 28th round of the 2014 draft, a decision that Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes is quoted on Fox Sports as saying was approached with a “Why not?” sort of mindset.
A tweet from Mike Dee, president and CEO of the Padres, summed up the mentality in saying Manziel was the “best athlete on the board” at that time in the draft.
Saying that Manziel, who last played baseball while a student at Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas, was the best athlete on the board may be off-putting to players who have spent their whole lives vying for a spot in an MLB organization. Manziel never played college baseball while at Texas A&M, where he chased his football career instead of fly balls. While Manziel likely won’t sign with the Padres (it would be difficult to fit baseball season in to his schedule, what with him having to studying his playbook, attend practices and camps, and make an appearance a few parties every now and then), he is still added to the list of quarterbacks who have also gotten drafted by Major League Baseball clubs.
The phenomenon of multiple draftings is not uncommon. In fact, three of the final four quarterbacks during the previous NFL season had been drafted by MLB clubs.
Russell Wilson, quarterback for this year’s Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks, was picked in the 41st Round of the MLB draft out of high school in 2007, though he chose to attend North Carolina State instead. While at North Carolina, Wilson was selected in the fourth-round by the Colorado Rockies in 2010, and played in the organization as a second baseman while still in school. He played at the A level in his two seasons with the Rockies. Despite transferring to Wisconsin and letting the Rockies know that he was interested in pursuing an NFL career (Wilson ended up being the third-round choice of the Seahawks in 2012), Wilson was acquired by the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 draft in December 2013. After winning the Super Bowl in early 2014, Wilson attended Spring Training with the Rangers, participating in infield drills though not seeing playing time.
Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers has a powerful football throwing arm, which the Chicago Cubs took notice of in 2009. The Cubs drafted Kaepernick in the 43rd Round of the draft, and were interested in having him pitch for their organization while he was playing football at Nevada, a proposition that never came into fruition. However, Kaepernick, who threw two no-hitters during his senior season in high school and was two-time all-state pitcher in California, has not lost his baseball touch – he threw out the first pitch at a Giants game in June of 2013, a first pitch that was an 87 mph fastball.
Although he had already signed a football scholarship with Michigan, Tom Brady was drafted by an MLB team, when he was chosen in the 18th round by the Montreal Expos as a catcher in 1995. Brady, however, did not give baseball a passing glance and stuck with football – which seems to have worked out in his favor.
Michael Vick was another football player who hadn’t touched a baseball in quite some time when he found himself drafted as an outfielder by the Colorado Rockies in the 30th Round of the 2000 draft. At that point, Vick hadn’t played baseball since he was in the eighth grade. However, he instead pursued football and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, though his career was marred by his role in the dogfighting ring scandal.
In 1979, two future football greats found themselves drafted by the same MLB team. Dan Marino was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round of the draft, though he chose to instead play football at the University of Pittsburgh. The same year, the Royals also drafted John Elway in the 18th round. After choosing to attend Stanford, where he played both baseball and football, Elway was drafted by the Yankees in the second round in 1981, where he played with their short-season team in Oneonta. Elway is one of the few who used his baseball prowess as a bargaining chip, as he found himself unhappy with the Baltimore team he was selected to play with in the 1983 NFL Draft and threatened to return to baseball if he were not traded. Fortunately for football fans – but unfortunately for Cleveland – Elway was traded to Denver, and the rest is history.
Cleveland’s connection to drafted QBs does not start with Manziel, either. In 2002, Brandon Weeden was a second-round pick of the New York Yankees as a right-handed pitcher. He was traded to the Dodgers in 2004 and played with the Royals in 2006, though never appearing above Class A ball. In his five minor league seasons, Weeden went 19-26 and posted a 5.02 ERA.
The athleticism of these drafted quarterbacks likely played a large role in the reasoning behind their being drafted by MLB teams, just as it did for Manziel. However, it has been said that drafting athletes who more than likely won’t sign makes a mockery of the MLB draft; just because an athlete looks good on a football field – or looked good on a baseball field at some point in their life – does not mean that they are cut out for professional baseball. While some players choose to try their hand at a baseball career prior to a football journey, making the drafting at least somewhat worth it, others do not take the opportunity, instead choosing to pursue the sport they believe will give them a more promising future. It’s a fine line that teams cross between drafting players they think will benefit their organization and taking spots away from athletes who worked tirelessly for the opportunity to be considered by a big league baseball team. To draft a player simply because he looks good on the board and has name recognition is not the same as drafting a player who has the baseball ability to back up the pick, and who may very well pursue the MLB career to some extent.
It seems that Cleveland will likely have nothing to worry about in losing Manziel to the MLB. It does appear that Johnny Football will not become Johnny Baseball anytime soon – if anything, the closest he will come to the baseball diamond is throwing out a first pitch at some point this season.
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