OAKLAND — Several weeks ago, baseball super-agent Scott Boras sat in an airport waiting for a flight. On television was a replay of a college baseball game between Oklahoma and TCU, featuring a young outfielder Boras had known nearly all his life.
Kyler Murray — who spends his falls as a quarterback for the Sooners — stepped up to the plate and laid into a 93-mph fastball. Boras — who had seen Murray play high school football and go undefeated on his way to three straight state titles — called one of his employees, Calvin Murray.
It was 1 a.m. when Calvin — Kyler’s uncle who played five seasons in the Major Leagues, and who happens to work for Boras — picked up the phone.
“Uh oh,” Boras said. “We’ve got a baseball player here.”
In an age of specialization, Kyler Murray — the Oakland A’s top pick, No. 9 overall in last week’s MLB Draft — has excelled as both a baseball player and as a five-star quarterback, who will be fighting to succeed Baker Mayfield this fall. After officially signing with the A’s, he was introduced on Friday to the Oakland media, and took batting practice on the field.
“This is one of the most dynamic athletes that we’ve ever selected here since I’ve been here,” said Oakland Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane.
During batting practice, Murray peppered the right field wall, slugged a home run into the bleachers in left and roped a pair of would-be doubles down the left field line.
“Some guys have great skill that become baseball players, and some guys are just good athletes who happen to get by on athleticism,” Beane said. “When you combine the two, you’ve got a pretty special player. There are a few guys in this sport who are like that, and we think this kid has the opportunity to be one of those guys.”
Selected as an outfielder, Murray has spent much of his baseball life as a middle infielder, but his speed — 22 stolen bases in 27 attempts over 78 games — allows him to cover a lot of ground. It’s why one of the most persistent comparisons has been to A’s great Ricky Henderson.
“I’ve watched a lot of his film,” Murray said. “Great player, a legend, obviously, but I’m pretty confident in my own skills, so hopefully, one day kids can be looking up to me.”
“I’ll let Kyler say it; not me,” said Beane. “But, this is a guy that’s fun to watch play.”
It just so happens that Henderson was Calvin’s favorite player growing up. Murray has not yet had a chance to speak with Henderson, but he has the swagger, if maybe at lower decibels.
“It’s a mind game out there,” Murray said. “That’s the thing, my skill set, I can do both — if you want me to lay down the bunt, I can do that, but if you want me to hit one over the fence, I believe I can do that. It’s obviously a luxury to have.”
During a late-season game this spring, before he suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain, Murray walked over to first-year Oklahoma head coach Skip Johnson for a confab before heading to the plate.
Murray, up with a man on first and second, asked Johnson if he was going to give him the bunt sign. He had clocked a 3.7-second time to first, after all.
“I said, ‘If we have to bunt you, we’re bunting you,’ and he goes, ‘Hey, man, don’t give me the bunt; I’ve got this guy,’” Johnson said. “He hits a ball that almost decapitates the third baseman. If he wouldn’t have hooked it [for a double], he’d have hit it nine miles.”
Baseball had been rather secondary in Kyler Murray’s life. Summers were dedicated to seven-on-seven, falls were of course for football games, and springs were dedicated to spring football.
After one year playing quarterback at Texas A&M — his father Kevin’s alma mater — Kyler decided to transfer due to coaching tumult. He left College Station in December of 2015 and didn’t play baseball that spring. After hitting .122 in 49 at-bats in his first season with the Sooners, he headed to the Cape Cod League this past summer, where he hit just .170, but learned the value of a base hit.
That dynamic athleticism and speed were rust-proof. Even though he had just six hits in his first season with the Sooners, he had 12 stolen bases. He stole four bases in six attempts in the Cape.
“I’ve always known that the ingredients were there,” said Calvin. “I saw the few at-bats, I saw the struggles, and he started to put some stuff together this spring, and I was like, ‘Ah hah, he’s finally figuring it out.’ This is what I’ve told buddies in inner circles — he’s as good at baseball as he is at football.”
“Over the summer, I realized I’m kind of decent at the game,” Murray said.
By the time he returned to Norman, he made a leap.
“The biggest thing that stuck out to me was his approach,” Johnson said. “Missing two years of baseball, usually hitting-wise, that’s where you have to catch up, but man, I’m telling you, his approach at the plate was spot-on … the one thing that really stuck out to me was he wasn’t afraid of the ball. Good hitters are not afraid of the ball. Great hitters are not afraid of the ball.”
Calvin records all his nephew’s games. Calvin, his brother and Kyler have a group chat that includes snippets of Kyler’s own games, Major League games, advice, techniques and commentary.
“We go through at-bats, talk about approaches, trying to give him some baseball perspective,” Calvin said. “He’s a perfectionist. Sometimes he can get really, really frustrated with a 1-for-4 or an 0-for-3 … It’s almost like this is the post-game discussion.”
Having gone 42-0 as the starting quarterback at Allen (Tex.) in high school, with three state titles, Murray doesn’t suffer losing — or failing — lightly.
It’s why this year, despite having just 12 practices with the Oklahoma baseball team, Murray hit .291 with 46 runs, 13 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases. It’s why the A’s were perfectly fine with him playing one more season of football, if they can get him in their system.
There is an insurance policy, Boras confirmed, in case Murray is hurt during his final year of football. Even if Murray stays healthy, wins the national championship and wins the Heisman on the football field, though, that won’t shift his focus.
“No, no,” Calvin said. “He’s full-steam ahead.”