So Johnny Manziel was picked in the baseball amateur draft and is anyone really all that surprised? For as good as an athlete he is with his strong arm, there is little doubt his skill set would translate nicely on the defensive side and he could probably learn to hit. He did play in high school and supposedly talked about playing baseball for Texas A&M before his Heisman Trophy season. Either way, it is a low-risk gamble for the San Diego Padres. On the other hand, when the Padres had the number one overall pick in 2004 they drafted a guy named Matt Bush whose partying reputation today ranks right up with Johnny Football’s.
Football players with crossover baseball skills—or teams who thought players could make the jump– isn’t new. Going back to the 1930’s, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh spent a summer in the higher rungs of the St. Louis Cardinals farm system before realizing football was probably a better sport for him. Before his death, he signed some baseball items including a photo that shows him in action.
Despite his mediocre starts in 1938, there is pretty decent evidence he would have ended up as a competent major leaguer based on his overall football abilities. Did you know Baugh was the first player to intercept more than ten passes in a season? He also led the NFL in passing and punting during that same 1943 season. Now tell me, don’t you think he could have played major league baseball during World War II when rosters were depleted?
The 1950’s were full of players who played both baseball and football. We have talked about the ill-fated Boston area pair of Harry Agannis and Tom Gastall, both of whom perished young but were hot-shot college football players. And while not a quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz played in both the NFL and in the MLB before an horrific car crash ended his career. But there were others as well, all of whom were great athletes and thanks to Baseball America, a few years ago a list was created of quarterbacks who were taken in the MLB amateur draft.
That list includes both John Elway and Dan Marino, who were taken just after their senior year of high school. Elway chose college and became a very good baseball player at Stanford which led to some intrigue in the 1983 NFL Draft. The Baltimore Colts held the top pick and Elway didn’t want to play there. He used his baseball ability as a bargaining chip and eventually the Colts, who did draft him, sent him to Denver and the rest is history.
In the short time he was with the Oneonta Yankees in 1982, Elway hit .318 in 42 games and showed defensive skills too. But more importantly, minor league cards were gaining in popularity and TCMA put Elway into its 1982 Oneonta set. Authentic examples aren’t easy to find for sale these days, but there are a few on eBay right now.
In addition, during the final throes of Pinnacle as a card company back in 1998, they were still the official title sponsor of the Fan Fest and I remember meeting, along with some price guide people, and saying that they should create a John Elway baseball card. I heard a lot of snickering like that would not be possible so imagine my surprise when our analyst came back from that show with a John Elway baseball card.