“Looking back, I think I tried to out-athlete baseball and you can’t do that..”
The late 1980s and early 90s were the glory years of the two-sport athlete.
Bo Jackson laid the groundwork and Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan followed.
What they were doing was superhero status and by the time 1994 came around, the sports world was ready to take the next step.
Word started circulating in the sports world of a guy who was arguably the best high school quarterback in the country who was also slated to be a top-five pick in the Major League Baseball draft.
His name is Josh Booty and he joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.
Bo was a superhero and Deion played in a Super Bowl and World Series, but Booty had the potential to do the unfathomable: play quarterback in the NFL and star in Major League Baseball.
While it didn’t quite work out that way, Booty became a Major Leaguer and then left to become an All-SEC quarterback for Nick Saban at LSU. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2001 NFL Draft, but never appeared in an NFL game before being waived by the Browns in 2003.
That doesn’t mean he was a failure by any stretch of the imagination. Booty is one of a handful of people who ever played quarterback at such a high level while also playing Major League Baseball. Think about the athletic ability, intelligence and work ethic needed to do that.
BallNine fans are lucky because he’s also an incredible storyteller who is honest and enthusiastic about his place in history.
October is when football and baseball season overlap, so it’s the perfect time to go Spitballin’ with Josh Booty.
Thanks for joining us Mr. Booty. Awesome to have a two-sport star with us. I have a couple of football questions for you, but let’s start off with baseball. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
My dad was a super competitive softball guy. I was born and raised at the ballpark. He was a football player at Mississippi State and played quarterback, but when he got out, him and my uncle and their buddies played a lot of softball. I was always at the park as the bat boy. That was my earliest remembrance of being around sports. Then I started shagging balls and wanted to hit. My dad was always toting me everywhere. I learned a lot about the game being around him and his buddies. It’s funny, Vernon Wells’ dad was actually on my dad’s softball team and [he and] Vernon would be together a lot. I’m talking about when we were tiny in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Considering how good you were in both sports, was there a time as you were growing up that you realized you were a special talent?
When I was 12 or 13, I was always good, but not off the charts compared to everyone else. When I was about 14, I started to realize that I was a little better than the kids my age. I think I just cared about it more than other kids. I always wanted to take ground balls, hit BP or just be at the field. I probably spent more time at the field or organizing games; in Louisiana that’s all there is to do. I just loved it and ate it up. If I had to come in, I would cry. If a game got rained out, I’d be pissed off.
What I thought a lot about was that no quarterback had ever done both. There was Bo, Deion and Brian Jordan, but no quarterback had played baseball too. I always thought that would be something.
What was your experience like playing high school sports?
My freshman year I was an All-State shortstop and as a sophomore I had like a 26-game hitting streak and was MVP of the city, which was about 300,000 people. At the same time, football was giving me a ton of notoriety as far as media and college coaches. I was a shortstop, pitcher and quarterback and winning the same type of awards as I was in baseball. We started breaking football records and my name started getting out there. I went from being a good baseball player to being seen as a stud athlete and that was what vaulted me into different echelon. By my junior year I was 6’3” and 200 pounds, hitting home runs, playing shortstop, throwing touchdowns and winning playoff games. My junior year I got invited to play on the USA Junior National Team.
High School Baseball and Football: Closeup portrait of two sport athlete Josh Booty, Shreveport, LA 6/4/1994 (Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Wow, nice! What was that experience like?
They sent us to San Antonio for the US Olympic festival. The teams were divided up into the North, South, East and West of the country. There were two shortstops on the South team. I was one of them and the other was A-Rod. I knew who he was because he had already been drafted number one overall and I was only a junior. The first day everyone was there to see him. We were out there taking ground balls. He was my size, and he could fly. He hit for power, he could throw, he was smooth. I was like, “Dude, this guy’s legit.” I went to the coach and asked if I could play third. He said OK, so I ended up being the third baseman on the South team.
A-Rod batted third and I batted fourth. We got beat by the North in the gold medal game and then they made a USA Travel Team to go to the World Games out of those four teams. I started on that team at third base, and we had like seven first rounders. Paul Konerko was on the team. Me and A-Rod were roommates and we started playing all this competition to get ready. A-Rod got hurt and didn’t play in the actual tournament. We ended up losing in the gold medal game 4-1 to Cuba who had Livan Hernandez pitching for them. We were just 17-year-old kids.
As a senior in high school, how did you manage your college recruiting for both sports and your baseball draft prospects?
