Jeff Samardzija proves it’s better to play baseball than football

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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.

58 responses to “Jeff Samardzija proves it’s better to play baseball than football

  1. – paid more
    – all guaranteed salaries
    – less long term injuries
    – can play longer

    yea .. he right

    but football more entertaining IMO

  2. The one tragedy of Tom Brady’s football life is that he deprived the Expos and the rest of us of the career of the greatest catcher in MLB history.

  3. Samardzija is an outlier. It’s dubious to use him as an example that choosing baseball over football is always the right choice.

  4. not many better jobs in sports than left-handed pitcher, or barely competent switch-hitter.

  5. Saying the money’s better is a little misleading in a generic argument about choosing between professional baseball and football. If you make it to the major leagues it is, but it is much much less in minor league baseball. There are numerous examples of guys who chose baseball and came back to football because they never made the major league level or at least consistently stayed there.

  6. I saw JS pitch his senior year in college. He was a man amongst boys. Always felt he was better at baseball than football.

  7. The average age of a baseball fan is 54. Ya it may pay better today, give it another 15-20 years and that will no longer be the case. QBs will be making 30m a year to play 16 games within only 5-7 years.

  8. I was unaware Samardzija was considered a first-round draft prospect in football. His career was pretty pedestrian IMO and I watched a lot of ND football back then.

    Like someone else above said, the guy was a monster in baseball though, always figured he’d go that route.

    Good article though.

  9. Faulty logic, someone must pursue the sport in which gives them the best chance for success. Football can set up someone for life, and many older pros have no significant physical difficulties.

    It’s all about choice and passion. If a player is has roughly the same talent in both sports, his favorite sport must take precedent.

    Jeff Samardzija just preferred a sport which is less physical, and it turned out well for him. He would have taken plenty of hits as a NFL WR without great speed, anyway.

    Football’s ledger sheet has more positives than negatives, and it’s depressing to see that fact not represented in the media.

  10. Samardzija’s lifetime stats: 59-77 4.10. What a country. He obviously made the right choice, but I think he would have been a much better FB player. Must be hard if you have that choice, but just like playing FB much more(not saying that was the case with JS).

  11. For a sport that’s unbearable to watch, I don’t know how they make all that revenue to pay those ridiculous salaries.

  12. He’s in a class by himself, a left hander pitcher is in high demand but only if you can get major leaguers out and a tall rangy WR who can catch. The good Lord didn’t make too many of this type so his decision is hardly applicable to anyone else.

  13. If I was 21 again, I’d be happy to be a scrub NFL player for several years and make a total of around 2 million, then move onto my real career.

  14. I remember a certain internet hack once had an article shortly after Samardzija joined baseball saying he made a mistake in his decision not understanding that getting lit up early in one’s career is common or all pitchers.

  15. Kirk Gibson was an All-American WR in college at Michigan State. He did okay in pro baseball (see Gibson v Eckersly in 1988 WS).

  16. While I grew up an NFL and MLB fan, I actually believe the NHL has surpassed both in terms of watchability and entertainment value.

    But back on topic…

    You forgot to mention that as a first round pick in baseball, you sign your contract and then go spend 3-4 years in the minors in relative obscurity.

    If you’re a first round pick for the Cowboys, you’re an instant starter and celebrity.

  17. Plus, as mentioned but not really elaborated, he gets paid that guaranteed money for being one of the top 5 starting pitchers on a team, not even close to a #1 or an ace. See what a #3 WR gets. In baseball, if you can make it past team control years, any starting caliber player is going to get 8 figures per year long-term. An average starting MLB player or back of rotation arm can get #1 QB money.

  18. kazwhopper says:
    May 13, 2017 10:47 AM
    Saying the money’s better is a little misleading in a generic argument about choosing between professional baseball and football. If you make it to the major leagues it is, but it is much much less in minor league baseball. There are numerous examples of guys who chose baseball and came back to football because they never made the major league level or at least consistently stayed there.
    And since there are no NFL minor leagues, there are plenty of guys who get cut from the NFL and have nowhere to play at all and never make it back even after being decent draft picks. At least with MiLB guys can get prorated salaries, lifetime health insurance for playing 1 day in the majors,minor league free agency and higher contracts after a certain amount of time, easily obtainable pension for an up and down player, etc.

