Shark week: Red-hot Giants starter Jeff Samardzija talks football, baseball, Cubs, $ports$

The former Notre Dame All-America receiver dishes on advising Kyler Murray to go with his heart and where his own heart lies with baseball and Chicago.

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San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks

Samardzija in the first inning of Friday’s start in Arizona, in which he pitched into the sixth inning and got a no-decision in a Giants victory.

Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO – Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija still keeps a home in Northwest Indiana and a place in his heart for a Cubs team that drafted him in 2006 and signed him away from the NFL.

But it’s an older, wiser Samardzija who starts Wednesday for the Giants against the Cubs than the one who debuted in Lou Piniella’s bullpen during a 2008 playoff season – or even the pitcher who spent 2015 with the White Sox.

Married since the Sox spring, he has two young sons and calls fatherhood “humbling, but reassuring because of what you get out of it – the easy returns just by putting some time and some love in,” he said.

“It feels like after you get a win in the show. But that’s a lot more hard work to get a win in the show than to just hang out and love your children.”

Samardzija, 34, is pitching as well as he ever has – going 5-2 with a 2.07 ERA during his last nine starts; the Giants are 7-2 in those starts.

That has coincided with the Giants’ rebound from a slow start into wild-card contention in manager Bruce Bochy’s final season.

With the college football season fast approaching, Samardzija talks about the baseball-football decision top NFL draft pick Kyler Murray had to make and about his life and career since his own, similar decision 13 years ago after finishing an All-America football career at Notre Dame:

You advised Murray, the Heisman-winning quarterback from Oklahoma, to follow his heart before he gave up his $4.66 million bonus from the Athletics (who drafted him ninth overall) to sign a four-year, $35 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals. Were you surprised at his decision?

JS: “It’s kind of hard to turn that down. …They probably agreed to [discounted] terms early. But that was still a lot more than he could make at baseball.”

Do you remember the biggest factor in your decision to forego the NFL draft and sign your five-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs as a fifth-round pick?

JS: “I just really felt like I was a happier person at the baseball field every day, playing games, no practice, no meetings. And I really appreciated how in baseball you were treated like a grown-up. If you want to show up at noon, show up at noon; if you want to show up at 4, show up at 4. Either way, it all comes down to how you perform on the field. That’s not necessarily the case in football where you’re kind of leashed up most of the time and told where to be and when to be there and how to be there. That just didn’t fit me so much.”

Because MLB has limited signing bonuses so strictly and banned big-league contracts for draft picks, the same bidding process doesn’t even exist for two-sport players like it did with you.

JS: “Say a kid loves both sports equally and then it does become about money. The kid’s going to play football. So now we, as baseball, are losing high-end talent. We need to clean it up as a union, as owners – just as MLB as a whole – so that we allow ourselves to add top talent to the game, no matter what team they’re going to, no matter when they were drafted. You see the difference that these kids make when they come in, like [Javy] Baez and [Ronald] Acuna and [Christian] Yelich. These young kids are athletic and could have played other sports but chose to play baseball.”

How much do you follow college football these days?

JS: “Here and there. The older I get the more I’m interested in just the money that’s there and where is it going and these poor kids are having to stay in college in football for three years and baseball for three years. And then they’re getting capped on their earning potential out of college, especially in football. I’m a very big believer [college players] should be compensated in some form.”


JS: “If you’re not going to pay these kids, then if you played a D-I sport, then the NCAA pays for your healthcare for the rest of your life, something like that. Twenty grand a year; they would cover that and it wouldn’t even be a drop in their bucket.”

You’ve been asked your whole career whether you miss football. Now, 13 years later, there must be no doubt.

JS: “I don’t have any regrets. Actually, it’s the other way: I’m very thankful for the way [Cubs executives] Randy Bush and Jim Hendry and those guys came to me and had ideas for what I could be. When you’re a young kid and someone tells you can do this or that, and that they believe you can, and then they give you the money to say you can, it gives you a lot of confidence.”

Hard to argue with the results that include an All-Star selection and a $90 million free agent deal with the Giants.

JS: “I’m just very fortunate that a few forks in my road have gone the right away in my life. ... I still love football. It’s a deep passion in my heart. But I don’t miss it.”

Could you see finishing your career in Chicago if given the chance?

JS: “The places I want to play are all on my no-trade list [of teams that don’t require consent]. The Cubs are in there. They’ve been in there from Day 1, and that won’t change.”

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