Did Michael Vick seriously consider leaving football to take a swing at Major League Baseball?
He hadn’t played organized baseball since he was a kid, but the Colorado Rockies thought the QB could have been a contender
Larry Bowles turned on his personal computer, dialed up the internet and anxiously awaited the moment his life would change. It was June 6, 2000, which marked the start of Major League Baseball’s annual first-year player draft, and Bowles was eligible to be selected after three years as a left-handed pitcher at Virginia Tech. So from the bulky machine in his apartment bedroom, he listened intently to the three-minute, tape-delayed “live” broadcast.
Five hours and 10 rounds came and went as the first day of the draft drew to a close. Day 2 slugged along, from Round 15 to 20, to 25 and beyond. Eventually, Bowles heard a familiar name — but it wasn’t his. Instead it belonged to another left-handed athlete from his school. He can clearly recite the cadence of that 30th-round announcement from memory.
The Colorado Rockies select Michael Vick, outfielder from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Yes, that Michael Vick, the then-19-year-old starting quarterback for Virginia Tech football who hadn’t played a single inning of baseball since his eighth-grade year at Huntington Middle School in his hometown of Newport News, Virginia. Vick had become a top high school football recruit before committing to Virginia Tech, where he quickly emerged as the most exhilarating player in all of college football. When it came to signal-callers, Vick was the archetype of dual-threat. He had the speed of a cheetah, having clocked a jaw-dropping 4.25-second 40-yard dash during spring ball in 2000. And, most important for his position, he possessed a cannon of an arm. “The guy could throw a football,” said Bowles, now 39, from his home in Callaway, Virginia, “like nobody I’d ever seen at the time.”
Those physical gifts, along with some wishful thinking, led the Rockies to roll the dice on Vick with the 887th overall pick in the 2000 draft. He was taken just eight slots after four-time All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler, and seven after future Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award-winning first baseman Adam LaRoche. One of Colorado’s local scouts, Jay Matthews, tracked down Vick’s number, and members of the Rockies’ front office called Vick to deliver the news just as he was walking into a weight room.
“I didn’t believe them when they told me,” Vick told MLB.com in 2000. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in me for baseball. … Growing up, I dreamed about playing football and baseball. I wanted to be like Deion Sanders.”
Vick’s childhood hero is the lone player in history to play in both a Super Bowl and World Series, as well as the only one to suit up for both an NFL and MLB game in the same day. Sanders, who played nine seasons in the majors for the Yankees, Braves, Reds and Giants, was selected twice in the MLB draft: the first time in 1985 by the Kansas City Royals in the sixth round and again in 1988 by the Yankees in the same round, the 30th, in which Vick would ultimately be chosen 12 years later.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear Mike’s name,” recalled Bowles. “I actually left the room to tell some of my teammates he’d been picked by Colorado. I came back and heard my name.” Three selections after Vick, the Anaheim Angels drafted Bowles, making them the only two picks from Virginia Tech that year. “I’m still a little upset that he went ahead of me,” Bowles said with a laugh. He’d soon decide to chase his dream of playing in the big leagues. But Vick had a choice to make.
“Michael hadn’t played in a long time, but we took a shot and really had nothing to lose,” Rockies vice president of scouting Bill Schmidt said before an early July game. He handed the phone over to Danny Montgomery, a longtime special assistant to the ballclub’s general manager position. Almost two decades ago, he was the biggest advocate of drafting Vick. “The athleticism with that kid … man,” Montgomery said of Vick’s 1999 season, in which he finished third in Heisman Trophy voting as the nation’s leader in passer efficiency while leading the Hokies to the national championship game as a redshirt freshman during his first season starting.
“Seeing him on the tube, he was one of the best athletes in the country. For us, it’s about opening the gate for athletes in our system, and we have no problems taking opportunities and chances like that to see if football players want to entertain our business.”
Yet could Colorado persuade Vick, a rapidly rising star, to step away from his dominant sport, even for a mere offseason, to give baseball a try? “I can’t miss too much football,” Vick said the day he was drafted. “But I might talk to the Rockies … you never know.”
Notable NFL Quarterbacks drafted by MLB teams
- Ken Stabler (drafted by New York Yankees in 1966, New York Mets in 1967 and Houston Astros in 1968)
- Archie Manning (drafted by Atlanta Braves in 1967 and Chicago White Sox in 1971)
- Dan Marino (drafted by Kansas City Royals in 1979)
- John Elway (drafted by Royals in 1979, Yankees in 1981)
- Steve McNair (drafted by Seattle Mariners in 1991)
- Tom Brady (drafted by Montreal Expos in 1995)
- Daunte Culpepper (drafted by Yankees in 1995)
- Michael Vick (drafted by Rockies in 2000)
- Brandon Weeden (drafted by Yankees in 2002)
- Matt Cassel (drafted by Oakland Athletics in 2004)
- Russell Wilson (drafted by Baltimore Orioles in 2007, Rockies in 2010)
- Colin Kaepernick (drafted by Chicago Cubs in 2009)
- Jameis Winston (drafted by Texas Rangers in 2012)
No previous contact had been made between the Rockies and Virginia Tech’s quarterback before Vick got the call on draft day, so Colorado’s decision was unexpected but not an anomaly. The selection of elite high school and college football players has become a commonly practiced tradition in Major League Baseball since the first amateur draft in 1965. Countless athletes who’ve gone on to make it in the NFL have previously been drafted by MLB teams. And most organizations are attracted to one particular position on the gridiron.
