Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija content he chose baseball over football

13 Comments

In the dead of winter, Jeff Samardzija still feels the itch.

Football will be on TV, and the former All-American receiver-turned-major league pitcher gets nostalgic for the sport.

“When you’re sitting around in January and you haven’t competed professionally in three or four months, that’s when it really wears on you,” Samardzija said with a smile. “You’re chomping at the bit to get going for spring training, and there’s really nowhere to take that anxiety and that energy.”

Baseball wound up the career path of choice for the A’s right-hander, but football will always be in Samardzija’s blood.

What options that lay before him seven years ago as a senior at Notre Dame. Coming off a record-setting collegiate career, there was speculation that the 6-foot-5 Samardzija might be a first-round NFL draft pick.

He wound up signing a five-year contract with the Chicago Cubs, beginning a road that led to his first All-Star selection this season after his trade to Oakland.

In a time when athletes increasingly are picking one sport to specialize in at a young age, it seems fewer and fewer will even be presented the choice that Samardzija had.

Growing up in Indiana, the challenge was simply narrowing down all of the athletic activities that he and his older brother Sam got involved in.

“He was right around four-and-a-half years younger,” Sam Samardzija said. “He could hang out with me and my buddies, but I think he learned early on that if he cried, he would have got his butt kicked maybe by me, or he would have had to answer to my Dad.”

Soccer, baseball, football, basketball, track …. Jeff even tried wrestling for a couple years, and though he admits he wasn’t crazy about the sport, he placed second in a state tournament.

By the time he was attending Valparaiso High School, he had become not only an all-state center fielder but a star receiver.

It led to a football scholarship to Notre Dame. Paul Mainieri, then the head baseball coach at Notre Dame, had never heard of Samardzija until he was recruited by then-Irish football coach Ty Willingham.

“I picked up a periodical that covered Notre Dame football, and it was an article about a receiver from Valparaiso, and all he was talking about was how he wanted to play baseball at Notre Dame,” Mainieri recalled. “So I ran down to Ty Willingham and said ‘Ty, who is this kid that you’re volunteering spots to on my ball club?’”

Willingham agreed to let Samardzija moonlight in baseball, but the compromise was he couldn’t play the outfield, where it was thought he’d be too vulnerable to injury. So Samardzija joined the Notre Dame pitching staff.

Mainieri knew he had someone special when he started Samardzija against Michigan as a freshman. Samardzija walked the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches, then calmed his nerves and struck out the next two batters to escape the jam.

Though Samardzija had trouble working his way up the football depth chart in his first two seasons, Mainieri had designs on Samardzija being one of his top starting pitchers as a sophomore. Before baseball season began that year, Willingham was fired as Notre Dame’s football coach and Charlie Weis replaced him.

“I started him that first game of the year if for no other reason than if Charlie Weis showed up on campus, it was going to be hard as possible to take him off baseball,” Mainieri said.

In Weis’ offense, Samardzija developed into an All-American receiver over his final two years, and by the end of his senior season in 2006, he held Notre Dame career records for catches (179), receiving yards (2,593) and receiving touchdowns (27).

As it came time to make a choice between football and baseball professionally, it was no surprise that Samardzija turned to his older brother for advice. Sam had walked away from a baseball scholarship at Indiana to help look after Jeff when their mother, Debora, died of a rare acute respiratory disease when Jeff was in high school.

Now, as Jeff faced a huge decision regarding his future, Sam and his wife drove to South Bend to talk it over.

“We brought out a dry erase board, and we wrote ‘football’ and ‘baseball’, and drew a line down the middle and listed pros and cons,” said Sam, whose involvement in his brother’s career steered him to become a sports agent.

Both Sam Samardzija and Mainieri say they know that at least one NFL team had Jeff targeted for the first round. Ultimately, Jeff decided his ceiling was higher in baseball. Then-Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, a close friend of Mainieri’s, had drafted Samardzija in the fifth round in 2006, between his junior and senior seasons of football.

With the Cubs still owning his rights, they signed him to a five-year $10 million contract in January 2007.

Samardzija broke into the majors in 2008 as a reliever and didn’t make the full-time conversion to starting until 2012. Gifted with a fastball that hits the high 90’s, he’s worked hard to improve command of his other pitches. The A’s will have him under team control next season before he hits free agency, so if Oakland doesn’t re-sign Jon Lester as is widely assumed, Samardzija will remain an anchor of the rotation in 2015.

