Mur­ray stuns Ath­let­ics with Twit­ter an­nounce­ment

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS -

MESA, Ariz. – Kyler Mur­ray’s name­plate was prom­i­nent above the locker. His uni­form was hang­ing from the stall. The Ath­let­ics spent Mon­day morn­ing talk­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about Mur­ray ar­riv­ing this week at spring train­ing camp.

It came crash­ing down at 12:46 p.m. ET.

That’s when Mur­ray, the Heis­man Tro­phy-win­ning quar­ter­back, re­vealed to all that he’s done with base­ball. His fu­ture is in the NFL.

“Mov­ing for­ward, I am firmly and fully com­mit­ting my life and time to be­com­ing an NFL quar­ter­back,” Mur­ray tweeted.

The A’s were stunned.

Not that Mur­ray chose foot­ball, but that he did it on Mon­day, even as the team said it was still ne­go­ti­at­ing with Mur­ray.

“We’ve known all along this was a pos­si­bil­ity,” Ath­let­ics gen­eral man­ager David Forst said. “We’ve been talk­ing to Kyler since the day we drafted him. We knew he had a great op­tion in the NFL. We’ve known how much he loves foot­ball and what a great po­si­tion he put him­self in with an in­cred­i­ble year.

“At no point did we think this wasn’t a pos­si­bil­ity.”

Still, the de­ci­sion stung.

The A’s were con­vinced Mur­ray would give up foot­ball and play base­ball when they selected him with the ninth over­all pick in June, giv­ing him a $4.66 mil­lion sign­ing bonus. They spent hun­dreds of hours scout­ing him. They were as­sured by him, his fam­ily and rep­re­sen­ta­tive Scott Bo­ras that he would play base­ball.

They were per­mit­ting him to play foot­ball for his ju­nior sea­son at Ok­la­homa, pray he didn’t get hurt and then watch him de­velop into an All-Star-cal­iber out­fielder.

“Things cer­tainly changed since the (2018 MLB) draft, given his amaz­ing foot­ball sea­son,” A’s Pres­i­dent Billy Beane said an hour be­fore Mur­ray’s an­nounce­ment. “It’s based on a his­toric col­lege foot­ball sea­son this young man had. To not rec­og­nize that would be some­what fool­ish.

“He’s a Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner. He’s pro­jected to be an early pick. We’ve had on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tions as it re­lates to Kyler’s fu­ture. Pe­riod. Not just with base­ball but po­ten­tially with other sports.

“More than any­thing, the sit­u­a­tion is fluid right now.”

The plans so­lid­i­fied with Mur­ray’s tweet.

Al­though the A’s placed Mur­ray on the re­stricted list, they re­tain the rights to him. Mur­ray will sur­ren­der all but $200,000 of the $4.6 mil­lion sign­ing bonus. But the first-round draft pick is gone.

“I have a hard time be­liev­ing he’s not go­ing to have a great foot­ball ca­reer,” A’s man­ager Bob Melvin said. “The game’s a gamer. I think he’s go­ing to have a long foot­ball ca­reer.’’

Tak­ing Mur­ray was al­ways go­ing to be a gam­ble, and the Ath­let­ics’ hold on him looked more and more ten­u­ous as the col­lege foot­ball sea­son went on.

The A’s, try­ing to stop the NFL mo­men­tum, even met with Mur­ray and his fam­ily a month ago in Dal­las. They were will­ing to rene­go­ti­ate, pro­vid­ing him a ma­jor league con­tract. They even brought in an MLB mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive to help their cause. It was of no use.

“In Kyler and his fam­ily’s de­fense,” Forst said, “they never asked us to do any­thing un­til they were go­ing to de­cide what they were go­ing to do. There were a lot of things that we talked about in­ter­nally, but it wasn’t like a ne­go­ti­a­tion that got cut off or any­thing like that.”

The A’s re­main open to Mur­ray hav­ing a change of heart or com­ing back to base­ball if he washes out in the NFL. But the longer he stays away from the game, the more dif­fi­cult it will be for him to reach the ma­jors.

He’s sim­ply too raw. He’s too in­ex­pe­ri­enced. He won’t have enough time to make up for the plate ap­pear­ances he’ll be los­ing.

But even Bo Jack­son, ar­guably the great­est two-sport star in his­tory, changed his mind.

Jack­son was a Heis­man Tro­phy win­ner in 1985 and snubbed the Buc­ca­neers af­ter be­ing selected with the first over­all pick. He in­stead chose base­ball and the Roy­als.

I cov­ered Jack­son ev­ery day for the first three years of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. We talked all the time. He had no in­ten­tion of play­ing foot­ball again.

He changed his mind at the 1987 Al­lS­tar break. The Raiders were will­ing to let him play once the Roy­als’ sea­son ended. And the mar­ket­ing money Nike was will­ing to pay him to be their spokesman play­ing both sports, launch­ing the “Bo Knows” cam­paign, made it im­pos­si­ble to turn down. The two-sport ride ended in Jan­uary 1991 with a ca­reer-end­ing hip in­jury.

“If I knew back then what I know now,” Jack­son told USA TO­DAY last year, “I would have never played foot­ball. Never. I wish I had known about all of those head in­juries, but no one knew that.”

Jack­son didn’t want to pub­licly com­ment on Mur­ray’s de­ci­sion Mon­day, say­ing sim­ply, “The only ad­vice that I could give that kid is to fol­low his heart.”

Mur­ray surely has done that, and no mat­ter how much the Ath­let­ics tried, they couldn’t take away his love for foot­ball.

“He’s go­ing to have a nice, lit­tle NFL ca­reer,” Melvin said, “and we’re go­ing to be root­ing for him. He’s a good kid. When you win the Heis­man Tro­phy, pretty good chance you’re go­ing to play foot­ball.

“Now I’ll be able to watch a foot­ball game and not be as ner­vous any­more. Just watch him play and not worry about him get­ting hurt.

“We’re big Kyler Mur­ray fans.”

JEFF CHIU/AP

Kyler Mur­ray will re­turn all but $200,000 of a $4.66 mil­lion sign­ing bonus the Ath­let­ics gave him last year af­ter he was taken with the ninth pick in the draft. Oak­land will con­tinue to re­tain his base­ball rights.

Bob Night­en­gale Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

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