Few are good enough to get drafted by an NHL team. Even fewer are so gifted that they can choose between a potential career in either the NHL or Major League Baseball. While hockey is the more exciting sport to play, baseball has a better upside for the athletes: the pay is higher, the risk of injury is lower and you get to work outdoors. Each of these men found themselves at a crossroads in their life, one path paved in ice, the other in grass. In the end, they all picked the greener — literally and figuratively — pastures of baseball, but for different reasons.
NHL: Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 4th round (64 overall) in 1981
MLB: Drafted by the California Angels in the 4th round (88 overall) in 1982 McCaskill had every intention of pursuing a career in hockey, but one bad season in the American Hockey League made him reconsider. The son of former WHA player Ted McCaskill, Kurt excelled at baseball, hockey and soccer in high school. He played baseball and hockey at the University of Vermont, and was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 1981. In 1981-82, McCaskill led Vermont’s hockey team in scoring, was named an ECAC First Team All-Star and was a Hobey Baker finalist. That summer, he was drafted by the California Angels. He spent the summer of 1982 playing minor league baseball, but was still considered an amateur in hockey, so he was able to play for Vermont’s hockey team his senior year. McCaskill spent summer of 1983 playing baseball in the minors, then attended the Jets’ training camp in the fall. He signed a four-year contract, and was assigned to the Sherbrooke Jets of the AHL, which ultimately forced his hand. “I hadn’t made the decision yet about baseball over hockey,” McCaskill told The Hockey News in 1986. “I hadn’t ruled out hockey and at that point I wanted to play in the NHL.” But his only season of pro hockey did not bode well. McCaskill scored 10 goals and 12 assists in 78 games, partially because he did not get along with coach Ron Racette, who limited his ice time, and partially because McCaskill had only played 15 games in his last year of college hockey and wasn’t at his best. “I’m not making excuses for myself,” McCaskill told THN. “I was terrible, but I certainly wasn’t getting developed down there.” When Sherbrooke’s season wrapped, McCaskill retired from hockey and decided to focus solely on baseball. A year later, he made his major league debut with the Angels. McCaskill enjoyed a 12-year career in the majors with the Angels and Chicago White Sox.
NHL: Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 4th round (69 overall) in 1984
MLB: Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 2nd round (47 overall) in 1984 Glavine had potential as a hockey player, but there is no way he would have been as accomplished in hockey as he was in baseball. In high school, he excelled at both baseball and hockey, scoring
47 goals and 47 assists in just 23 games in his senior year. Stats like that were eye-opening enough for the Kings to pick him ahead of future NHL stars Brett Hull, Gary Suter and Luc Robitalle, who the Kings ended up drafting anyway in the 9th round. Glavine was also offered a hockey scholarship at the University of Lowell. But Glavine was drafted by the Atlanta Braves that summer, and opted for baseball instead. Over a 22-year career in the majors, he won the Cy Young Award as the National League’s best pitcher twice, was a World Series winner and MVP in 1995, and was a 20-game winner five times. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014, his first year of eligibility. It is highly unlikely that he would have been as decorated had he chosen hockey. Although Glavine did not play hockey in the NHL, he did suit up in
one game for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators for a charity event in 2010.
NHL: Drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 8th round (230 overall) in 2003
MLB: Signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 2003 For a little while, it appeared that Jamie Hoffmann was going to pursue hockey instead of baseball as his sport of choice. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in baseball,” Hoffmann told
The New York Times in 2010. “It was that I didn’t think baseball had an interest in me.” Hoffmann played both sports in high school, but had no offers to play baseball when he graduated. So he skated a season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, scoring 39 points in 60 games. That caught the attention of the Carolina Hurricanes, who picked the 6-foot-3 forward toward the end of the 2003 NHL draft. It also earned Hoffmann a hockey scholarship with Colorado College. He was just days away from leaving for Colorado when a Dodgers scout noticed Hoffmann in a local amateur baseball tournament and signed him to a contract in 2003. Hoffman did not make the majors until 2009, when he played 14 games for the Dodgers. He appeared in another two games for Los Angeles in 2011. Overall, he played 10 seasons of baseball, mostly in the minors.