Samardzija, 29, knows all about the dual-sport careers of Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan. He also knows they were the exception to the rule when it came to those attempting to succeed in two sports.

“I was committed to myself that if I wanted to be the best at something, I’d have to commit full-time to one,” Samardzija said. “A lot of those careers, they didn’t really turn out the way guys wanted them to. I always wondered, if those guys did pick one, how good would they have been?”

Pete Rose wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame, pleading to be placed on the ballot

Former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose poses while taping a segment for Miami Television News on the campus of Miami University, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Associated Press
9 Comments

Tim Brown of Yahoo has obtained a letter written by Pete Rose — well, written by his attorney — to the Baseball Hall of Fame, pleading to be placed on the ballot so he could be considered for induction by the BBWAA.

The upshot of the argument is that when Rose accepted his permanent ban from baseball, it did not include a ban from Hall of Fame consideration. Which, yes, is true. But it’s also true that soon after the ban, the Hall of Fame — which is a private institution, not owned by Major League Baseball — decided to change its rules and only allow those who are not banned by baseball to be on its ballot. That rule, 3(e), was enacted in February 1991.

Which is itself a tad disingenuous, as it’s long been clear that the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball pretty much see the world the same way. The Commissioner and his close confidants are on the board of the Hall for cryin’ out loud. I have no doubt whatsoever that, if Major League Baseball wanted something of the Hall of Fame, it could get it and that if the Hall of Fame did something Major League Baseball did not like, MLB would make its displeasure known to the Hall and the matter would be remedied.

Which is to say that, yes, Rose probably has a good point or two in all of this and it would be interesting to know how the Hall came to adopt its “no banned players can be considered” rule and why and whether it had anything to do with MLB suggesting that the Hall do via its rules what MLB might not have gotten Rose to agree to in its own right.

But just because something is “interesting” does not make it meaningful. The Hall is a private business that can do what it wants. Major League Baseball is a private business that can do what it wants. There is no legal right to be eligible for the Hall of Fame and, even if Rose had some sort of legal theory — Fraud, maybe? Some sort of interference with economic opportunity claim? — it was one that should’ve been brought decades ago. And no, I don’t think he’d have a legal leg to stand on even if he had.

All that being said, I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. I think that his playing career makes him more than worthy and his transgressions, while serious enough to keep him out of the game for life, should not stop a museum and the baseball establishment from honoring what he did between 50 and 30 years ago.

His letter won’t work, though. Because the same folks who decided he was not worthy of reinstatement last year have a lot of influence on the folks who determine who gets placed on a Hall of Fame balance. In asking for what he’s asking, Rose is asking for one of those parties to go against the other. And that has never, ever happened.

Settling the Scores: Tuesday’s results

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 27:  Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees celebrates his first inning two-run home run against the Boston Red Sox with teammate Jacoby Ellsbury #22 at Yankee Stadium on September 27, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Getty Images
7 Comments

The Sox’ winning streak ends at 11, thanks in part to Gary Sanchez continuing to hit like Barry Bonds or someone. Well, not quite Bonds, but his 20 homers in 49 games is ridiculous. I’d say “at some point pitchers need to stop giving him stuff to hit,” but this dude drove in a run when someone tried to intentionally walk him a week or two ago, so maybe there is nothing that can be done. In any event, Boston’s loss, along with the Blue Jays win, means that the AL East is not quite settled. It likely is practically, but not technically!

In other news, the Tigers pounded the Indians and their post-clinch, hungover lineup and, with the Orioles’ loss, pull a game closer in the Wild Card. The Mets pounded the Marlins who, one suspects, can only run on emotion so long and desperately want and ned to be with their loved ones to process this past week. The Cards and Giants both won as well, keeping the NL Wild Card at the status quo for another day: the Mets and Giants in, if the season ended today, the Cards one back.

The scores:

Yankees 6, Red Sox 4
Nationals 4, Diamondbacks 2
Cubs 6, Pirates 4
Blue Jays 5, Orioles 1
Tigers 12, Indians 0
Braves 7, Phillies 6
Mets 12, Marlins 1
Royals 4, Twins 3
Rangers 6, Brewers 4
White Sox 13, Rays 6
Astros 8, Mariners 4
Cardinals 12, Reds 5
Angels 8, Athletics 1
Padres 7, Dodgers 1
Giants 12, Rockies 3