Years ago, a certain Internet hack who gravitated toward football loved baseball as much, if not more. Fueled in part by Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS and what came in the 20 years after that for the Pittsburgh Pirates, along with tripping into this business several years later, football emerged as the primary focus, with baseball becoming an afterthought.
But for anyone who has the skills to play baseball and football at the professional level, there should never be a second thought: Play baseball.
The money’s better. The career can be much longer. The wear and tear is minimal in comparison. The only negative comes from the travel demands of a 162-game season that includes 81 of them away from home; pro football players make only eight road trips each regular season.
But don’t take my word for it (as if you ever would, or do). Consider the baseball career of Jeff Samardzija, a former Notre Dame receiver who likely would have been a first-round draft pick if he’d entered the NFL in the same year former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson did. Scott Miller of Bleacher Report recently focused on Samardzija’s still-thriving baseball career, more than a year after Calvin Johnson walked away from football while he could still walk.
In 2016, Samardzija embarked on a five-year, $90 million deal with the Giants. Through 2020, he will have earned $123 million as a mid-level baseball player with name recognition that largely comes from the fact that he has an unusual name. Calvin Johnson, one of the best players of his era, made $100 million playing football.
Beyond the money is the physical toll. Johnson decided he would no longer subject his body to the pounding. Samardzija has endured very little.
“I was always a big fan of watching [Johnson] play,” Samardzija told Miller. “To watch him go down a couple of years ago for a finger that really didn’t look too good, seeing pictures of it, it’s different. . . . It helps me in my decision, and how I sleep at night.”
Johnson likely has trouble sleeping at night not because of mental regrets but physical discomfort.
“I got aches and pains all time that aren’t ever going to go away,” Johnson told Miller. “But that’s part of it. . . .
“As much as you love a sport, and I don’t want anybody to think I don’t love that sport, but the amount of energy you have to put into it just to get to the season. . . . All the energy, all the pain, sweat and tears that go into it, the amount I had to put in to get me to where I had to play, it was more taxing on me physically and mentally than it was good for me. . . . The pain and energy wasn’t fun anymore, just to battle. I got a messed-up finger that keeps on getting smaller by the year the more I use it. It’s bone on bone. . . . I had a heck of a time doing it, but at the end of the day, it’s about me and my family and being comfortable and being fun. And it wasn’t.”
Even though it worked out better for Samardzija financially and physically, Samardzija spent some time early in his career looking over his shoulder, and he considered reversing course.
“Really, ’09 and ’10 were tough years for me,” Samardzija said. “That’s probably the closest I ever came to heading back to football. . . . I was 25, still felt good, was still in shape and there was still a demand for me. [Football] teams were calling all the time.”
Samardzija decided to stick it out, and it worked. For thousands who opt for a career in baseball, it doesn’t. But for the rare athlete who has the skills and the mindset necessary to make it in either baseball or football, it always makes more sense to play baseball instead.