Patrick Mahomes was the NFL’s MVP in his first full season as a starting quarterback, and then led the Kansas City Chiefs to their first Super Bowl in 50 years the following year. So it’s hard to deny that choosing football was the proper and correct career decision, especially with Mahomes in line for possibly the first $200-million contract in NFL history.
But it’s still fun to think about Mahomes the baseball player.
Baseball is in his genes. His father, Pat Mahomes, pitched for six major league teams over 11 seasons. Growing up, the younger Mahomes was a fixture around the clubhouse with his dad. Patrick Mahomes was a three-sport star at Whitehouse High School in Texas, and was drafted by the Tigers as a pitcher in the 37th round in 2014.
“If he had just focused on the mound, we’d be talking about somebody throwing 94-95,” Tigers scout Tim Grieve told MLB.com. “How he throws a football is a lot like how he throws a baseball.”
LaTroy Hawkins, who was a teammate of the elder Mahomes in Minnesota, is the younger Mahomes’ godfather. He helped advise Patrick upon getting drafted in baseball. Per Emily Kaplan of Sports Illustrated:
Hawkins wanted Mahomes to make the best decision. He consulted Mike Larson, a veteran MLB scout. “With a kid like that,” Larson said, “baseball is not as big of a deal, it comes naturally. But if he wants to be a professional in football, he will have to sacrifice the next step and focus completely on football. He’s going to need to be entirely invested.”
“Once we told him that,” Hawkins recalled. “He was entirely invested in football.”
Mahomes focused solely on football and played at Texas Tech before being drafted 10th overall by the Chiefs in 2017. So while he left baseball behind, at least the Tigers can still claim bragging rights in Detroit.
With former Tigers Draft Pick Patrick Mahomes advancing to the super bowl, the Detroit Tigers have drafted more Super Bowl Starting QB's than the Detroit Lions have.— SkitchP (@skitchP) January 20, 2020
It should be noted that should something happen to Mahomes on Sunday, backup quarterback Matt Moore was also drafted in baseball, as a third baseman in the 22nd round by the Angels in 2004. Multi-sport talents abound!
Mahomes is one of a litany of former MLB Draft picks to play in the Super Bowl, including some of the very best players in football history.
Ready for prime time: Deion Sanders
Sanders is the gold standard for Super Bowl players drafted into MLB. He’s a Hall of Fame football player who’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, including the last time the 49ers won a championship 25 years ago. Sanders also played parts of nine major league seasons, and led the majors in triples in 1992. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Royals out of high school but didn’t sign, then again by the Yankees in the 30th round out of Florida State in 1988.
Sanders was 8-for-15 (.533) with two doubles and five stolen bases for the Braves in the 1992 World Series, the only player to play in both a World Series and Super Bowl. Memorably that year, he played a game with the Falcons on Oct. 11 in Miami, then flew to Pittsburgh to join the Braves for Game 5 of the NLCS later that night. However, he didn’t play in the baseball game.
That Falcons team with Sanders were multi-sport delights. Alongside him in the secondary from 1989-91 was strong safety Brian Jordan, who played 15 years in the majors. Quarterback Chris Miller played with Sanders from 1989-93 in Atlanta, and he was drafted in three straight MLB Drafts — first out of high school in 1983, then out of Oregon in both 1984 and 1985 as a shortstop. But neither Jordan nor Miller played in a Super Bowl.
Bo Jackson is the only player to make both an MLB All-Star team and a Pro Bowl, but a hip injury cut short both careers. He never played in a Super Bowl.
Backstop Tom: Tom Brady
Nobody has played in, or won, more Super Bowls than Tom Brady, but before he became TOM BRADY he was drafted out of high school as a catcher by the Montreal Expos in 1995.
“[Brady] had a high ceiling,” former Expos general manager Kevin Malone told Tim Rohan of Sports Illustrated in 2017. “He was a left-handed, power-hitting catcher who was cerebral. He had arm strength. He had everything that would warrant him being projected as a major league all-star. He had everything.”
Brady was a lefty-hitting, righty-throwing catcher with power, but he was intent on using that strong arm to play quarterback at Michigan. Selected in MLB’s 18th round, Brady would have had to overcome the stigma of being drafted 507th overall but getting picked low hasn’t proven to be much of a deterrent in his career. More relevant was that it would take a very large bonus to lure him away from college.
Former Expos scout John Hughes told Rohan he was authorized to give Brady a bonus “in the neighborhood of bottom of the second [round], top of the third type money.” But in the end, the Expos never made a formal offer because they knew Brady wouldn’t pick baseball over football.
