No draft pick in NFL history has had a bigger impact on the league than the New England Patriots’ selection of Tom Brady in 2000. A draft-day afterthought, the Michigan product did not come off the board until the sixth round with the now famous pick number 199, but went on to become the greatest quarterback to ever play the game; a six-time Super Bowl champion and future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Professional football, the Patriots organization and Brady’s athletic career itself could have looked quite differently, however, had he made a different choice back in 1995.
Shortly after Brady graduated from San Mateo’s Junípero Serra High School, pro baseball’s Montreal Expos decided to select the then-17-year-old in the 18th round of the MLB draft. After all, Brady played not only football in high school but also appeared in 61 varsity baseball games. He posted a solid stat line, hitting .331 with eight home runs, 11 doubles and 44 runs. He also was named an all-league catcher as a high school senior.
By his own account, Brady “was a much better baseball player” than he was a quarterback — and he was not the only one to feel that way. “Tommy’s makeup was just so fantastic: the leadership, competitiveness and the athletic tools,” his former coach, Pete Jensen, said to the Globe & Mail in 2012. “I actually felt he was a better baseball player in high school than he was a football player. I told everyone he would play in the majors some day.”
That day almost came in June 1995, when the Expos took a late-round flyer on Brady (just like the Patriots would five years later). “I think he could have been one of the greatest catchers ever,” then-Expos general manager Kevin Malone told Bleacher Report in 2017. ”I know that’s quite a statement, but the projections were based on the fact we had a left-hand-hitting catcher, with arm strength and who was athletic.”
Obviously, Malone was unable to bring Brady to the team: despite his talents and upside as a baseball player, Brady followed his passion and committed to Michigan on a football scholarship. The Expos still tried to lure him away from the Wolverines but were unable to change his mind. “His first love was football,” said Montreal’s former GM about Brady — a baseball draft pick that is now pro football’s biggest star.
Brady was not the only future Patriot to get selected in the 1995 MLB draft, by the way. The Detroit Tigers selected Lawyer Milloy in the 19th round, while the Cleveland Indians picked Michael Bishop in the 28th. Like Brady, however, both men decided to stick to football — a decision that ultimately led them to New England: Milloy was drafted by the organization in the second round in 1996, Bishop in the seventh three years later.
While Bishop’s tenure with the Patriots lasted only two years, Milloy was with the club until after it had won its first Super Bowl — playing a key role on that first championship team and as a “founding father” of the so-called Patriot Way. Brady, on the other hand, proved to be even more steadfast: still going strong at age 41, he just led New England to its sixth championship since he took over as the starter in 2001.
Would the most successful player in NFL history have found similar success in baseball? Not impossible, if Malone is to be believed. “It would’ve been fun to see, you know, how he would have progressed and developed and produced in the major league level,” said the man who drafted Tom Brady five years before the Patriots did. “It was wasn’t meant to be. I’m happy for him. He’s had a great career. He’s done amazing things.”