Snake on the diamond
A rare left-handed QB, Stabler became a star with the Oakland Raiders, spending the first 10 years of a 15-season career with the franchise. Named to the National Football League's all-decade team for the 1970s, he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1974 and led the Raiders to a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the 1977 Super Bowl.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound “Snake” earned his nickname for his slithery moves running with a football. He was just as elusive, however, when it came to signing a contract to play baseball. Though he never played professional baseball, Stabler was drafted three times by major league teams: the New York Yankees in the 10th round of the 1966 June amateur draft; the New York Mets in the 11th round of the 1967 January amateur draft-secondary phase; the Houston Astros in the 2nd round of the 1968 January amateur draft-regular phase.
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Stabler was a prep star at Foley (Ala.) High School, excelling in football, basketball and as a pitcher on the baseball team. The lefty, who handed future Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton his lone high school defeat, won nine games his senior year, finishing with 125 strikeouts and five shutouts.
Soon enough, though, the Astros director of player personnel, Tal Smith, said the Astros would not enter a bidding war over Stabler.
According to Smith, Stabler was the seventh man on a seven-man list and the other six had been already been taken when Houston’s turn came in the second round of the draft. Smith added that Stabler had been put on the list because a 1966 report showed the Astros were “mildly interested.”
In March 1968, Stabler made his future clear when he signed a two-year contract with the Raiders. One of Stabler’s attorneys, Jack E. Propst, said Houston made a “very attractive” offer but that “Kenny felt that Oakland gave him the best opportunity for his long range situation.”
“Kenny’s real happy that he’s finally made his decision,” Propst added. “Now he knows in which direction his future lies.”
A number of high profile NFL quarterbacks have been drafted by big league baseball teams over the years. Just narrowing down the list to those QBs who started in the Super Bowl includes Tom Brady (Expos – 1995, 18th round), Patrick Mahomes (Tigers – 2014, 37th round), Russell Wilson (Orioles – 2007, 41st round; Rockies – 2010, 4th round), John Elway (Royals – 1979, 18th round; Yankees – 1981, 2nd round), Dan Marino (Royals – Royals, 4th round), Joe Theismann (Twins – 1971, 39th round), Colin Kaepernick (Cubs – 2009, 43rd round), Steve McNair (Mariners – 1991, 35th round) and Kerry Collins (Tigers – 1990, 26th round; Tigers – 1991, 60th round; Blue Jays – 1994, 48th round).
Kenneth Michael Stabler, who was born on Christmas Day 1945, passed away on July 8, 2015 at the age of 69. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum