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Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Woodling

Woodling: Jayhawks have history with signees in draft

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History does repeat, and sometimes in a way that leaves you with an uncanny feeling of dejà vu.

When Kansas University basketball signee C.J. Henry was selected in Tuesday's baseball draft, the moment was eerily reminiscent of exactly 20 years ago when KU football signee Brian McRae also was a first-round baseball draftee.

The franchises are different but -- and here's the odd coincidence -- each was the 17th player tapped. McRae went to the Royals and Henry was snatched by the Yankees.

The selection of Henry was no surprise. Just about every mock baseball draft had the son of former KU basketball players Carl Henry and Barbara Adkins going to the Yankees with the 17th pick, and few expected he ever would enroll for KU's fall classes.

That wasn't the case with McRae. In 1985, most baseball gurus didn't even list McRae as a Top 50 draft prospect. Yet the Royals management wasn't about to let the 17-year-old son of 39-year-old designated hitter Hal McRae get away.

Although he never admitted it in public, KU football coach Mike Gottfried was stunned by McRae's lofty pick. With McRae expected to be a fifth- or sixth-round baseball draft choice, Gottfried felt justified in offering a precious scholarship to the 6-foot, 170-pound wide receiver/defensive back out of Blue Springs (Mo.) High.

McRae had reinforced Gottfried's faith by saying just before he signed a KU tender that he wouldn't even consider the baseball draft. "I'm going to college," McRae stressed. "I'm real happy with my decision. I won't change my mind."

Meanwhile, Kansas baseball coach Marty Pattin also was smiling because of Gottfried's intent to excuse McRae from spring practice so he could play for Pattin's team. But four days after the '85 draft, McRae signed a professional baseball contract that guaranteed him a six-figure bonus.

"That's great," said KU baseball coach Marty Pattin, ironically a former Royals pitcher. "It's not great for me, but there's not much I can do."




In theory, young McRae still was eligible to play football in college, but the only pro baseball players who wind up with collegiate football careers are the ones who wash out in the minor leagues.

McRae did not wash out in the minors, but he was spending his sixth summer in the bushes when the Royals recalled him from Double A ball in early August of 1990. McRae went on to have a 10-year major league career, finally retiring in 1999 with a .261 lifetime batting average while playing for the Royals, Cubs, Mets and a couple of other clubs.

In 1991, when I sat down with him for an interview, McRae admitted he often mused how fate had intervened and changed his life.

"If I hadn't gone in the first round, I would have gone to KU," he told me at the time. "Sometimes I've wondered what it would have been like if I'd come to Lawrence."

We'll never know, of course. If McRae had opted for college football, he very well could have developed into an NFL-quality defensive back. Then again, he might have become a pro wide receiver, although his size may have been a red flag at that position.

Regardless, even though he spent six years in the minors, the odds of him lasting 10 years in the major leagues were much higher than surviving a decade in the NFL. And, according to estimates, McRae made at least $20 million during his major-league career.

Today, McRae is listed as a part owner of WHB radio 810 in Kansas City. He works for MLB.com Radio and also does stints with Kansas City's Metro Sports cable outlet.

Without much doubt, McRae made the right decision about his future. We can only guess, however, about Henry.

At 6-3 and 205 pounds, Henry seems more suited to baseball than basketball because if you're that size and hope to play in the NBA, you had better possess extraordinary skills. In pro basketball, 6-3 guards are a dime a dozen.

So, at this stage of Henry's life, it seems likely that, barring injury, he will, like McRae, make a lot of money swinging a bat.

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