COLUMBUS, Ohio — Taken by the Cleveland Indians in the fourth round of the 1990 Major League Baseball Draft, Purdue football coach Jeff Brohm was a talented athlete who loved football, tolerated baseball and followed his heart into a career centered on his passion.
Now, he’s not so sure about that choice.
Brohm kind of wishes he’d chased the chance at joining the Indians’ run of dominance in the mid-90s, which was percolating in the minors as Brohm wasn’t giving baseball a full shot in 1990 and 1991.
Brohm played two brief seasons in the minor leagues, with Rookie League Burlington in 1990 and Single A Watertown in 1991. Among his teammates – Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
“Manny Ramirez was a guy, I remember I’ve never seen bat speed like his in my life,” Brohm told cleveland.com at Big Ten media days this summer. “When the ball came off the bat when he hit it, I’ve never seen anything like that before. His bat speed was incredible. All the other stuff he was average at, but as far as hitting the baseball, it was not like anything I’ve ever seen.”
At Burlington his first season, when Brohm hit .213 with two home runs and 10 stolen bases in 136 at-bats, he remembers a struggling teammate in his second year in the Indians system who caught fire.
That was Thome, a 13th-round pick in 1989, who hit .373 with 12 home runs in 118 at-bats with Burlington.
“Midway through, he took off,” Brohm said. “He finally got it.”
Brohm never did.
He was playing quarterback at the University of Louisville at the same time he was playing for the Indians, which the team knew was the plan when they picked him. Brohm didn’t play baseball in 1992 because of an injury suffered at extended spring training, and he never played in the Indians system again.
“I’m basically playing both sports, giving both a shot,” Brohm told The Plain Dealer in 1992 before leading Louisville against the Buckeyes in that season’s opener. “If one starts to outshine the other, I’ll go with that.”
It was football. But there’s an alternate universe when Brohm, a multi-tool infielder, joined Ramirez and Thome on those 1995 and 1997 World Series teams.
“If I had to do it over again, I would have gone that route,” Brohm said.
Brohm was expressing those regrets during his brief NFL career. He played eight games as the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback in 1996 and 1997. But it’s interesting to hear a football coach express these thoughts now, as information about the toll that football can take on a body continues to come in.
“To be quite honest with you, if I knew then when I knew now, things would be different,” Brohm said. “I would have probably tried baseball.
“Growing up I loved football, I loved playing quarterback, the ball was in your hands. Baseball I happened to be good at, but boy, it was not an exciting sport. It was kind of boring. It didn’t really rev me up. But I was decent at it and I liked being a competitor.”
He didn’t really understand the baseball draft. He didn’t understand what a baseball career might have offered. And he was always only playing baseball on the side.
“My knowledge was not very good of how this thing works and how it operates,” Brohm said, “and, ‘You know what, if they’re saying this about you, you need to play baseball. You can play this game till you’re 40, you can never get truly injured, you can make a lot of money.’ I didn’t really factor all that in.
“I loved football and that was the sport I liked. If I knew all that, I may have tried it with a genuine effort full-time and maybe had better results.”
Don’t read this as Brohm, the second-year coach who has rallied the Purdue Boilermakers from the doldrums of a 9-39 stretch between 2013-16, not liking his gig. He’s really good at it, with Purdue a dangerous 3-3 going into Saturday’s game against Ohio State after posting a 7-6 record in his debut a year ago.
The 47-year-old will be a hot name on the coaching market after this season, and you can bet on him to land a really big job in the next several years, unless Purdue breaks the bank to keep him.
If he had tried baseball, he might be retired right now with millions of dollars in the bank, and a head full of Indians playoff memories.