  19. true if you can choose between being a top notch baseball player or top notch football player, choose baseball. but baseball has such a large minor league system that alot more people played baseball but never got a chance to make big money. even just league mininimum for a pro contract. odds are there is somebody within 10 miles of you that played pro baseball at some level.

    if you know you are going to get drafted to the nfl you are at least going to get a year of making over 300,000. not so with baseball, not even close.

  20. Todd Helton was Tennessee’s starting QB…for three weeks until going down with a knee injury and getting replaced by a then-freshman named Peyton Manning. Made his decision to concentrate on baseball pretty easy.

  21. Brian Jordan once made a similar decision and it worked out well for him. And, Jordan played in the NFL, and as I recall was pretty good. But, he eventually got enough money to sign a contract to only play baseball.

  22. smartanis says:
    May 13, 2017 10:50 AM
    Bo, apparently, did not know which sport to choose.


    When you’re a great athlete, Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, Deion Sanders, Jim Thorpe, and D.J. Dozier to name a few its not a matter of being able to choose its simply “I’m an athlete” and so I can.

  23. Samardzija could have been a pro bowler, and possible HOFer. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are the greatest athletes of our time. They are both arguably the greatest all time at their football positions, and both were star baseball players. Had the played baseball exclusively, they’d be HOFers in baseball too. I’m sure Deion could have been an NBA star too.

  24. Fueled in part by Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS …
    After reading that phrase, I could no longer finish the article because I was taken back to that moment when time seemed to slow down to a crawl for me (Braves fan). That inning that culminated with a half crippled Sid Bream lumbering towards home plate from 2nd base on a single and barely sliding in to score the series ending run is still etched in my mind. Guess I will have to finish the article now… 😉

  25. ” I’m sure Deion could have been an NBA star too.”


    And if Alabama had hockey rinks, Bo would have been a freak NHL player.

  26. Baseball you have to earn your way to the majors and to big money. Football he would have been a millionaire once selected in the draft (assuming he would have been a first round pick). So the question is do you go for the big money now, or take the risk and hope you can make the even bigger long term money. Ultimately his choice worked great for him, but had he got injured in the minors he would have never made the money had he got drafted and got injured in preseason.

  27. After spending what amounts to a full career (in football), baseballs Robinson Cano signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners for 1/4 of a BILLION dollars. That’s decent dough for the twilight of your career.

  28. Even just the union backing is so much better in baseball. The NFLPA is an absolute joke. Baseball has a powerful union for the players. Most importantly it keeps the commissioners powers at bay. The NFL wishes they had that.

  29. Plus as a starting pitcher you basically work once every five days. If you can stomach the possibility of a 110 mph line drive that can come screaming at your head on any given pitch it may be the greatest job in the world.

  30. Meanwhile, he’s 0-5 with a 5.44 ERA in 2017. He’s literally stealing money from the Giants. I always thought Bochy was smarter than this.

  31. Deion Sanders would have been forgotten by now if he chose baseball over football.

    See, I can hand-pick a scenario for my narrative as well.

  32. KC 1st round (#10) QB Patrick Mahomes II just chose football over baseball. He said he just liked playing a football more than as a baseball pitcher, even though his dad had a very successful career as an MLB pitcher. We’ll see how that goes, but the fact that pitchers suffer a lot more career ending arm injuries than QB’s do, might have been a factor. Hopefully, he won’t be throwing curveballs and screwballs to his WR’s.

  33. NFL players were scared that if they went on strike fans wouldn’t forgive them. yet when the NHL, NBA, and MLB players went on strike, fans didn’t even remember the strike a year later.

    NFL players were fools for accepting a salary cap AND no guaranteed contracts.

    but it works out for fans as the NFL is more competitive and more exciting than ever. sucks for them great for us!

  34. If you want to be recognized at airports and at clubs become an NFL player.

    If you want to actually make money and live a long, healthy life, and walk without a limp, and actually remember what your own name is when you’re 50, then join the NBA, NHL, or MLB…

  35. gauchosporlife says:
    May 13, 2017 12:14 PM
    For a sport that’s unbearable to watch, I don’t know how they make all that revenue to pay those ridiculous salaries.
    Hot dogs bro. Preposterous prices.

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