My senior year of baseball came around I had committed to LSU to play shortstop and quarterback. I made that commitment in the fall then we went out and won a state championship in football. The recruiting process was amazing. I got to go on visits to my favorite places. Stanford, Texas, Miami, LSU and Mississippi State were my five.
Josh Booty of the Florida Marlins at Spring Training at the Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida. (Credit: Craig Melvin /Allsport)
You ended up getting picked fifth overall by the Marlins. Going into the draft, what were you expecting?
I knew I would be a top 10 pick. I had told people I wanted to play baseball because I loved the sport. I told them it would take a lot of money to get me away from LSU though. I chose Jeff Moorad as an agent, and he was the man back then. He represented some of my favorite players like Will Clark, who was my favorite player growing up. He was just a dude.
He was keeping me up to speed on who was interested, where the best place was for me and who would give me the most money. He said that with the Marlins, nobody was ahead of me in their minor league system, and I’d be one of their first draft picks. He said I would get paid like the first pick overall. So, if I didn’t go to the Mets first, I wanted to go fifth to the Marlins. It worked out perfect because Wayne Huizenga had deep pockets and they wanted to build something. Florida was close to Louisiana so my family could get there easy. Jeff told me before the draft that he would land me there, and he did. He’s one of my favorite guys ever.
That’s awesome. Before we go any further, I can understand Will Clark being someone’s favorite player, but in your case, I thought maybe Bo or Deion would have been your choice as two-sport stars.
Besides Will Clark, I was a big John Elway and Deion Sanders fan. Deion was one of the guys I really watched close. When he was in Dallas and San Francisco I got to see him play live a bunch of times. What I thought a lot about was that no quarterback had ever done both. There was Bo, Deion and Brian Jordan, but no quarterback had played baseball too. I always thought that would be something. That was a big part of my thinking that I could try to do that. Everyone told me that I had to pick one or the other though. I understand that now. To be a quarterback, you have to be there all the time. You’re the CEO of the franchise. I thought I could pull it off though.
Closeup portrait of two sport athlete Josh Booty in action, batting a football, Shreveport, LA 6/4/1994 (Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)
In your second full season in the minors, your power and run production started to come. What was it like having that production as a young kid in the minors?
The minor leagues were so tough. Any positive you can hold on to, you do. It’s a time to figure yourself out and get at bats. I understood it was about development, but I was frustrated because I struck out a ton. I wanted to go up the ladder fast and that was what the Marlins wanted too. Yet, I was pretty much a high school kid in AA and AAA facing guys a lot more experienced than me. The wood bat was much different too. I had never swung a wood bat until I showed up for the Marlins. It was fun to start hitting home runs though.
I swung for the fences every swing and didn’t really have a good approach and that hurt me. I was so athletic that I thought I could do that, but looking back, that was stupidity. I should have just said to myself, “Put your bat on the ball, look for hard contact and it’ll jump out of the park if you’re a badass.” Instead, I was like Rob Deer or Pete Incaviglia and I wasn’t like those guys. They were big, burly guys and I was athletic. I played like a one-dimensional player who could also field. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have hit for a high average with a bunch of doubles.
I can understand that. What was it like finally getting called up and getting a hit in your first at bat?
It was a dream come true. Like everyone who plays baseball as a kid, you dream of the Major Leagues. I was pinch hitting for the pitcher and we were playing the Braves. It was at Pro Player Stadium and I hadn’t gotten any at bats in a week or so. I hit this little lazy laser to right field. I just stuck my bat out and got it into right field. I was rounding first nervous as can be. I couldn’t even feel my legs. Everyone at home was watching because the Braves were on TV and that made me nervous because I was thinking I couldn’t let everyone down. I was 20 years old. It was good to get a hit in my first at bat. I looked the part, but I was so young that I wasn’t ready for the Big Leagues every day. The next year I had a few more at bats in The Show and I felt a little bit better at the plate.
Florida Marlins third baseman Josh Booty (R) tags out Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa after Sosa gets caught in a run down between third base and home plate in second inning action at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by RHONA WISE/AFP via Getty Images)
You were on the 1997 Marlins, who of course won that World Series. You said you were a huge baseball fan growing up and they had so many star veterans I’m sure you rooted for maybe like five years earlier. What was that experience like?
