How 1995 Expos draft pick Tom Brady morphed into NFL superstar
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tom Brady. The only player in the NFL to whom I render scrutiny. I pay little attention to the NFL, except to see how Brady and the New England Patriots are faring in the standings.
Other than that, I pay scant observation to that league south of the border. Paying attention to Brady is the kind of heed I always gave Tiger Woods in his heyday on a Sunday, the fourth round of a golf tournament.
Brady is the king of football. The face of the brand. Five Super Bowl wins. A boyish-looking, hunky, freakish force of nature, fitness aficionado and strict nutrition fiend, going strong at age 40 for the Patriots. It doesn't hurt for him to be married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
Taking this all into focus, I travelled to this Buffalo suburb today on a Rally bus package to see Brady play in the first-ever NFL game I've ever seen. Who knows, it may be the last time Brady plays against the Bills. But it's very likely he will play a few more seasons, just as he has been telling us. He has a contract that runs through the 2019 season. He plans to live up to that contract.
And just think, the Expos drafted him June 2 in 1995, the hangover year they suffered from the awful aftermath of the strike-marred 1994 season when they were gunning for the playoffs and a possible berth in the World Series only to be dismissed by the cancellation of the season.
Brady was a 6-foot-3 catcher at Junipero Serra high school in San Mateo, Calif. and Expos scout John Hughes decided to draft him for scouting director Ed Creech and general manager Kevin Malone. Brady was 17, just shy of his 18th birthday.
One week after Brady was drafted, the Expos just so happened to be in San Francisco at Candlestick Park for a series against the Giants so they arranged for Brady to come from his nearby home and take BP, tour the clubhouse and meet the players and staff. That was June 9.
"I was travelling with the team and John Hughes said he was bringing in a young catching prospect,'' Malone recalled. "We thought very highly of him, his stature, his poise. He was very mature for his age and presence. He worked out for us. He had all the tools we were looking for, to project him as a major-leaguer. He had the arm strength, he was a left-handed hitter with power. He had a good swing. He was cerebral and analytical.''
Something got in the way, though. Brady's father Tom Sr. wanted his son to go to college and get an education. So Jr. enrolled at the University of Michigan. The rest is history.
Just like Condredge Holloway and Matt Dunigan and a few other future quarterbacks in the CFL and NFL, Brady was much loved by the Expos. As it turned out, none of the three suited up in a big-league uniform for the Expos. Like Brady, Holloway was 17 when he was selected by the Expos as their No. 1 pick in 1971 out of Lee high school in Hunstville, Ala. Like Brady, Holloway turned down the Expos to take a scholarship -- at the University of Tennessee.
"It was a great honour for Tommy to be drafted by the Expos but we had made it clear that he was going to go to Michigan to play football,'' his father told this writer. "At the time, he was a pretty good baseball player. He was more skilled in baseball than he was in football.
"He had a complete résumé in baseball. He had played 12 years of baseball when Montreal drafted him. He started playing at a young age, whereas he had a checkered résumé in football. He had only played four years of football including 7-on-7 when he went to Michigan.
"He loved baseball. Football, he wracked on it. He had the right tools for baseball. He had a terrific gun to second, he had some power in his bat. The Expos had said they would take care of him but that didn't sway him, even though he was told he was pretty highly rated.''
And then came the kicker from Tom Sr.
"The background on all of this is that for one reason or another, Tommy hurt more after baseball games. His arms always hurt, his knees hurt, his elbows hurt. He didn't hurt so much in football,'' Papa Brady said. "And he'd been a 49ers fan for many years. Plus, he would get a great education at Michigan.''
On that cold and windy day at Candlestick, Hughes approached sophomore Expos outfielder Rondell White, whom he had known for several years in California, to guide Brady through his day with the Expos. There was a moment in time in the clubhouse when a group of Expos' veterans and younger players crowded around Brady as he sat on someone's stool at a locker.
Brady was like a god, it seemed, as the players hovered around as if he was holding court. Somehow, White and the other players got it ingrained in Brady's head that he should indeed go to Michigan and play for the Wolverines and not pursue baseball.
The players were preaching and bemoaning to Brady that he would earn $800 or so per month in the minors and drive around on school buses for games before a few hundred fans, whereas at Michigan, he could have a lot of fun on and off the field and that there would be 100,000 fans at every game.
