Not even $4.5 million could convince Kyler Murray to play baseball, and now MLB has been dealt another crushing publicity blow.
Kyler Murray has officially chosen football over baseball, which begs the question of who will break something first: His baseball agent, the commissioner of baseball, or the guy who drafted him to the wrong sport?
The correct answer is it doesn’t matter. Nothing will change the fact that this is the offseason baseball got dragged into the cemetery and buried alive.
This is bigger than Murray leaving baseball at the altar. This is MLB, one of the biggest sports leagues in the world, going toe-to-toe with the NFL and getting ragdolled in the public square. Baseball sent its most powerful agent, its most popular general manager, and its commissioner up against the NFL only to watch them all get emasculated up by Big Daddy Football.
That’s the coda to a truly terrible offseason for baseball.
What makes it sting even more is that it should have been a resurgent winter for baseball. This was a chance for the sport to reintroduce itself as something that the casual sports fan should care about.
Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are two of the biggest superstars in the sport, hitting free agency in the middle of their prime. They are both capital-S Superstars, full stop. Big market teams in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were interested. This is LeBron James and Kevin Durant hitting the market in the same summer levels of important. When they sign, the Earth should shake from the seismic shift created by pen hitting paper on their contracts.
Anytime something remotely close to this happens in other sports, the red carpet gets rolled out and people pay attention.
Most importantly, things happen.
Not in baseball, though.
Both Harper and Machado have been free agents since November and are showing no signs of signing. When they do, it’ll be anticlimactic at best. Baseball had our attention for a moment and let that moment pass. The hot stove has gone cold.
Murray was a life raft. Baseball had been gifted the immensely popular Heisman Trophy-winning who commanded national attention. He would be a perfect compliment to feature as a face of the league alongside Harper and Machado. Football fans who loved him at Oklahoma would surely follow his career in baseball. It was perfect; baseball had fallen ass-backward into saving face.
But because it’s baseball, everything that could have gone wrong did.
Scott Boras, who was Murray’s baseball agent, emphatically stated that his client would play one year of college football at Oklahoma and then commit to baseball. This was, as he said time and time again, already determined. That’s what Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane thought when he drafted Murray last June and what MLB commissioner Rob Manfred assumed as well.
Then Murray went off and had an unexpectedly historic season of football, and the NFL machine began to fire itself up. The conversation of whether Murray should or would choose football over baseball started back in September but MLB did nothing to combat this narrative. The hubris of this allowed the narrative to mushroom into a full-on debate about that captured national attention but made baseball look foolish. The only effort made by anyone involved with baseball to shift the narrative was made — wait for it — on the NFL’s official television network and website.
“Kyler has agreed and the A’s agreed to a baseball contract that gave him permission to play college football through the end of the collegiate season,” Boras said. “After that, he is under contract to play baseball. That is not a determination to make. It’s already done.”
Everyone sat on their hands, much like the case is with Harper and Machado, and nothing good happened.
Now Murray has spurned MLB to do exactly what baseball was convinced he wouldn’t do. The sport could have reintroduced itself to a mass audience in a badly needed way this winter but badly bungled every single attempt.
But don’t think of this as some Shakespearian tragedy, more a Marx Brothers satire — expect people actually watched those.