From Diamond to Gridiron: 49ers GM John Lynch Can't Complain About his Decision


John Lynch's boyhood dream was to play in the NFL.

After his junior year at Stanford, however, he was ready to give up the dream. He let it be known he wanted to pursue a career in baseball. The expansion Florida Marlins were in the formative stages back in 1992, preparing for their big-league debut in 1993. And after selecting catcher Charles Johnson in the first round of the 1992 First-Year Player Draft, Marlins scouting director Gary Hughes selected "Lynch, John, right-handed pitcher from Stanford," in the second round.

How serious were the Marlins and Lynch? Well, in the first game played in franchise history, the starting pitcher for the Marlins short-season New York-Penn League affiliate, Erie, was John Lynch.

"I will never forget throwing the first pitch," said Lynch. "Unfortunately the first seven were balls. Every time I threw a pitch the Hall of Fame grabbed something else -- a ball, my hat. I came in after the first inning and they undressed me and took my uniform. It's a fond memory that I will have forever. ...

"I still have the video of that game. Sunshine Network came up there. (Marlins owner) Wayne Huizenga and all the executives of the Florida Marlins turned this elementary school field into what looked like a big-league field."

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Lynch's baseball career, however, lasted just that one summer in Erie. Stanford head coach Dennis Green left in the summer of 1992 for the NFL, and legendary Bill Walsh returned to be the Stanford head coach. Walsh wasted no time calling Lynch, and asking him to return for a final season. Walsh said in watching film he felt Lynch could become an All-Pro Safety.

Lynch was taken back.

"It took a lot of courage because I'm talking to Bill Walsh, but I said, `With all due respect coach, I played 30 percent of the plays (in 1991), and you're telling me I'm all-pro?'" Lynch said."Like the great ones do, he didn't just say it, he showed me. He made a tape of a bunch of plays with me playing, then a tape of (football Hall of Fame safety) Ronnie Lott.

"Bill said, `Do me a favor and make it in your contract that you can come back for your senior year at Stanford.' I did that. Football really took off. I became an All-American and really discovered how much I truly love football after Bill Walsh inspired me."

Initially, Lynch told Hughes he would return to baseball after that senior season. But Hughes, who also had drafted and signed John Elway as an outfielder out of Stanford, knew better. Lynch did become an All-American selection that senior season, and the third-round draft choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993.

And for the rest of the story. ...

Well, Lynch did report to spring training in 1993 with the Marlins, and was assigned to Class A Kane County, where his roommate was Pat Leahy, the grandson of long-time Notre Dame football coach Fran Leahy. And the two of them shared their apartment with future MLB all-star Edgar Renteria.

After two starts for Kane County, however, Lynch's basebal career was history. He went to camp with the Bucs and wound up with a 15-year NFL career in which he was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and spent four years as a Broncos teammate of Elway.

"How many (baseball) scouts can say they have two NFL general managers on their resume," said Hughes.

Elway, after a career that earned him a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame, is the general manager of the Denver Broncos.

And Lynch? After a career that has NFL Hall of Fame potential, Lynch is the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, and he will be in Miami on Sunday, watching his team take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

"I was really committed to baseball," Lynch recalled. "Football was always my first love. I was the No. 2 quarterback the day I stepped on campus (at Stanford), and I got frustrated by not getting on the field and having fun. Meanwhile, I was getting playing time from the time I was a freshman on the baseball field and really was haivng fund. When the Marlins drafted me, I decided it may not be my first love, but it was something I did love, you you take your best option."

And along came Bill Walsh, and there went baseball.


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