"Go to Michigan, go to Michigan. That's what Tom was told,'' his father said. "Tom didn't have the pedigree in football and he kinda chuckled when the players told him that he should go to Michigan. He had been to Candlestick so many times watching the Giants.
"Tom was a pretty good catcher and could have fit in under the optimum circumstances but we knew that coming up through baseball's minor-league system isn't easy, that you would struggle. In college, you cut your teeth right away. There is also more emotion in football than in baseball. It's 60 minutes a week.''
There is the mythical narrative going around that former Expos handyman F.P. Santangelo was one of those who stood around the cubicle as Brady held court in June of 1995. Santangelo even said so a few months ago to former New York Times reporter Tim Rohan of Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback platform. Santangelo told Rohan that he was among those egging Brady on to go to Michigan. Santangelo told me the same stuff a few days ago.
But Santangelo wasn't there to chaperone Brady, to tell you the truth. It's all fiction. He has never met Brady. Wanna know where Santangelo was that day? He was playing for the Ottawa Lynx, the Expos' triple-A affiliate. He was in his last days with the Lynx, who would eventually retire his No. 24 to honour his three-season stint in Ottawa.
Santangelo confirmed to me in an interview that he wasn't there at Candlestick.
"I wasn't with the Expos then,'' Santangelo said. "I was called up by the Expos on Aug. 2, 1995. That was my debut in the big leagues.''
As I searched the prestigious Retrosheet database, I saw that the Expos also visited Candlestick in late August of 1995 following Santangelo's arrival but Santangelo said Brady was not there for any workouts. Brady's father said that by the time the Expos rolled into San Francisco the second time that season that his son had already gone to Ann Arbor to get ready for the coming football season.
Santangelo did say that it made sense for Brady to go to Michigan because Santangelo himself was a Michigan native and his mother attended the university. As he looks back, Santangelo said, "I never knew who Tommy Brady was. I never drew the parallel. Maybe he's the greatest quarterback ever.''
When word got back to Hughes about the huddle Brady had with the Expos' players in the clubhouse, Hughes recounted, "They were saying to Tom, 'Wait a second, you have an university scholarship to Michigan. Go to school, for crying out loud.' I told scouting director Ed Creech this, that these guys were not going to help us much in signing him.''
Brady played at Junipero Serra, an all-Catholic college preparatory school in the Roman Catholic archdiocese of San Francisco, a school which included alumni such as legendary baseball scout Gary Hughes, baseball players Jim Fregosi, Barry Bonds and Gregg Jefferies and NFL star Lynn Swann.
In the spring of 1995 and for several springs and falls prior to that, scouts had attended Junipero Serra Padres' games mainly to see another prospect, Greg Millichap. But Brady ended up higher on the depth chart than Millichap.
"Millichap was probably more recognizable than Tom because Tom spent part of his summer preparing for football but Tom really came into the radar in his senior year,'' said John Hughes, who has been a Marlins' scout for a number of years. "He was a left-handed catcher, who could throw and had a little pop in his bat. You could tell he had leadership on the field.
"Anyway, I went in to see Tom this day and I had already seen him a few times. So I told my supervisor, Jim Fleming, that my first report on Tom was a little light. I needed to raise him. So the supervisor saw Tom and said my report was a little light. As the season went on, I knew he was going to be very, very difficult to sign or highly unlikely to sign. Signability was going to be difficult.
"After we drafted him, I went over to his parents' house. Tom Sr. was telling me along the lines that the family was thrilled and appreciative that the Expos drafted him but I remember him saying, 'Tom is the worst athlete in the family. My daughters are better athletes.' We didn't actually make an offer. I knew I had a rough idea of the money we had to offer.''
When I asked Hughes if the Expos were prepared to offer Brady $1-million to sign, he replied, "No, half that.''
As we found out, that figure was $500,000, much more than the signing bonus for a typical 18th-round pick. Remember this was 22 years ago.
"We told his family that we wanted to offer him the equivalent of let's say a pick in the top half of the third round or the bottom of the second round,'' Hughes said. "Based on the type of money we were prepared to offer him, we were projecting him to be an everyday catcher in the majors. We thought he could play in the majors. Oh, yes. Personality-wise, the way he carried himself, his demeanour on the field, I thought he was like Joe Mauer. To this day, he's the mostly impressive high school kid I've dealt with in scouting.''
