Football is more popular than baseball. This is true to such an extreme that I’d wager Jared Goff is more recognizable than Mike Trout, even though I have no idea if Goff is any good. That’s just the way it is, and there’s no point getting mad about it. If I wake up tomorrow morning and type, “Gonna write about Darnson Breeney and the Twins’ strategy of tandem chaining,” the higher-ups will pat me on the head and let me scurry away. They know whatever I write will get a hundredth of the traffic of an NFL mock draft, so whatever.
It’s in this context that Kyler Murray decided to declare for the NFL Draft. Depending on where he’s drafted, he will make a choice between baseball and football. He hasn’t made a final decision yet, and that’s an important point that folks seem to be overlooking. But he’s probably going to choose football.
This potential outcome has a substantial portion of Baseball Twitter in a defeated tizzy. Of course players will choose the popular sport over the less popular sport. Of course players will choose immediate success and fame over years of careful progress in the minor leagues. Of course players will choose the sport that isn’t currently in the news because salaries are going down at the same time that revenues are going up. It all seems preordained when you put it like that.
But it’s not that simple. So allow me to put a general guide together about the choice between professional baseball and professional football.
If you want to be famous: play football
This isn’t a question. If it is celebrity status that ye seek, choose the oblong sports ball. Chris Sale might be one of the best pitchers of his generation, but my guess is that people still ask him if he plays basketball wherever he goes. If he has an endorsement deal that isn’t related to baseball gear, it’s hard to find with a quick Google search.
Just about every athlete who makes the decision to play baseball professionally for the next 100 years will be less successful than Chris Sale, who can walk down the middle of a freeway in San Francisco without being recognized. The fame that baseball brings is an extremely regional fame.
If you want to make money up front: play football
With the slotting system in the MLB Draft, every first-round pick knows roughly what he’s going to get as a bonus now. That’s the only guaranteed money he’s going to get for a while. Unless he zooms through the minors, the player has to make the bonus last. There could be three or four years in the minors, and that’s before another three or four years playing for something close to the minor-league minimum. Kyler Murray might not accumulate a million dollars in baseball salary until 2023, and that’s if he gets called up at all.
Contrast that with what happens if he’s a first-round pick in the NFL:
If he’s a first round NFL Draft pick, at minimum he’s looking at a four-year, $10 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus up front, based off projections at each pick slot. If he’s a top-10 pick: $17 million, $11 million signing bonus. Rookie NFL deals for first round players are guaranteed for four years.
Josh Booty made about $200,000 in major-league salary, though he made more if you count the stacks of Camel Cash that he was paid over five minor-league seasons. The calculations get even worse for Drew Henson.
It’s better to be a high-profile washout in the NFL than MLB, financially speaking. That’s not a small consideration.
If you want that sweet, sweet action right away: choose football
One of the many reasons that the NFL Draft is vastly more popular than the MLB Draft is that a lot of the players selected in the NFL Draft will appear in an NFL game within five months. The number of baseball players who have made it to the majors within five months of being drafted is freakishly tiny in comparison.
No, being a baseball player means starting in short-season A-ball.
And then the next year moving up to low-A.
Hey, Class-A is after that.
Maybe you get that Double-A promotion midseason, or maybe you don’t. Congrats, though!
Then there’s Triple-A. Hang out here for a couple years, see what shakes loose.
Of course, this isn’t the path that superstars take. Mike Trout went from high school to the majors in two years, and college kids like Alex Bregman are there even sooner. But there’s a chance, a great chance, that it’ll be a long time before you wear the jersey of the team that drafted you.
If you plan on being a superstar and want to make the most possible money: choose baseball
Peyton Manning has made more money over his career than any other football player who has ever lived: $248.7 million. This is a perfect number for comparison, because Albert Pujols was guaranteed about that much money in a single contract that he received after he turned 32.
Jason Heyward was guaranteed almost as much money in a single eight-year contract than Ben Roethlisberger has made in his 15-year career.
This, like the question of which sport is likelier to make you famous, is not in dispute. Will Clark made $54 million, and he retired in 2000, before salaries got really wild. There are football stars today — championship-winning stars — who won’t get nearly that much.
If you sneer at mansions with just one Olympic-sized pool, then baseball is definitely for you.
If you’re pretty sure you’re going to stick around either sport for a while: choose baseball
This is the trickiest category. Just about everyone who fails out of baseball is someone who had, to that point, never struggled at the sport in their lives. Ever! Not just the best player on their high school team; so much better than everyone else in the league, that people in different cities knew your name. Not just one of the best players on their college team; so much better than everyone else that they’re one of the lucky few who got drafted. Et cetera.
With this as your background, of course you think that you will “stick around for a while.” If that’s the case, baseball’s you’re bet. Once you’re in your arbitration years — maybe six or seven years after you’re drafted — you’ll start making NFL money. After that, when you’re eligible for free agency, not only will you be making more than the comparable player in the NFL, but it will all be guaranteed money.
Put it this way: If Prince Fielder will have made $96 million after playing his last MLB game. He would have made none of that if he were an NFL player suffering the same injury. For comparison, Fielder will earn more money to not play baseball than Randy Moss ever made playing football.
If you, uh, want to pick up your grandchildren without shrieking, “OW. MY ORGANS ARE BLEEDING AGAIN!”: choose baseball
Baseball is not without its health risks, especially for catchers. But this is also not in dispute. Football is like if baseball required fielders to get runners out by hitting them with baseballs. And also, the baseballs are 280 pounds and the size of a vending machine.
I mean, I’d watch. But it sounds dangerous.
Right now, Jeff Samardzija is somewhere either smoking a cigarette or rehabbing his shoulder, unless he’s doing both at the same time because he’s an absolute legend. But his brain is still good. In 10 years, his brain will probably still be good, and he’ll have made more money over his career than Joe Thomas, who was one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history.
If you want to avoid pesky work stoppages: choose football
Because it ain’t looking good for baseball at the moment. The good news, such as it is, is that the NFLPA is so weak that it’s hard to imagine a work stoppage there anytime soon! Play away, football friends. Play away.
Note that this guide is for a high first-round pick in football. For someone in the middle rounds, and especially for someone in the later rounds, forget it. Ride the buses, kid. The baseball lottery has long odds, but the football lottery comes with a liquid-meal downside.
But for a high first-round pick like Murray, here you go. And I’m not going to come to a grand conclusion because that wouldn’t be fair. If Murray is realistic about the winding path and numerous pitfalls that are underneath every young baseball player? Murray was drafted ninth overall; his uncle, Calvin Murray, was drafted seventh overall. So you don’t have to explain how tools might not always translate into success. Might want to get that guaranteed money that football is offering, especially when it comes with immediate action.
If Murray thinks he has a better chance to be an All-Star, though, that’s different. There’s nothing wrong with a little confidence, and a player willing to gamble on himself would be better off with baseball.
And it would appear that — yes, I’m getting word that this is correct — there’s also the matter of what Murray prefers. Does he prefer the sport of football or the sport of baseball? The reports I’m seeing suggest that “choosing the sport that fills him with joy” should make a difference. Strange but true.
Football or baseball? For a high-first-round pick, there’s a lot of thinking to do, and there’s no real right answer. The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t be a dingus and get mad at a player for choosing a livelihood based on his best interests. Whatever Kyler Murray chooses, he’ll have some compelling reasoning on his side.