Before we begin, it must be acknowledged that athletes are athletic. Yes: Stop the presses.
In tandem with the team-building and personal development that are stressed in the lowest levels of any sport or the learn-to-play stage, as players age, the distance between the athletic and the not-so-athletic becomes more and more pronounced until players are ready to join the ranks of the professional league, where — for all the bluster and brimstone about intangibles and red flags — what goes unsaid is the fact that everyone being considered is more athletic than roughly 99.99998 percent of the rest of the world.
Not that bluster and brimstone are bad things. Making drafts interesting is hard enough as it is, and commentators do the best they can with something that’s inherently pretty dull. One way to add intrigue to any given draft regardless of the sport is to pick up another player who’s already been claimed by another league. Now that’s interesting.
And so, with that in mind, here are five National Football League quarterbacks who were drafted by Major League Baseball teams and their minor-league affiliates.
1. John Elway
Elway! Elway! Is there anyone on earth who looks more like an NFL quarterback than John Elway? It’s a weird metric (probably undefinable), but if there ever were a scale for it, Captain Comeback would certainly loom largest. Drafted in 1983 with the first overall pick by the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, Elway was immediately traded to the Denver Broncos and proceeded to unleash all sorts of victory over the rest of the league. Well, not really, since his first three Super Bowl visits ended in defeat.
Two years before the NFL draft, though, John Elway became a Yankee — sort of. Not quite the New York Yankees of George Steinbrenner and George Castanza fame, but the Oneonta Yankees (now defunct), the Yankees’ minor-league affiliate. A right fielder, Elway allegedly had an incredible arm. Go figure. He played for the Yankees for one season before making the leap to the NFL.
So the story must end there, right? Wrong. Two years before that, in the 1979 amateur draft, Elway was selected by the Kansas City Royals. Luckily for football fans and adherents to the “looks like a quarterback” measurement scale, Elway never signed with Kansas City. Tough luck, Royals.
2. Dan Marino
Poor Kansas City, indeed. Not only did the Royals miss out on Elway in the 1979 draft, but they also missed with Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino. Marino, taken with the fourth pick that year, also decided that baseball wasn’t really the thing for him and decided to attend college instead. Like Elway, Marino would be drafted in the 1983 NFL draft, although he was taken 26 spots after Captain Comeback.
Unlike Elway, Marino would never win a Super Bowl — the Dolphins fell short in their lone appearance, losing to Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers in SB XIX. He would, however, finish his career holding 38 different league records. While some have been broken since his retirement in 1999, 13 still remain in Marino’s possession.
And while there may be nothing that can replace a Super Bowl ring, Marino’s forays into Hollywood are arguably more memorable — whether it be as a kidnapped man in the undisputed masterpiece Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or his cameo role in Adam Sandler’s not-so-masterful Little Nicky. While sports events exist at least partially in a live-event bubble that can only be truly appreciated by those lucky enough to witness it as it unfolds either in person or on television, a film lasts forever. “Laces out, Dan” is at least as memorable as anything ever uttered about a Super Bowl.
3. Colin Kaepernick
Few quarterbacks have generated as much meaningless hot button faux-controversy as Colin Kaepernick — the tattooed QB for the San Francisco 49ers — did last year, when he replaced Alex Smith in the starting lineup. That move provided a fun reminder that there are certain segments of the NFL fan base who don’t enjoy the idea of an inked quarterback or a player wearing a regionally inappropriate hat (Kaep faced fan scrutiny for being photographed while wearing a Dolphins cap to a party).
The best-worst column on Kaepernick’s appearance and demeanor came from Sporting News‘ David Whitley, who suggested “Pro QBs were the last line of defense against the raging sea of ink.” No doubt Whitley wished that Kaep had been swayed by the Chicago Cubs: So the sanctity of the quarterback might have been preserved.
In 2009, Kaepernick was taken in the 43rd round of the MLB draft by the Cubs, which had scouted his baseball skills while he was in high school. While Kaepernick passed on several baseball scholarships in order to play football in college, the Cubs still reached out, trying to broker a deal for him to play a shortened rookie season between his sophomore and junior years of college. Kaep declined again, saying that his focus was on making the NFL. It’s a move that has since proved worthwhile for everyone who likes football. Everyone except, presumably, David Whitley.
4. Michael Vick
From one controversial quarterback to another: Michael Vick is alone on this list for a variety of reasons — the dog-fighting controversy, the ability to scramble in the pocket, and his relationship to Major League Baseball. Vick, the first overall draft pick of the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, was claimed by the Colorado Rockies in the 30th round of the 2000 MLB draft, despite the fact that he hadn’t played baseball in college or in high school.
The thinking, according to then-scouting director Bill Schmidt, was that with “the way he ran around the field, we figure he could track down some balls in the outfield at Coors Field.” He reasoned that Vick, who would eschew the Rockies’ offer to become the first African-American player taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, displayed such amazing athleticism — even among the tiny pool of people gifted enough to be considered professional athletes — that he was essentially cold called by the Rockies, which had not talked to him prior to taking him in the draft.
The Rockies were hardly the only ones aware of Vick’s astounding natural ability. In a 2011 Sports Illustrated poll of MLB players, he was handily selected as the awkwardly titled “Athlete in Another Sport Who Would Make the Best Baseball Player” category, beating out slouches like LeBron James, Sidney Crosby, and Aaron Rodgers.
5. Russell Wilson
Comparing current NFL quarterbacks to legends of the position like John Elway — who, over five pages, is still the reigning champion of the unofficial “Yeah, He Definitely Looks Like A Quarterback” league — is a dicey and delicate proposition that must be undertaken very carefully. The thrust behind the NFL is the idea of “any given Sunday,” after all, and current teams, players, and organizations can fall victim to a myriad of things that former players don’t have to worry about. But Russell Wilson might be the next Elway. Or maybe the next Dan Marino.
In 2007, the Baltimore Orioles drafted Wilson fresh out of high school. Wilson declined the offer in order to attend college. While at N.C. State, he continued to play both football and baseball and was drafted again by the Rockies in 2010. This time he showed up, playing in parts of two seasons before the 2012 NFL draft, where he was taken by the Seattle Seahawks and has since proven to be an integral part of a team that looks very much like a Super Bowl contender.
That didn’t stop the Texas Rangers from trying to draft Wilson, though. On December 12, during the Rule 5 draft — a draft for teams to take players who have some baseball experience but are not currently attached to a team — the Rangers used their pick on Wilson.
As part of the deal, they’ll have to pay him $12,000, but the team acknowledges that it may not amount to anything. “We put serious consideration into making this pick,” said Rangers scouting director Josh Boyd, “because we felt it was an opportunity to add a special person, competitor and leader to our organization, even if it doesn’t develop into anything more than a name on a piece of paper.” I’m sure everyone picked after Wilson was thrilled to hear it.