Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija content he chose baseball over football

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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?”

MLB, MLBA officially announce the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 04:  A job seeker shakes hands with a recruiter during a HireLive career fair on June 4, 2015 in San Francisco, California. According to a report by payroll processor ADP,  201,000 jobs were added by businesses in May.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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In the past, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have not issued official statements announcing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement until after it had been ratified by the players and clubs. The thinking was simple: there is no agreement until it is officially ratified. Which makes some sense.

A few moments ago, however, the league and the union issued a joint press release with a full summary of the new CBA terms, quotes from Tony Clark and Rob Manfred and the whole nine yards. You can see all of the detailed terms here.

The most likely explanation for doing it now: there are different people running MLB than were running it five years ago and they’re just doing things differently. My fun conspiracy theory, however, is that due to the division and acrimony in the player ranks about which we’re just hearing, the league and union wanted to make this appear to be a far more done deal than it technically is and thus be able to paint objectors who may pop up during the ratification process as Monday morning quarterbacks. Hey, crazier things have happened!

In the meantime, go check out some of the fun terms. There are a load of them there. In the meantime before you do that, here are the official statements from baseball’s honchos.

Rob Manfred:

“I am pleased that we completed an agreement prior to the deadline that will keep the focus on the field during this exciting time for the game.  There are great opportunities ahead to continue our growth and build upon the popularity that resonated throughout the Postseason and one of the most memorable World Series ever.  This agreement aims to further improve the game’s healthy foundation and to promote competitive balance for all fans.

“I thank Tony Clark, his colleagues and many Major League Players for their work throughout the collective bargaining process.  We appreciate their shared goals for the betterment of the sport.  I am grateful for the efforts of our Labor Policy Committee, led by Ron Fowler, as well as Dan Halem and our entire Labor Relations Department.”

Tony Clark:

“Every negotiation has its own challenges. The complexities of this agreement differ greatly from those in the past if for no other reason than how the industry has grown.  With that said, a fair and equitable deal is always the result you are working toward, and, once again, I believe we achieved that goal. I would like to thank our Players for their involvement, input and leadership throughout. Their desire to protect our history and defend and advance the rights and interests of their peers is something I am truly grateful for.

“I would also like to recognize Commissioner Rob Manfred, Dan Halem, MLB and the Labor Policy Committee for their hard work over the last year plus, and for staying committed to the process.  In coming to an agreement, this deal allows both sides to focus on the future growth and development of the sport. There is a lot of work to be done and we look forward to doing it.”

Peace in our time.

Breaking down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: John Schuerholz

ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 27: Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz is shown before the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on September 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: John Schuerholz 

The case for his induction:

He’s one of the greatest GMs of all time, having broken into baseball in what was then the best organization in baseball, the Balitmore Orioles, and then worked his way up to the GM chair in another fantastic organization, the 1970s and 80s Kansas City Royals. After a World Series win there he moved on to Atlanta and, with the help of his predecessor GM and future manager, Bobby Cox, helped bring the Braves back from oblivion and turned them into perpetual division title winners. His influence, in terms of his disciples and the weight he still throws around Major League Baseball, is incalculable. If there are any arguments about his place in the executive hierarchy in the past 50 years, they’re about where in the top two or three he places, not whether he’s worthy of the Hall of Fame, at least by historical standards.

The case against his induction:

You could make a strong case that executives have no business being in there, but that ship sailed a long dang time ago. You could also nitpick Schuerholz’s record — David Cone for Ed Hearn? Kevin Millwood for Johnny Estrada? — but show me a GM who doesn’t have some clunkers on his resume. You can lay resposibility for the manager challenge system in replay at his feet, but I don’t think that outweighs his accomplishments.

Schuerholz was part of turning a fledging organization into one of the best in baseball and, in his next job, turned a totally cratered, losing and barren organization into a perpetual winner. It’s hard to beat that.

Would I vote for him?

Sure. There are 33 executives in the Hall of Fame. Schuerholz had more success than most of ’em. I wish there were more, say, third basemen in the Hall than there are — there are only 16 of them — but if you’re going to judge Schuerholz by his peers, he comes out pretty well.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Yep. The Veterans Committees of the recent past have been loathe to induct a lot of players who are worthy, but they’ve always been good to put in noted executives. It’s almost as if these guys make the Veterans Committee by, you know, being tight with noted executives. I feel like he’ll glide in.