The Kansas City Royals last week flashed back to the past by signing NFL quarterback Pat White in a move that conjures up memories of the old Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy which I wrote about here in June.
Judging by the internet commentary on this move, it is being seen as comical or a case of pure desperation by either White or the Royals and is being dismissed entirely by baseball and football fans alike.
For those unfamiliar with White, he was a star college quarterback for West Virginia for several years and noted for his unique combination of running and passing ability. White is rather short for an NFL quarterback and lacked the great arm strength desired by NFL scouts. Many thought he would be best suited as a wide receiver and might be converted by a team like fellow college quarterbacks Antwaan Randle-El or Patrick Crayton and many others have done successfully.
The Miami Dolphins thought differently and drafted him in the second round with plans to use him in their much-hyped “Wildcat” formation which was wildly successful in its first year of operation.
A year later, the Dolphins infatuation with White has apparently waned and he was released as an NFL camp casuality in his second year. This posed a problem for White because a team that might want him as a WR cannot place him on their practice squad because he has too much NFL service time and no teams are interested in making him a backup quarterback right at the beginning of the season.
White has long been pursued by major league baseball teams, being drafted by the California Angels in the fourth round out of high school in 2004. He was subsequently drafted again by the Angels, Reds and Yankees in the last part of the draft.
As a high schooler, White projected as a Carl Crawford-type outfielder with the speed to play center field. He hit .487 his senior year of high school and might have been taken in the second round if not for his quarterbacking abilities.
Now, the question is can Pat White play baseball at age 24? Most seem to think not. It’s a question of Nature or Nurture. And most seem to come down on the Nurture side of things.
Are baseball players born or developed? Has Pat White’s window of opportunity closed because he hasn’t swung the bat for so long or is his brain arranged in such a way that he was born to hit a baseball?
There is reason to think it is possible that White could be playing in the major leagues in a few years. Consider the case of Ron LeFlore.
LeFlore did not grow up playing baseball or any sport for that matter. He was incarcerated at age 19 and began playing sports because he noticed that the prison athletes received extra free time from the guards to play their sports. He began by playing basketball and then was invited to play softball, ultimately graduating to the prison baseball team where he began playing at age 23.
In a community service visit to the prison, Tigers manager Billy Martin was cornered by the inmates who urged him to give LeFlore a tryout. Martin promised he would. Upon his release from prison, LeFlore unexpectedly took Martin up on that promise. Martin didn’t really remember LeFlore but made good on his pledge and ultimately signed him to a contract over the objections of Tigers ownership after a prodigious batting practice display. It was real-life shock and awe.
And how much did LeFlore’s late start set him back? He was signed at age 25 and hit .273 in a 73 at-bat stint in Class A. The next year, he hit .339 in 423 at-bats in Class A and was promoted to AAA and the Tigers shortly afterward. Just one year after signing and three years after beginning playing the sport, LeFlore hit .260 in the major leagues and eventually became a .300 hitter and stole as many as 97 bases in a season.
Or consider Rick Ankiel who went back to hitting at age 25 when he could no longer throw a strike and eventually hit 25 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals at age 28.
Or consider the way Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson tore through the minor leagues despite never really being all that serous about baseball.
There is also Josh Hamilton. You know him, right?
As talented as White may be, my guess is that he does not have the baseball talents of a Ron LeFlore. I suspect that White is not committed enough to baseball and will bolt for his first chance in the NFL or professional football. I will not be at all surprised if White manages to hit Class A pitching rather well, though.
I’ll put White’s odds at being a major league baseball player at 1 in 15. However, if White was truly destined to be a All-Star major-league baseball player and was another Carl Crawford, he’ll be playing center field for the Royals in three years. No joke.
It’s been done before — more than once.