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Tim Tebow and the terrible footballers who came before him

In the beginning (of his baseball career), Tim tried his best. His swing was formless, and zeros hung over the surface of his stat line.

MLB: USA TODAY Sports-Archive Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

There are many ways to describe Tim Tebow. He’s a Christian, a large adult man, one of three Denver Broncos quarterbacks to win a playoff game, an Adidas spokesperson, a football analyst. The list goes on, but “future MLB star” is almost certainly not on it. His performance in the Arizona Fall League, which wrapped up play last week, has little to do with that fact; you just don’t see players make their MLB debuts after age 30 and excel (yes Kyle, I remember Junior Guerra, please put down the weapon).

Tebow finished the AFL season with a batting line of .194/.296/.242, which is pretty bad by most standards. It becomes quite impressive indeed, however, when one considers that his only previous baseball experience came against adolescents, and that he’s spent almost every waking moment in the 11-year interim trying to become a starting quarterback in the NFL. One surmises that the shift in difficulty between high school ball and the AFL, a showcase league filled with the best talent in the minors, is akin to asking a 10-year-old to put away his Legos and build a shopping center.

Tebow’s signing with the Mets, his addition to the Scottsdale Scorpions roster, and his general persistent habit of existing on the corporeal plane has enraged fun-hating, enchantment-free muggle baseball writers who can’t believe a football player is getting a shot like this, let alone the attention that he has garnered. Meanwhile Tebow has kept his head down, tried his best, maybe performed a miracle, and been generally nice to people.

This article isn’t really about Tim, though. It’s about the football playing baseball players who came, and failed, before him. Enjoy below a recounting of the careers of Tebow’s forefathers in baseball disappointment.

Dishonorable mention:

Javon Walker (WR, GB/DEN/OAK, 2002-09): .169/.279/.230 in 172 PA, primarily for the Marlins’ Gulf Coast League team. Probably tried his best, and I think that’s nice.

Brandon Weeden (QB, CLE/DAL/HOU, 2012-Present): 5.02 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 1.62 K:BB ratio in 374.1 minor league innings. Drafted in the 2nd round by the Yankees, he topped out at High-A High Desert after being selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft by Kansas City in 2005.

Cedric Benson (RB, CHI/CIN/GB, 2005-12): Spent a year with the Dodgers Gulf Coast team during his sophomore year at Texas. He collected five hits in 34 plate appearances, which is pretty good as far as present company is concerned.

John Elway (QB, DEN, 1983-98): .318/.432/.464 as a 22-year-old in High-A ball in 1982. Elway doesn’t really belong here with that line, I just thought you might like to know that he was actually good as hell at two sports.

George Halas

In 1920, George Halas invented the Decatur Staleys, the football team that would go on to be known as the Chicago Bears. This has caused a lot of people a lot of upset and is generally considered to have a bad move, particularly by extant Bears fans. Many most likely wish that Halas had just stuck with his initial plan of trying to be a professional baseball player instead of fiddling around with gridiron football. Unfortunately a hip injury, combined with generally poor play, rendered that possibility nonviable.

Halas, who played just one year of professional baseball, was one of six players the 1919 Yankees used to try to fill an offensive black hole (combined 82 wRC+) in right field. Halas was by leaps and bounds the worst of the lot, collecting only two singles in 22 plate appearances (eight for eight in putout chances, though — bully for you, George). The general lack of production from the position drove the Yankees to turn to the trade market to fill the right field void. That offseason, they acquired a 24-year-old from Boston in exchange for cash considerations. It worked out okay.

Shaq Thompson

A lot of multi-sport athletes are forced to choose at a relatively young age which sport they will focus on — there just aren’t a lot of Bo Jacksons and Deion Sanders (Sanderses? Sanderi? whatever) in the bucket, and these days most college football coaches won’t allow their players to split time. Some may wonder, no matter how successful their chosen careers are, what might have been if they’d chosen the other path. It’s what drives men like Michael Jordan to quit being the best basketball player ever to be terrible at something in Birmingham for a couple of years (well, that and a gambling addiction).

Shaq Thompson does not have to wonder if he chose the correct path. He was the worst professional baseball player of all time.

