(Via Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman)
Kyler Murray is the rare athlete who can play nearly any sport he chooses. And right now, he's been given a tough choice that most of us wish we would have to make: does he play baseball or football? I won't be justifying his decision either way, because there are both positives and negatives to both sports. He gets more money playing baseball, but has to spend at least two seasons in the minors. He gets more exposure playing football, but there will always be the health risks. I'm not Kyler Murray, so I won't be making his decision, but I will say this:
Baseball needs him.
It's no secret that after a near-century of baseball dominance, football has become much more popular over the past couple decades. That is fine. There is no problem with football overtaking baseball in popularity. But where there is a problem is that baseball has no national superstars anymore. Walk down the street of any town in America and ask people if they've heard of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, they'll say yes. Ask them if they've heard of Mike Trout or Jose Altuve, they'll almost definitely say no. This is because football's superstars are always national if not international, and most of baseball's are regional at best. Sure, even the casual sports fan in New England has heard of Mookie Betts, and anyone who follows baseball knows who he is, but what about the casual fan who doesn't follow the sport across the country? He probably doesn't, even though he's an MVP and an important part of the defending World Series champions. Who's even close? There's Aaron Judge, because everyone loves dingers. There's Derek Jeter, who has been retired for five years. There's Tim Tebow, who is much more famous as a football player. And then there's Bryce Harper, who does what Major League Baseball refuses to: market him. In other sports, superstars market things that have nothing to do with their sport. Aaron Rodgers sells you insurance. LeBron James sells you Sprite Cranberry. But, with the exception of Bryce Harper selling you T Mobile, almost every baseball player with a national endorsement deal is selling you something that is only applicable to baseball. Carlos Correa sells you something to put on your bat to increase your bat speed. Justin Upton sells you MLB At Bat. It's not inherently bad. There are comparable endorsements in other sports, most notably basketball players selling you their branded shoes. The main difference is that these endorsements are vastly outweighed by their non-basketball endorsements, while, outside of Harper and T Mobile, there are little to no national endorsements for baseball players to sell you non-baseball things. Kyler Murray is a big enough draw to get national endorsement deals from any company that would want him. These would go hand in hand with him transitioning from college football superstar to the likely face of Major League Baseball.
Another draw for Kyler Murray to the diamond as opposed to the gridiron is that a Heisman winner playing in the majors is a thing, and baseball is a sport where they do not have a lot of things. For this purpose, I'm defining “thing” as something that gets people who normally don't watch the sport talking about it. Football has the Super Bowl as a thing every year, and the crown jewel of all football things took place in the Super Bowl: 28-3. Basketball most recently had a thing with the Golden State Warriors winning 73 games and blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Even hockey had a thing with the Las Vegas Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season of existence. What about baseball? Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa racing for the home run record was a thing, and it was awesome. Barry Bonds passing Henry Aaron to become the home run king was kind of a thing, and it was awesome, but everyone (except me) hated and still hates Barry Bonds, so that doesn't really count. The Cubs finally winning the World Series after 108 years was definitely a thing, but once it finally happened, the Cubs hype died down. Shohei Ohtani is also definitely a thing, but he will likely be limited to just hitting until 2020. A former Heisman winner coming into the majors? That's a thing and a half right there. It's the same reason why Tim Tebow can start at Triple A after not playing baseball for 12 years. A player like Murray who is younger and actually has collegiate baseball experience playing for a good team would be a world of hype.
Of course, most of these would still be true of he chose football. Rookies get big endorsements deals all the time, and they don't have to involve football either. Look at Saquon Barkley, he endorsed Visa during his rookie year. He wouldn't have to fight with his league's commissioner to market himself. But he wouldn't be the face of the sport if he chose football, at least not as quickly as he would be if he chose baseball. He also wouldn't be a thing if he chose football. A Heisman winner in the NFL is the expectation. A Heisman winner in Major League Baseball is something that, if nothing else, gets football fans who otherwise wouldn't care about baseball to at the very least give it a shot just to watch Kyler Murray. Murray choosing football wouldn't get as many baseball fans to watch football.
In summary, the difference is this: Kyler Murray doesn't need football and football as it exists now doesn't need Kyler Murray. Kyler Murray also doesn't need baseball, but baseball as it exists now desperately needs someone like Kyler Murray. Fortunately for them though, Kyler Murray is someone like Kyler Murray, and he's currently under contract with a Major League organization.
Or maybe, just maybe, he could try his hand at playing both. It would be more fun that way, at least.