Having been selected ninth overall in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft last year by the Oakland Athletics, Murray is now entering the National Football League draft as winner of the Heisman Trophy, the award for the best player in college American football.
Let us put that in perspective. The odds of a high-school senior player being drafted by an MLB side are around one in 200. The odds of being drafted by an NFL side are about nine in 10,000. Taken together, the chances of being selected by both sports in the first round are roughly the same as being struck by lightning whilst being attacked by a shark. Only seven men have played both MLB and NFL. The last such example, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders once tried to play both sports on the same day on Oct 11, 1992. Having competed for the Atlanta Falcons against the Miami Dolphins, he then flew to Pittsburgh, where the Atlanta Braves were playing the Pirates, only for his coach not to select him. The NFL has since established a rule that prohibits its players from competing in other professional sports, meaning that Murray had a choice to make. This week, Murray confirmed that he was “firmly and fully committed” to pursuing his NFL career, which was a bold call.
First, it means that he will be foregoing his US$4.6 million (NZ$6.75 million) contract with the Oakland Athletics and will have to repay US$1.29 million of the money that he has already received. Secondly, he is not guaranteed to be drafted as high as his Heisman winner status would suggest. At 5ft 10in (1.68m), Murray is tiny by NFL standards. Since 1960 there have only been five quarterbacks who have thrown an NFL pass who have been listed at 5ft 10in or shorter. The last of those was in 2005.
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There are still plenty of teams who will be willing to look past his height and towards his gaudy statistics for Oklahoma Sooners, for whom he threw for 4,361 yards and ran for another 1,001. As for height, Russell Wilson, who also has a background in minor league baseball, is 5ft 11in and that has not prevented him becoming one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
And that is the real prize for Murray. As painful as it would be for anyone to return US$1 million, the comparative earnings for Murray as a quarterback are far higher than they would be in baseball.
Baker Mayfield, Murray’s predecessor as Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman winner, received a guaranteed US$32.7 million for being selected as No 1 pick by the Cleveland Browns and is already an established star while nearly all baseball rookies have to do a few gruelling years in the minor leagues before they get their shot at the big time.
The real losers in this are the Oakland A’s, who hours before Murray’s tweet this week had announced that they had set aside a locker and the No 73 shirt for him to wear. They knew it was a gamble allowing him to play a year of college football and even though they will get his contract money back, they have lost a highly valuable draft pick.
Moreover, in the war for America’s young athletic talent, it shows how far behind baseball is being left by the get-rich appeal of the NFL.
The Telegraph, London