In 39 at bats for the Gulf Coast Red Sox in 2012, Thompson struck out 37 times. Pairing that with a rather generous 17.0% walk rate (folks, the GCL isn’t necessarily packed with high quality pitchers), Thompson managed to put the ball in play just twice — 4.2% of the time. I wrote the story of those two at bats last year but spoiler alert: they weren’t base hits. For comparison’s sake, the MLB record for most career strikeouts without a base hit is 24 by Daniel Cabrera; if we narrow the field to non-pitchers, it’s eight (at least you tried, Mike Potter).

Josh Booty

This inappropriately named fella tried to be a baseball player twice, and he failed twice. It’s a sad tale, one of promise unfulfilled and hope relentlessly clung to in the face of certain defeat.

Booty was the fifth (!!!) overall pick in 1994, and he spent five unsuccessful seasons in the Florida Marlins system. Including 30 major league plate appearances, Booty hit .199/.258/.356 in 1940 PA with an ugly 32.4% strikeout rate.

In between his two attempts to be a big league player, Booty played quarterback. After washing out as a baseball prospect in 1998 he enrolled at LSU as a 24-year-old sophomore. After two mostly bad seasons for the Tigers, Booty was drafted anyway when Seattle made him their 6th round selection in 2001. He never made the active roster for Seattle and spent the majority of his career in Cleveland, though he never entered a game. Being a quarterback on the Browns and never even getting a chance to play is an ignominious feat that Booty surely wishes he could expunge from the record books of time. God doesn’t have an undo button, friend.

Booty left the league in 2003 — or rather, the league left him — and for ten years, he wandered the earth in search of purpose. First he went to Kolkata, there to speak with the ancient, immortal monks who still dwell in the unsettled swamps of the Ganges Delta. From there he traveled to the highest peak in the Andes Mountains, Aconcagua, and sought solace there among the clouds. Still seeking an answer to the eternal questions that plagued his tortured mind, Booty then spent four years among the Inuit peoples of Alaska, who led him to search for the respite he so desperately craved among the ancient spirits that manifest themselves in the aurora borealis — the Northern Lights.*

In 2013, Booty returned to baseball as a knuckleball pitcher after winning “The Next Knuckler,” an MLB Network game show that pitted a number of B- to E-list sports celebrities (Doug Flutie! Josh’s brother John David!) against each other for a spot on Arizona’s Spring Training squad. He was terrible at it, because winning a game show does not qualify you to pitch against professional baseball players, and was cut before camp broke.

*In a post-facts America, I feel it necessary to point out that nothing in this paragraph is actually true. Please do not invite Josh Booty onto your podcast to talk about his travels.

Ricky Williams

Aw, what the hell, man! I wasted the madcap world-traveler bit on stupid John Booty and this cat was still in the chamber? I want that back. Please pretend that paragraph is also in this section. Thank you.

Ricky Williams, who burst onto the NFL scene at the onset of the fantasy football craze only to leave it behind a couple of years later to try his hand at —- well, you’re just gonna have to hear it from him — took a swing at professional baseball before his professional gridiron career got off the ground. He was an 8th round pick of the Phillies in 1995, and reached as high as Low-A ball playing every summer during college before ending his baseball career shortly after winning the ding dang Heisman Trophy. He ended up with a .211/.265/.261 batting line over four seasons and 613 PAs.

Williams was taken in the Rule 5 draft by the Expos in 1998 despite there being a literal 100% chance that he was going to play NFL football, which likely was the beginning of the end for baseball in Montreal to be quite honest. Texas immediately purchased his rights for $100,000 so they could take a dumb picture with him, a thing they apparently think is wildly effective because they keep doing it.

Most of the folks most put out by Tebow’s presence on their sacred baseball fields point to his performance in the AFL and say, “See, I told you so!” as if anything more could possibly be expected from a man who’d never faced professional pitching shaking off 11 years of rust. His .538 OPS ranked sixth-last among qualified hitters this fall — he beat out five “real” prospects who aren’t impostors or farces. Among them was catcher Jacob Nottingham, the No. 14 prospect in the Brewers loaded farm system, who finished with an OPS of .505. The AFL is all about serious competition though, so we all know what happened with Jacob.

He made the All Star team.

. . .

Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a Taylor Swift enthusiast and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke.