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On Kyler Murray

The A’s took a big gamble that looks like it may not pay off, but there’s nothing wrong with that strategy.

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Kyler Murray is, at the moment, the most-talked about athlete in American sports. I don’t think there was ever a time an Oakland A could manage that honor. But, as it goes for the A’s, whenever the team gets national press, it always comes with a qualifier. In this case, it’s a big one, as in he might never actually suit up for the organization.

Although I used to be a big NFL fan, I was never a big college football fan. But when the A’s took Murray with the 9th pick, and the unprecedented deal to allow him to play on Saturdays for the Sooners, I started paying attention.

It was exciting for everyone involved. Major League Baseball rarely sees elite multi-sport athletes choose to play the sport. For college football fans, they would get one year to see this intriguing player reel off highlight plays for one of the best teams in the nation. He was immediately cast as a strong Heisman Trophy contender. However, it was near-universally agreed that at 5’9” he was strictly a college quarterback, and if he had any NFL future it might be as a receiver or gadget player. The A’s didn’t seem at risk of losing him (other than by possible injury) by letting Murray live out his dream of playing a year of big time college football. After all, Murray was undefeated in Texas high school football with a perfect 42-0 record and multiple state titles; everyone wanted to watch him play in college. Given that he had family history in baseball (his uncle Calvin played in the majors and works for his agent, Scott Boras), was drafted very high, and cashed a near-$5 million check, it did seem that he would report to the A’s without an issue.

But things changed. Week by week on the gridiron he provided an endless stream of highlight throws, runs, dodges, and Houdini-like escapes. Not only that, but he oozed confidence off the field. The tone of the national media started changing, going from “Murray definitely should and will play baseball” to “What if Murray played football?” And Murray himself started softening his tone, leaving the door open to play pro football. If there was any doubt about what he really wanted to do, the homage to Bo Jackson he posted removed all doubt:

When I saw that photo, I got excited. I knew it probably was not the best thing for the A’s if he was so enamored with football, but part of me was intrigued by the idea of having the next Bo on our team. A’s highlights rarely see SportsCenter. As far as the national sports conversation goes, typically we see rewrites of Moneyball in article form (as in low budget, decrepit stadium, yet competitive somehow). Having a two sport superstar would not only make the team pretty damn fun, it would thrust the A’s into the national spotlight. I was watching his games with the rest of the nation, captivated by his talent, praying for him not to get injured, and pushing for him to get the Heisman Trophy. It felt like most of the nation was rooting for the kid.

As he bagged the Heisman, the football world was reconsidering his potential. NFL scouts started making bold proclamations as he moved up the mock draft charts. At this time, he’s looking like a possible first round pick, and some are even saying he’ll go #1 overall. As with his baseball potential, there’s a wide universe of possible outcomes for his football career. Prior to this season, the consensus was that he would have no chance to be picked anywhere near as high as he was in baseball, but now the A’s look like they wasted their first round pick on a football player.

If he never suits up for the A’s, I’ll no doubt be disappointed that we never got to see his talent on the diamond. However, I still think it was the right pick to make. As a baseball player, Rickey Henderson comparisons are not out of line. He could also completely bust as a baseball player. That type of high risk, extremely high potential reward does not come around often in the baseball draft. The thought process was sound; some gambles simply don’t pay off.

We’ll see where the hype train is when he’s actually drafted in the NFL draft. In the meantime, he can still report to Spring Training (which would be ridiculously fun). That Bo photo he posted makes me think that in his heart he still wants to play both. Not only that, but the NFL draft is a gamble for him, and it would be smart to show up in Arizona and keep playing baseball. By the same token, it makes sense for him to declare for the draft because he owes it to himself to see his earning potential as a football player. If I sound like I’m speaking on both sides, it’s because that seems to be where Murray’s head is at as well.

Looking at all the recent press, it seems to me that the odds are overwhelming that he’ll drop the bat but keep the pads on. If he’s an NFL first round pick, he’ll make more money sooner and stay in the bright lights that he is no doubt well-accustomed to by now, as opposed to the small town bus riding world of minor league baseball (although riding the bus with a $5MM bank account isn’t the worst thing). If he does choose football over baseball, I wish him the best of luck — it’s his life, his decision.

But the story is yet to unfold, and for now I’m enjoying the fact that for once people are talking about baseball during football season. Who knows what will happen, the kid obviously loves both sports. Perhaps, like the great Rickey, his mom will talk him out of football. By the way, has anyone talked to Mrs. Murray lately?