Hughes has a keen eye for multisport talents
Veteran scout has drafted and signed the likes of Elway, DeShields and Lynch
Red Sox scout Gary Hughes has a special interest in Sunday's NFL playoff games. And not just because he, like New England quarterback Tom Brady, is an alum of Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif.
For Hughes, the intrigue is that three of the four quarterbacks on Sunday afternoon were also drafted by professional baseball. Brady was an 18th-round Draft pick of Montreal in 1995. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was a 43rd-round pick of the Cubs in 2009 (and Hughes' son, Sam, was the area scout on that selection). Russell Wilson was Colorado's fourth-round pick in 2010.
Having played with Jim Fregosi at Serra High, Hughes was converted early to the belief in multisport athletes.
"Jimmy wasn't a two-sport star," said Hughes, who was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Baseball America in 2007 and was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in '09. "He was a four-sport star: football, basketball, track and baseball. He held the California state record in the broad jump. That shows you how old we are.
"When I saw how quickly Jimmy went from high school to the big leagues in baseball, it made me realize if you have the elite athlete and they commit themselves to baseball, they will advance quickly."
Hughes has a long list of multisport players he drafted.
Three stand out -- John Elway (Yankees), Delino DeShields (Expos) and John Lynch (Marlins).
In his third year as a scout with the Yankees, Hughes, whose area was Northern California, was the Yanks' point man in scouting Elway at Stanford. Drafted in the second round in 1981, Elway quarterbacked Stanford that fall as a junior, signed with the Yankees and played at Rookie-level Oneonta in the summer of '82.
Appearing in only 42 of Oneonta's 76 games because he had to get back to Stanford for football, Elway led the team with a .318 batting average. He also stole 13 bases, hit four home runs and drove in 25 runs.
The first pick of the NFL Draft in 1983 by the Baltimore Colts, the Yanks provided Elway the leverage to force the Colts to trade him to the Denver Broncos. In Denver he became a Hall of Fame quarterback and now serves as the team's president.
In the NFL at that time, the Colts would have lost the rights to sign Elway after one year because he had signed professionally with a baseball team.
"We were out fishing one day after the football draft, and I asked him what he was going to do," remembered Hughes. "He said, 'If they don't trade me, I'm going to play baseball.' I laughed, but he told me he was dead serious."
Elway got his wish -- he was traded. Hughes lost his hot prospect.
DeShields was just the opposite. He was Villanova's No. 1 basketball recruit in the spring of 1987. Legendary Villanova basketball coach Rollie Massimino told DeShields he would start at guard as a freshman.
Hughes, who was scouting director with Montreal at the time, used the 12th pick in the first round of the Draft to selected DeShields. Hughes signed DeShields with the understanding the young infielder would be allowed to play basketball, too.
"We signed him for $75,000 -- which was under market because of the basketball agreement, and then the third week of the short season at Bradenton, I got a call from Jerry Manuel, our field coordinator, who said Deli now wants to just play baseball.
"I told Jerry we were not supposed to talk to Deli now about that. We had promised we wouldn't bring it up. We were going to respect his decision. Jerry said, "Gary, we haven't said a word. He came to us."
A week later, Hughes arrived in Bradenton, Fla., and met with DeShields, who reiterated he decided to devote himself to baseball, then signed a couple papers Hughes asked him to sign.
"After that, I told him to never sign anything he hadn't read first," said Hughes. "I had given him a new contract, negating the $75,000 bonus and giving him $125,000, because that's what he should have gotten if he was just going to play baseball."
Lynch was the Marlins' second-round pick in 1992, the first time the expansion team was allowed to select. A pitcher at Stanford, Lynch had decided to give up football and commit himself to baseball. He actually started the first game in the Marlins' organizational history -- for Erie in the New York-Penn League.
At midseason, however, Lynch had a change of heart. Stanford coach Dennis Green resigned to become head coach of the NFL Minnesota Vikings, and Bill Walsh returned to coach Stanford.
"John called me and told me he always wanted to play for Bill Walsh," said Hughes, the first scouting director in Marlins history. "I told him I understood. … Besides, you don't want a guy who isn't happy."
What Hughes wants is a player who is happy, and is talented. And the more sports he is talented in, the more Hughes likes it.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.