“I’ve drafted my fair share of football players and have taken a lot of quarterbacks,” Schmidt said of a list that includes Todd Helton, Seth Smith, Kyle Parker and, most notably, Wilson. The Rockies selected the four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion in the fourth round in 2010 before he became a third-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. (Wilson’s baseball rights now belong to the Yankees, with whom he attended spring training this year.) “I always sort of focus on the quarterback,” Schmidt continued, “because of the leadership and toughness they bring.”
Yet, as history has proven, elite college quarterbacks will choose the NFL over MLB more often than not. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t listen to what pro baseball teams have to say. Ten days after the 2000 draft, Vick and his mother, Brenda, agreed to meet with Rockies officials in Newport News.
“The most important thing to consider is, where’s the kid’s passion?” Schmidt said. “Mike’s was in football, and we figured that. But sometimes you don’t know until you ask.” Vick welcomed the Rockies’ Montgomery and Matthews into his family’s three-bedroom apartment in the Ridley Circle housing project. Sitting across from him, Colorado’s assistant general manager and scout shared a straightforward pitch to the 1999 Big East Rookie and Offensive Player of the Year, headed into his final season before gaining NFL draft eligibility.
“We didn’t want to interfere with the fact that he was going to be with one of the better guys in all of college football,” Montgomery recalled. “We just went in and took an opportunity to meet with the kid to see if baseball was something he wanted to explore, not necessarily try to take him away from his football aspirations.”
Per NCAA rules, Vick could’ve played summer ball in the minors for the Rockies and still maintained his college football eligibility. Colorado even had a Class A affiliate, the Salem Avalanche, located approximately 30 miles from Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus, where Vick had to report for training camp on Aug. 4, 2000, ahead of the upcoming season. “I was thinking maybe we could get him to Salem,” Montgomery said. “Not necessarily put him on the field, but put him in a uniform.” And if he did one day crack a minor league lineup? Members of the organization were crystal clear on where they envisioned Vick, who’d both pitched and roamed the outfield as a middle schooler, would fit in. “We would’ve played him in the outfield,” Schmidt said matter-of-factly.
According to a report at the time from The Associated Press, the Rockies had until the first day of the fall semester to sign Vick to a contract. “I was about to take that money,” Vick, now 38, told The Undefeated in January. “I grew up from nothing … we didn’t have anything, and my family was still living in the ‘hood. … College was a struggle, and I was far removed from baseball, but the Rockies came at me … ”
Exact dollars and cents were never discussed, Montgomery said. But Vick clearly had sense of responsibility beyond his years. He knew that getting paid to play pro baseball would help his family far more than playing college football for free. “We saw a guy that was definitely trying to get out of the environment he was in,” Montgomery said. “And he was gonna do everything he could to make it.”
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech’s Hall of Fame head football coach, gave Vick his blessing to pursue a career in baseball. He also imparted some wisdom that has never been lost upon his former star quarterback. “Coach told me, ‘At the end of the day, son, you’re gonna make millions in football. Just be patient,’ ” Vick said. “I was patient for another season, and it worked out.”
After his meeting with the Rockies, four days passed before Vick came to a final decision to stick solely with football for the remainder of his career at Virginia Tech. “There’s too much at stake,” Vick told The Roanoke Times on June 21, 2000. “I need to learn everything I can right now to prepare me for the next level. I’m concentrating on football. I’m not really worried about this baseball thing. What matters to me most is me winning for my football team. I ain’t played baseball in six, seven years, so how can I go to play baseball when football is right around the corner?”
Vick declared for the NFL draft at the end of his redshirt sophomore season — which he capped off by being named MVP of the 2001 Gator Bowl. Nearly four months later, the Atlanta Falcons selected Vick with the top overall pick in the NFL draft, making him the first African-American quarterback to go No. 1. The six-year, $62 million contract he’d sign with the Falcons also made history as the richest rookie deal the league had ever seen at the time. Beamer was right.
But in an alternate universe, could Vick have really played for an MLB team? Sanders and Bo Jackson, the only athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both baseball and football, did. Michael Jordan even came close. So why not Vick?
“If he can throw a football 60 yards, he should’ve been able to throw a baseball quite a bit further. ‘Stick him in an outfield, let him run down some fly balls and turn him into a hitter’ was probably the mindset Colorado had when they took him,” said Bowles, who spent three seasons in the Angels organization. He now works for a metal manufacturing company and volunteers as an assistant coach for his local American Legion baseball program. “Mike had the mentality to compete to win. I think his athletic ability would’ve given him a very good shot to climb up through an organization and potentially play in the big leagues. He would’ve been a good one to watch.”
Back in 2000, the thought process was actually the opposite. “You never know. What if the NFL don’t work out?” Vick said the day he turned the Rockies down. “As long as they understand that I can’t do it right now and the offer is still there in the future, maybe I have to keep in contact with them.”
Schmidt vowed to stay in touch with Vick too. But the two have never met, and they only spoke on the phone once, when Colorado drafted him as a project in 2000. The supreme athleticism that the ballclub admired deeply allowed him to revolutionize the game of football from the quarterback position. But the Rockies hoped to see the day that Vick could show off that speed and arm on a baseball diamond.
“We’ll never know how it would’ve played out,” Schmidt said. “We would’ve liked to have the opportunity to see what might have transpired with Michael Vick on a baseball field.”
Stats courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info; confirmed by Elias Sports Bureau