Keep in mind Brady was drafted in 1995, in the aftermath of the baseball strike that canceled the previous World Series. The Expos ended the 1994 season with the best record in baseball and were stocked with talent, including Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and Larry Walker. It was the beginning of the end for the franchise in Montreal, and within 10 years the team moved to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals.
Safe to say that Brady choosing football killed baseball in Montreal.
Where there’s a will, Elway: John Elway
John Elway was an all-world quarterback, and it’s easy to remember that in hindsight. But he was a legitimate two-sport star at Stanford who probably utilized the leverage of his baseball acumen better than anyone else.
After hitting .361/.484/.627 as a sophomore at Stanford, Elway the outfielder was drafted by the Yankees with the final pick of the second round, six spots ahead of future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.
Elway hit an impressive .318/.432/.464 in 42 games for low Class-A Oneonta in the summer of 1982, before his stellar senior season in football with Stanford. His baseball future was so bright that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner gushed at the time, “He will be a great outfielder for me, one in the great Yankee tradition of Mantle, Maris, DiMaggio and all the others ... including Reggie.”
The Colts drafted him first overall in 1983, though Elway made it clear he had no desire to play for Baltimore.
‘’Right now it looks like I’ll be playing baseball with the Yankees. It will be a couple of days, or maybe even two weeks, before I make the final decision,” Elway told reporters after being drafted. “We haven’t ruled out football, but it doesn’t look good right now.’’
Within a week Elway was traded to the Broncos and baseball took a back seat. He led Denver to a Super Bowl appearance in his fourth season, the first of five for Elway on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Laces out, Finkle: Dan Marino
Dan Marino, another alumnus of the quarterback-rich 1983 NFL Draft and another Hall of Famer, was selected as a right-handed pitcher in the fourth round out of high school by the Royals in 1979, 14 rounds before the Royals also selected Elway. Then-Royals scouting director John Schuerholz told The Guardian in 2017:
“After we drafted [Marino] I spoke to his dad several times. In those days if you signed a professional baseball contract you couldn’t play another sport. Mr. Marino, rightly as a concerned dad, said: ‘He loves baseball but if he signs with you that will cost him his scholarship.’ I told him: ‘Mr. Marino, I will gladly reimburse the amount if you tell me what it is.’ We were willing to work with him to let him go to college.”
Marino didn’t sign with Kansas City and instead started his football odyssey with Pitt. Marino played in Super Bowl XIX with the Dolphins.
Other notable MLB draftees in the Super Bowl
There are scores of players drafted in both baseball and football, and several MLB draftees who have played in a Super Bowl. But for sake of brevity, I only included here baseballers who started at quarterback in a Super Bowl, won Super Bowl MVP, or in some cases both.
Russell Wilson, a veteran of two Super Bowls with the Seahawks, was drafted by the Rockies in the fourth round in 2010, and hit .229/.354/.356 in parts of two minor league seasons as a second baseman before starting his NFL career in 2012. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training four times, including each of the last two seasons with the Yankees.
Ken Stabler was drafted three straight years (1966-68) as a pitcher out of Alabama, though never played professional baseball. He was also offered a reported $50,000 by the Pirates out of high school in 1964 (one year before the MLB Draft was implemented), but opted for college instead. Stabler didn’t choose between sports until he was done with college.
”I had no preference between baseball and football until I heard I was going to the Raiders,” Stabler told the Oakland Tribune in 1968. “I’m really happy Oakland got me. In my opinion it’s the best team in the AFL and I like to play on a winning team.”
He played 15 years in a Hall of Fame football career, and was the winning quarterback for the Raiders in Super Bowl XI.
The Dark Knight Rises star Hines Ward was selected by the Marlins in the 73rd round in 1994 out of Forest Park High School in Georgia, where Ward was an outfielder. He opted instead for football, which brought him first to the University of Georgia. Then, he spent 14 years with the Steelers, with whom he won two Super Bowls. Ward was the MVP of Super Bowl XL, catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the 49ers in their most recent trip to the Super Bowl before this year, was drafted as a pitcher in the 43rd round by the Cubs in 2009. He did not sign, making baseball the only sport he no longer plays professionally by his choice.
Before he starred at Alcorn State and then the NFL, Steve McNair was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 35th round in 1991. He traded in his shortstop glove to play quarterback, and played 13 years in the NFL, including starting Super Bowl XXXIV for the Titans.
Super Bowl XXXV quarterback Kerry Collins was picked three times in the MLB Draft, the first two times (1990, 1991) as a shortstop and finally as a pitcher (1994). He never played baseball professionally.
The two quarterbacks who played in the most Super Bowls — Brady and Elway — were both once drafted in baseball. Mahomes, at 24 years old, is younger than both at the time of their first Super Bowl, so maybe he can one day join his fellow baseball draftees turned NFL MVP atop the Super Bowl record book.