It’s been over two decades since Bo Jackson made history by becoming the first and still the only athlete in American professional sports to be an All-Star in both Major League Baseball and professional football. The famous “Bo Knows” ad campaign fascinated the country, and Jackson’s exploits for the Kansas City Royals and (then) LA Raiders became the stuff of legend for a while. Perhaps his most famous baseball play was a throw he made from the warning track to home plate on the fly, throwing out the speedy Harold Reynolds. Reynolds had taken off from first on the pitch, and thought he’d score easily on a double. Instead he was stunned and didn’t believe it when he was told later that Jackson’s throw never hit the ground. “That’s impossible,” was his initial response till he actually saw the play on videotape.
Before a hip injury derailed Jackson’s football career and eventually paved the way for the demise of his athletic prowess, he made several other highlight plays, including running over Brian Bosworth at the goal line in a Monday Night Football game. But there are many who believe had Jackson made the same choice as Brian Jordan, another two-sport athlete who abandoned pro football for baseball despite being a Pro Bowl strong safety for the Atlanta Falcons, he would have had been a Hall of Famer.
Now the same decision awaits Oklahoma QB/outfielder Kyler Murray. Last year Murray signed a baseball contract with the Oakland Athletics, accepting a $4.5 million bonus. The contract allowed him to return to Oklahoma for one more season, but then forego his final college year to become a full-time baseball player. At the time no one anticipated that Murray, who’d had a decent but hardly great season as an outfielder for the Sooners, would become an instant success when he inherited the starting QB job from Baker Mayfield.
However after Saturday, when Murray finished with 379 yards passing and three touchdowns, leading Oklahoma to its fourth straight Big 12 title and seventh straight win overall, things suddenly became more complicated. The Sooners were picked to be in the College Football Playoffs, and will face defending national champion Alabama in the Orange Bowl Dec. 29. While Murray hasn’t said anything about possibly changing his mind, he’s also definitely one of two top candidates for the Heisman Trophy. After presumed front-runner Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa struggled with injuries and had a sub-par game against Georgia in the SEC title game, he could even win. Tagovailoa had been viewed as a lock, and he passed for 37 touchdowns with only four interceptions this season.
Yet Murray’s arguably had an even better year. The Sooners are averaging almost 50 points per game, and he’s broken Mayfield’s school record for total offense. However while the Crimson Tide rank second nationally in defensive efficiency, Oklahoma is 91st.
MLB desperately wants Murray. If he chooses baseball over football, he becomes the highest profile multi-sport Black athlete to make that pick since Dave Winfield. He’s also someone they could use in their ongoing campaign to attract more young Blacks to the sport. But Murray reportedly loves the college experience, and the odds are if he opts for baseball he’s looking at being in the minors for at least one and maybe two seasons before reaching the big leagues, unless he shows vast improvement as a hitter according to scouts.
So things could get quite interesting soon for Kyler Murray. Keep in mind he’s a Scott Boras client, and subtlety isn’t one of Boras’ strengths or traits. He may demand written assurance from the Athletics that Murray not be sent to the minors, or otherwise he’ll advise him to return to Oklahoma. Of course that would probably mean forfeiting the bonus, but Murray’s a certain first round NFL draft pick if he plays another year of college football.
Either way, the final outcome will be revealing and intriguing.