Drew Henson – 2002 Donruss Rookies

January 5, 2011

Two-Sport Washout

Don’t get me wrong, you gotta be a great athlete to play professionally in two sports. Heck, even if you don’t make the majors in baseball, and play another one professionally, you’re still probably amongst the best athletes around.

Of course, being a great athlete doesn’t mean you can actually play the game – the 80’s and 90’s failed #1 draft picks in baseball are testament to that.

Henson played minor league ball while he was excelling on the football field for Michigan. While rare, it’s not unheard of and I don’t think the NCAA has declared it illegal yet (but don’t you dare give a salute after a touchdown).

During his college football days, he obviously didn’t give baseball 100% of his attention. Still, whether it was because of his raw, raw talent or sucking up to the Yankees, Baseball America had him as one of THE top prospects. I know that prospect means potential, but even with Henson’s limited minor league time it was evident that he had poor strike zone judgment and poor defensive skills. The smart thing to do would be to convert him to RF and let him play in the New York-Penn and Sally Leagues for a while. But the Yanks, if I remember, signed him to a major league contract so he had to stick in a short amount of time otherwise he’d be lost on waivers.

The Reds actually had Henson for a brief time, if you recall. They received Henson and two other prospects for the rental of Denny Neagle in 2000, and then traded him back to the Yanks with another prospect for the infamous Willie Mo Pena.

After his senior football season at Michigan, he rather much stunned everyone by walking away from a sure big money contract in the NFL and concentrating on baseball. Injuries may have had something to do with it as he still had a year of college eligibility left.

Henson rehabbed his football injuries and then played most of a season in AAA Columbus, where his weaknesses were definitely exposed. A .222/.249/.367 slate wasn’t going to cut it at any level. He definitely needed more seasoning. But the Yanks kept him at AAA in 2002 and Baseball America was still drinking the Kool-Aid, rating a player that had an 8.5 / 1 K/W ratio and an OBP under .250 a top 10 prospect.

His 2002 was better. He walked more and had more power, but struck out way too many times and his defense was atrocious. His fielding percentage was .893 and he only was involved in 11 DPs.

Yes, .893. The first 3B for the Highlanders in 1903 was Wid Conroy, who had a .919 fielding percentage with the glove the size of a golf glove on his left hand. And by the metrics, Conroy was an average 3B for his era in 1903.

(Anytime you can throw a Wid Conroy into a blog post, it’s a good day!)

Henson needed to learn to hit and field, but here he was in the bigs. Just like Josh Booty, it was a ‘stunt’ (at least I think it was – it certainly wasn’t because of merit) that Henson was called up at the end of 2002. And Donruss could now claim that at least one of these players made the majors!

2003 may have been a make or break year. He progressed some in 2002 and he was back there in Columbus (I still would have lobbied for the Sally or FSL, but what do I know…) swinging at everything, making errors, and not hitting home runs. His OBP dipped under .300 and while he had 40 doubles, he hit just 14 home runs. He did improve his fielding, up to a staggering .918 fielding percentage. Normally, FP is garbage but when it’s this low, you gotta pay attention to it.

The Yanks again called him up, and he started two games at third. Still, the Yanks and Henson had to make a decision.

Anticipating something (or other), the fledgling Houston Texans took a gamble on Henson and drafted him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. They had their QB of the future in David Carr (please, no laughing…you’ll wake the kids and the cat) but they thought they could leverage Henson into something else down the road if / when he gives up on baseball

And some sucker trade partner wouldn’t have long to wait…

The QB class in this draft was less than stellar: After Carson Palmer it went Leftwich, Boller, Sexy Rexy, Ragone, Chris Simms, Wallace, St. Pierre, then Henson, followed by Bollinger, Kingbury, the immortal Gibran Hamdan and Dorsey. A punter and a long snapper were drafted before he was. Of course, Henson had been out of football for three years and this was a gamble at pick 192 for the Texans.

The Cowboys were now coached by Bill Parcells, and in 2003 they went 10-6 with Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson (both of them also played pro baseball – Hutchinson in the majors with the Cards)  as their quarterbacks. (Oh, and this Tony Romo guy was there too.) Carter had his…(sniff)(ALLEGEDLY)…issues, and Parcells didn’t like Hutchinson. He did like what he remembered about Henson and the Cowboys inquired if Henson was serious about quitting baseball.

Soon, Dallas dealt a 2005 3rd round pick (not bad value for a 2003 6th) for Henson, and they also signed Vinny Testaverde to help the trio of young QBs (Carter, Henson, Romo). Of course, you know that Carter was released quickly, and Testaverde was Parcell’s man until, well, he struggled. Then Bill threw in Henson – and oh, by the way, he was starting on Thanksgiving! Not like anyone would be watching.

Drew played QB like he played 3B. He was 4-12 for 31 yards and was benched at the half.

(BTW, the player that Houston drafted – Vernand Morency – also played minor league baseball.

Henson never got another chance in the NFL. He did play well for the Rhein Fire, but he was just a backup in Dallas, Minnesota and Detroit. In 2008, he was promoted from the practice squad to backup QB to Daunte Culpepper after Kitna, Orlovsky and Stanton were hurt. Henson saw action in two games, fumbling on back-to-back snaps in the Thanksgiving day game, and then taking a sack in his other action.

He was a two-sport major league athlete and had two-sport major league hype. He also had one major league hit, and one NFL touchdown pass.

More than a lot of people could say, but he took a lot of money from George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones for those single accomplishments.

As soon as I wrote that, I wondered if that was such a bad thing or not…

 

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