Baseball, football go hand in hand for Rangers
Wilson among NFL, collegiate players selected in Drafts by club over years
ARLINGTON -- Dallas Green was the manager of the Yankees in 1989 when he made an observation about Rangers rookie Kevin Brown.
"He's going to be a good pitcher ... if he doesn't take up football," Green said.
Brown was not a football player. Green was taking an old-school shot at then-Rangers pitching coach Tom House, who had upset the baseball establishment by having his pitchers toss the football around in the outfield before games.
House's contention was the mechanics needed for pitching were the same ones used to throw a football properly and make a perfect spiral. The old schoolers scoffed until Nolan Ryan was seen throwing the pigskin around before his starts. Ryan said throwing the football helped loosen up his arm quicker and allowed him to throw fewer warmup pitches before a game.
"I eased into it, had positive results and slowly became a believer in its value," Ryan said in his book "The Pitcher's Bible."
Through the Rangers' history, there has been an occasional crossover between football and baseball, and that was shown again last week when the club selected Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Wilson was selected out of the Rockies organization as an infielder, even though he hasn't played baseball since the 2011 Minor League season.
Having enjoyed tremendous success with the Seahawks, Wilson isn't going to give up football for baseball, but he might make an appearance with the Rangers in Spring Training.
"I'm sure I'll go down there for Spring Training and just talk to some of their players, and hang out with some of them," Wilson told Seattle reporters last week. "It'd be kind of a cool experience, but that's down the road."
Considering that baseball and football have long been two of the top three sports in the United States, it's not surprising that the two occasionally get mixed with the Rangers. Call outfield coach Gary Pettis on any given Sunday in the early months of the offseason and you'll most likely catch him watching his nephew Austin, who is a wide receiver for the Rams. He had four catches on Sunday against the Saints.
Two years ago, the Rangers took a high school outfielder from Hueytown, Ala., but didn't sign him. Instead, Jameis Winston went to Florida State on a football scholarship and ended up winning the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night. Winston also said in a television interview that he still dreams of being a two-sport star like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson.
The Rangers never had a player attempt to make it in two sports at once. They did have Donald Harris, who was a star defensive back at Texas Tech and also played baseball there as well. The Rangers selected and signed him as their No. 1 pick in the 1989 First-Year Player Draft, and a few years later, he was also drafted by the Cowboys. Harris only played in 82 games for the Rangers and never did play for the Cowboys.
Winston is not the first Heisman Trophy winner who was technically under the Rangers' control. Ricky Williams was drafted by the Phillies out of high school in the eighth round of the 1995 Draft. He played Minor League baseball for four summers while spending the autumn running the football for the University of Texas.
Williams won the Heisman in 1998 and then was selected by the Expos in the Rule 5 Draft. The Expos traded his rights to the Rangers, but he never did play baseball for them. But Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said Williams was the fastest player he ever saw.
The Rangers also took outfielder Riley Cooper in the 25th round of the 2009 Draft with the understanding he would play baseball after he finished his senior season as a wide receiver at the University of Florida. But Cooper was taken in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in 2010 by the Eagles and ended up playing football instead.
The Rangers did have Brian Jordan for one season in 2004 near the end of his baseball career. Jordan was a defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons from 1989-91 while playing baseball in the Cardinals' Minor League system. His football career ended when the Cards rewarded him financially for sticking with baseball.
Hey, do you "Remember the Titans"? That's right, the 2000 Disney movie about the T.C. Williams High School football team from Alexandria, Va., which won a state football championship and starred Denzel Washington. The real Williams football team beat Salem (Va.) Andrew Lewis High School in the state championship game.
Former Rangers outfielder Billy Sample was a wide receiver on the losing Andrew Lewis team. Two weeks earlier, he caught the winning touchdown pass in the quarterfinal game to help his team advance toward cinema infamy.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.