Two of the top young NFL quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray, had to decide whether an MLB career was better for their futures. In fact, Mahomes‘ father was a journeyman MLB pitcher for 11 seasons. Mahomes and Murray don’t compete with one infamous event, the 1995 MLB draft, where a whopping seven players, including Tom Brady and Daunte Culpepper, declined baseball to play football instead.
Setting the stage for the 1995 MLB draft
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The 1995 MLB draft occurred at a deeply inconvenient time for a league trying to lure players away from other options. 1994 was marred by a historic strike, which included the complete cancellation of the playoffs. Draft hopefuls were entering a league where the most important games of the prior year, the World Series, never took place.
It was in the midst of an incredible season, to add insult to injury. The Montreal Expos had just reached the height of their powers — the big payoff of a run gearing up from 1991, according to Athlon Sports. Greg Maddux started the season by throwing a scoreless eight innings. This gave his Atlanta Braves a huge 4-1 Opening Day win over the San Diego Padres.
Then the strike hit. Small market teams, including the Expos, bled free agents. The strike wasn’t resolved during the 1995 draft, eroding confidence in the league as a whole. Big money teams like the New York Yankees leaped on the opportunities, while the exciting small market runs were stopped in their tracks. The future looked grim for the MLB, which may explain why players with NFL prospects avoided joining up.
The seven players swiped away by the NFL
There were seven players drafted by MLB teams who also had shots at the NFL. Of the seven, only one signed. Of the group, there is one who one can say, unequivocally, made the right decision in skipping baseball to chase his football dreams.
Chad Hutchinson, Lawyer Milloy, Danny Kanell, Culpepper, and Michael Bishop all declined their draft options, as GameDay News reports. Hutchinson opted to stick to college, to follow his NFL dreams, but he ended up falling back on baseball in 1998. Milloy had a long career, including a Super Bowl win with the New England Patriots. Kanell, Culpepper, and Bishop all had moderately successful careers but might’ve seen longer and more lucrative runs in baseball.
The remaining two players deserve special highlights. Ricky Williams, who was for two seasons one of the best running backs in the NFL, took up the Philadelphia Phillies on their offer. He spent four years in their farm system and was picked up in 1998 by the Expos. He declined that, opting for the NFL.
Another potential Expos player, without a doubt, made the right decision to decline baseball. Brady was a particular favorite of the Expos ownership to develop their next superstar catcher. Brady instead bet on himself, going to college instead of signing with Montreal. 20 years into his NFL career, he’s, well, Tom Brady. It’s impossible to make the case that an MLB career would’ve been a better place for the future Hall of Famer to land.
Which stars did the MLB hold onto?
1995 was a weird year for baseball. But they still managed to bring in some new talent that would come to define MLB in the coming years. Pitching, in particular, was well-represented in the 1995 draft.
Kerry Wood, according to Baseball-Reference, was one of the top talents from that draft. He was picked fourth overall by the Chicago Cubs. Once he was ready for the Majors in 1998, he proved his worth extremely quickly. His 20-strikeout game, a fond memory to this day for Cubs fans, happened on his fifth ever start.
Roy Halladay was also picked in 1995, going to the Toronto Blue Jays. The late pitching legend made an indelible impression on the sport. He threw two no-hitters in 2010 alone, his first year with the Phillies. That included just the second no-no in MLB postseason history.