Much has been made about Athletics 2018 first-round draft pick Kyler Murray, who won the 2018 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, and his decision whether or not to pursue a baseball career. Last month, it appeared the outfielder was still on track to join the Athletics’ minor league system. Pundits have had ongoing debates about which decision makes more sense for Murray. Baseball causes less trauma to the body, especially the head, and the contracts are guaranteed. Football would ostensibly provide more up-front money and a better shot at stardom.
The calculus could go beyond that, as former two-sport athlete Drew Henson pointed out in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. Henson said:
Baseball, it really is a grind. It’s a mental challenge every day and every week. Things that carry over physically from a baseball/football standpoint, playing quarterback, the daily grind and the daily routine couldn’t be much different from the hours you’re at the yard or the park or the facility to, like you said, your mid-level hotels, taking buses around whatever part of the country you’re playing in, minimal fanfare, small groups of fans. You really have to be self-motivated. Whereas on the football side, you’re just stepping into a primetime game every week and he’s coming off of this rollercoaster of emotion playing this year at Oklahoma. Those are real things when you’re in your 20’s and you’re ready to jump on every challenge to overcome on your developmental path if it’s the major leagues. He knows to be prepared in Binghamton watching Monday Night Football with his teammates and former teammates in terms of playing in the NFL. That’s also something to consider.
The prospect of slumming it in the minor leagues could certainly influence Murray’s choice of baseball or football. Minor league life, as we have mentioned here ad nauseam, is anything but glamorous. Henson hits a lot of the key points: travel by bus (as opposed to first-class on a plane), smaller crowds (and in some cases, mostly-empty stadiums), and the path to stardom is not nearly as short nor as guaranteed.
Murray did get a $5 million signing bonus from the Athletics, which would help make minor league life much more tolerable. But he would still have to ride the same buses, sleep in the same motels (unless he decides to shell out his own money for a hotel and sleep separately from his teammates), eat from the same post-game spreads, and play in the same stadiums with 5,000 or so fans per game — if that. Murray might be asked or even expected to cover some of his teammates’ luxuries throughout the years, similar to how veterans who get sent to the minors on rehab assignments typically upgrade the spread or otherwise treat everyone to dinner.
Baseball players also tend to be asked to put in a lot of unpaid overtime — as Henson alludes — something which was codified into law last March when minor leaguers were classified as seasonal workers and therefore exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This made them ineligible for a minimum wage and overtime pay. Many minor leaguers make less than $10,000 per year. While Murray could presumably get by with his signing bonus, he would still be asked to come early to the ballpark and stay late for no immediate reward. It’s one thing to stay late and study film as a professional in a major city; it’s an entirely different thing to do it in Beloit, Wisconsin, home of the Athletics’ Single-A affiliate. Murray is a human being, after all.
If the sad circumstances of minor league life help steer Murray towards an NFL career, Major League Baseball should be embarrassed. MLB should already be embarrassed that it’s even a consideration. If nothing else, this should serve as a wake-up call for the league to improve minor league standards across the board, starting with pay but also including all facets of healthcare and nutrition, as well as travel and housing arrangements. From a strictly business standpoint, MLB should want to attract and maintain the best athletes. Given the state of the minor leagues right now, the league isn’t doing a great job of that. No one would blame Murray if he decides to pursue a career in the NFL instead.