For 36 years, Pete Jensen was Junipero Serra's baseball coach and when he and Brady weren't on the baseball diamond, they were in the classroom. Jensen taught Brady architectural design. To this day, Brady, a "great student,'' continues to design his own houses based on what Jensen taught him. Brady really got into the architectural design course and "loved it.''
Brady had been a regular at first base most of his time at Junipero Serra but he also caught. It was only in his senior year there that Jensen saw a vastly improved product, compared to his earlier years.
"Tommy could hit and with power and he could really throw. His size, his ability to hit, he was a good receiver and thrower. I honestly thought he would choose baseball but I was wrong,'' Jensen said, laughing. "He was one of the best I've coached. He was one of the top prospects in the area.
"He also played football and basketball at our school. I've coached a number of big-league players and he was right up there with any of them. In his senior year, he really, really lit things up. All of the scouts saw Tommy and they were interested in Tommy. We probably had every scouting director out to see Tommy and Greg Millichap work out.
"Here's a funny story. In a playoff game that year, we took a school bus to a game against Bellarmine in San Jose. The school bus driver parked hiding right behind the right-field fence. Tommy hit two home runs that game, including one off the top of the bus and woke up the driver. The driver was mad.
"The greatest thing about Tommy was that he was a great leader, mostly by example, extremely competitive, tough on himself. He wanted to win in the worst way. I was actually a part-time scout for the Mariners back then and I arranged to take Tommy to a pre-draft workout at the Kingdome. He hit and ran and threw. He put on a show with a couple of balls into the seats.''
When the scouts got out their stopwatches, though, hmm, the speed was slow.
"He didn't run so good,'' Jensen said.
That's why you see Brady stay back in the pocket with the Patriots, rather than venture up the field for rushing yardage. If you look at his lifetime rushing totals, you will see he never ran much. At least one baseball scouting report alluded to that slow-of-foot deficiency.
"Good arm strength, slow feet, kind of gangly,'' Marlins scout Orrin Freeman told this writer 22 years later in a Facebook exchange. "Needed strength. Good swing. More hit than power. Prospect as a back-up catcher. I think he picked the right sport.''
Sounds like a typical, point-form, no-sentence scouting report Freeman would have submitted to scouting director Gary Hughes.
"Pretty close,'' Freeman said.
"I didn't realize he would turn out to be Tom Brady,'' said Gary Hughes, who was the Expos scouting director before he headed to the Marlins. He was Freeman's boss when Freeman handed in his report on Brady.
So stop and think about that statement by Hughes. Put the word be in italics and then comprehend what Hughes said. A powerful statement coming from a gentleman, who attended the same high school as Brady: Junipero Serra.
"I'm not only proud of what Tom has done and how he has done it but he's been very kind to the school. He's a special young man and the whole area is proud of him. To this day, he's Tommy at Serra, not Tom,'' Hughes said.
Who knows, if he had signed with the Expos, he would have made it to the majors in the late 1990s and stayed a few seasons before he would have been traded because he would've been too expensive.
We can only dream what Brady would have done with the Expos. Maybe he would have saved the franchise from moving to Washington.
Brady photoshopped a photo of himself in an Expos uniform last year with this post, "21 years ago today, I was fortunate to be selected by the Expos in the 1995 ML Draft. But ... I'm so happy I stuck with football! What do you guys think?''
And so you ask me, Did you make an attempt to get a hold of Brady? I sure did but nothing materialized. I'm not surprised. Brady has reached the echelons of stardom where one-on-one interviews are rare. It's akin to somebody trying to do a phoner with Tom Cruise or Tiger Woods.
A lot of people want a piece of Tom Brady. I understand that. The Patriots told me Brady would be unavailable after today's game and understandably, his father wasn't about to impose upon his son.
"There is not a chance in God's green earth to make that happen,'' his father said of a possible interview. "Tommy will not be distracted for one second during the football season. I wish I could be of more assistance but after 19 years, I know the drill.''
I couldn't even convince the Bills to give me a pass to the press box but as a backup, I had my $98 U.S. ticket to sit on the 30-yard line. As I gazed out today and saw Brady as he sparked New England to a 23-3 victory, I thought back to something else Freeman said, "Brady wasn't really a football star in high school and wasn't a high draft in football for a guy, who may go down as the best ever.''
Danny Gallagher's 70,000-word exposé on the 1981 Expos called Blue Monday will be published in late summer of 2018 by Dundurn Press.