It was an awesome team to be around. I always tell stories about Jim Leyland and that team. Gary Sheffield, Devon White and Moises Alou were the outfielders. Does it get any better than that? They were good dudes who played ball. Devon White was a gazelle, he was unbelievable. He could have been a wide receiver and Sheffield could have been a running back. Sheffield was such a fantastic athlete, and he took me under his wing more than anybody because he loved football. I got close to Al Leiter, he was a lot of fun. Kevin Brown was on the staff too and nobody got close to him. He was a ballbuster. Charles Johnson was the nicest dude ever. Craig Counsell too, just the nicest guy.
Edgar Renteria and I played instructional ball together. Jeff Conine was a sarcastic kind of guy and wouldn’t go out much, but he was straight business every day. Darren Daulton was the light of the team. He was always crackin’ on everybody and having a blast. I love that dude. Bobby Bo was one of my favorite dudes ever. We would take grounders together at third in Spring Training. I got called up in September for 30 days, so we got to spend 60 or 70 days together between that and Spring Training. You get to know someone when you are around the cage or taking grounders. He was always smiling and laid back. He was never upset. He was a big strong dude with a 35-inch bat.
That really was some roster when you break it down like that. All winning players. It had to be something to play with them.
Oh man, just watching them was something else. Sheffield was our best player. He could turn on any pitch you could ever throw at him. It seemed like the better the pitcher was, the more he was locked in. He was going for blood. Bobby Bo would tell you what he thinks, but at the end of the day he was super bright and super smiley. He had those sunglasses on and would just chill. Then he had that high leg kick and would just hammer balls.
Oct 2 1999: Josh Booty #14 of the Louisiana State Tigers passes the ball during a game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Stanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs defeated the Tigers 23-22.
OK, here’s the football portion of the interview. Let’s start with your brothers though. They were great football players too. What was it like watching them succeed?
There were four of us. My youngest brother was a great athlete, but he didn’t play college football. He got into coaching. My other brothers Abram and JD both played football. I come from an amazing family. My mom and dad are amazing. I grew up with super loving parents. My dad was a coach and preacher and we all played ball at the high school. I had more fun watching my brothers play than I had playing, and that’s hard to believe because I loved it so much. I was always so proud of them. Watching JD play at USC and win two Rose Bowls was great. He came in together with Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and it was so cool to be around them. Then Abram and I played together at LSU. We still talk trash today about who was the best or games that we won.
That’s an amazing upbringing for sure. I think this is my only chance to ask this question in a baseball interview, but what was it like playing for Nick Saban?
He’s an unbelievable guy. He’s the hardest working dude ever. He works on every piece of what it takes to be super productive. With recruiting he’s an animal. When he’s coaching defense, he’s an animal. His intensity is always dialed up. His attention to detail is unmatched. He has it all down to a science. There’s no situation that we could be in that he hadn’t thought about. He thought about every position as if it was him. He thinks through so much and that’s why he is who he is. He doesn’t require sleep, yells a lot and is super competitive. The coaches would play basketball during the week to get their exercise. He would pick the teams and make sure he was on the winning team. He cannot stand to lose at anything. It eats him up. He would do anything to win. I’ve played with other great coaches like Bruce Arians and Mike Holmgren and they’re great dudes, but there was just something about Saban. He demands excellence and everyone knows it.
This has been so awesome. One last question, could you reflect on your experience as one of the few athletes who played football and baseball at the highest level?
Looking back, I think I tried to out-athlete baseball and you can’t do that. You can’t grab the bull by the horns. I think that’s why I went to football. I wanted the ball in my hands every play and dictate the outcome a little more. Young kids could learn what I am saying that patience is the key to the game of baseball. I could have played defense at the highest level for a long, long time, but if I couldn’t figure out my patience at the plate, I wouldn’t have lasted long. Back then, if you were a third baseman, it was expected that you’d hit .275 with 30 or 40 homers and I think I was capable of that physically. But I was so young-minded. It bothered me that I wasn’t a part of every at bat or every play. It felt like I wanted to do more. That’s why I liked football. Now, I know I would be calmer and have an approach, but I can’t do that because I’m 47. If I could put my 47-year-old brain in my 17-year-old body, I would do it. We all say that.
I used to think I was gonna hit 500-foot home runs and get to the Big Leagues in two months and hit .380. I just wished I would have let the game come to me. I wish I could have gone back and played more baseball because I got out of it early. I needed maybe another season in the minors. Torii Hunter is a good friend of mine. He was hitting .230 in AA. He was just an athlete that would strike out and hit some doubles. Me and him were so alike, but then he figured it out. I think if I stuck with it, I would have figured it out. I had football to fall back on though. My brother was at LSU and I wanted to go play with him and I figured if it didn’t work out, I would just go back to baseball. But I never went back.