NHL: Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 4th round (79 overall) in 1986
MLB: Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 27th round (686 overall) in 1986 Tom Quinlan was another who tried to travel down both roads as long as possible, but unwavering persistence by the Toronto Blue Jays made him reconsider. After playing hockey and baseball at Hill-Murray High School in Minnesota, Quinlan planned on studying at University of Minnesota that fall, where he would continue to play both sports. The Calgary Flames and the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in 1986. Both were interested in Quinlan, with Calgary offering him a four-year contract. Flames’ GM Cliff Fletcher also did not mind if Quinlan first spent a few years developing his game in college, but the Blue Jays would lose his rights once he started school. Quinlan was already living at the University of Minnesota, and had started practicing with their baseball and hockey teams, when the Blue Jays really pushed for him to sign. They flew Quinlan to Toronto to work out with the team over the weekend, even putting him up in the owner’s box for the game. When he returned to Minnesota on Monday, they offered Quinlan a contract — which he turned down. Each day in the week leading up to his first class, the Blue Jays made an increasingly better offer. Finally, he signed. “It was a really tough decision,” Quinlan said. “I love both sports. I decided that if I was going to make it in something, I needed to just pick one sport and give it everything I had. I could have played hockey just as easily as I did baseball, but I felt that, with the lower risk of injury in baseball, I probably had a better chance.” Quinlan played 42 games in the majors spread over four seasons and won the World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992. Ultimately, he played pro ball until 2002. His last three years were spent playing in Korea. In the 2000 Korean Series, Quinlan was named MVP after going 3-for-4 at the plate with two home runs and six RBIs in Game 7. He was the first non-Korean to receive that award.
NHL: Signed by the Detroit Red Wings as an amateur in 1960
MLB: Signed by the Milwaukee Braves as an amateur free agent in 1961 Dennis Ribant didn’t want to choose baseball or hockey; he wanted to play both, but conspiring general managers made the decision for him. Ribant was born in Detroit and was skilled as a baseball pitcher and a as hockey winger during his youth. The Red Wings took note, signed him, and sent him to their Junior A team in Hamilton, Ont., where he played alongside future NHLers Pit Martin and Paul Henderson. Several MLB teams coveted him too, including the New York Yankees and Ribant’s hometown Detroit Tigers. However, he chose the Milwaukee Braves because they would allow him to play hockey during the winter. That is, until Ribant dislocated his left elbow in Hamilton’s last game of the 1960-61 season. Ribant, who pitched right, had no problem showing up to spring training with his non-pitching arm in a sling. The Braves’ GM, Detroit native and former Tigers player, John McHale, thought otherwise. McHale was friends with Red Wings GM Jack Adams, and persuaded the Wings to release Ribant from his hockey contract. “If he stayed in hockey, he would need several more years of seasoning. Now he’s only a step away from the big time in baseball and the high salaries,” Red Wings head scout Jimmy Skinner explained to The Hockey News in 1961. “If he were injured [playing hockey], it could be the end of his baseball career.” Ribant’s baseball career lasted 13 seasons, including six in the Majors, where he pitched in 149 games.
NHL: Signed by the Chicago Black Hawks as a free agent on January 19, 1927 MLB: Rights acquired by the St. Louis Browns on June 28, 1921 Any story about athletes who chose baseball over hockey would be remiss to omit Jim Riley, though technically, he did not choose a career in baseball over one in the NHL. In fact, he played in the NHL almost four years after his last MLB game. And though he only played six MLB and nine NHL games, to date Riley is the only athlete to play in both leagues. Riley was a star player in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He won the Stanley Cup with the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917, was named a first team all-star once (1923) and a second team all-star thrice (1920, 1921, 1922). In the offseason, he played baseball, eventually making it to minor-pro ball in 1921. He played impressively enough to earn a four-game stint with the American League’s St. Louis Browns that year, then returned to the minors. In 1923, Riley played minor ball with a team in Shreveport, La., and earned another shot in the majors, this time for two games with the Washington Senators. While in Shreveport, Riley courted and eventually married the widowed mother of the team’s batboy. A
journal entry in
The National Pastime, published by the Society for American Baseball Research, suggests that this relationship factored in his decision to retire from hockey in 1924 and concentrate on baseball. However, Riley couldn’t stay off the ice forever. He played a few exhibitions games for a hockey team in Texas, then was contacted by his old coach from Seattle, Pete Muldoon, who was the coach of the Chicago Black Hawks during their inaugural season in 1926-27. Riley played three games for the Black Hawks, then was traded to the Detroit Cougars where he played another six games. While he played a few more semi-pro hockey games in the Cal-Pro League in 1928-29, Riley chose baseball as his full-time occupation, playing minor-league ball until 1932.
Sal Barry is a contributing writer for The Hockey News and runs the hockey collectibles and culture blog
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