America at Large: Tim Tebow the latest to make bizarre move to MLB

Former NFL quarter-back has signed for the New York Mets in a move raising eyebrows

On a Delta flight from Atlanta to Phoenix in late June, a man went into cardiac arrest. As the crew attempted to restart his heart, Tim Tebow rose from his seat and strode towards the commotion.

Then he began to console the panicked family. Some of the relatives sobbed on his shoulder, and he led them and others in surrounding seats in a communal prayer, requesting God’s intercession. The individual survived, and the legend of Tebow received a fresh burnish, at least among those Americans who relish his particular brand of overt Christianity.

The one-time NFL quarter-back was on his way to Arizona that day in pursuit of a miracle of his own. At 29 years old, Tebow was holding clandestine training sessions with retired baseball players, honing his skills in the hope of securing a professional contract.

When news filtered out about his intention, most people scoffed. Yet a couple of weeks back 28 Major League clubs sent scouts to watch him participate in a public workout. Last Thursday the New York Mets offered him a minor league development contract with a $100,000 signing bonus.


Given that he last swung a bat competitively in his junior year of high school, the initial suspicion was that the Mets were in this for the merchandise. Despite being a polarising figure whose most enduring contribution in grid-iron was a quasi-religious touchdown celebration routine, Tebow’s fan base have remained famously devoted to him.

The problem with this naked commercialism theory is the club can only put his name on the back of a shirt if he makes the Major League roster. Even allowing for the impossibly long shot that represents, the earliest it could plausibly happen is some time next year.

Sure, Tebow will put bums on seats in the Florida instructional league where he embarks next Monday on his new adventure, playing mostly alongside teenage prospects. Yet that scarcely explains the Mets’ motivation, especially since they’ve agreed a curious contract stipulation allowing their new signing weekends off to fulfil long-term obligations as a television analyst for college football. Quite correctly some have pointed out it is difficult to take the experiment seriously when the club is already telling a neophyte who needs all the at-bats he can get that missing games is perfectly fine.

Baseball has always been a sport with a curious tradition of clubs taking a punt on unusual prospects. Aside from Michael Jordan’s celebrated small ball fling with the Chicago White Sox in the mid-90s, the Tampa Bay Rays once signed a 35-year-old science teacher from Texas and started him in the big leagues.


If it’s not unheard of for a team to try something unorthodox like offering a soon-to-be 30-year-old his chance to finally make it to the show, the fact it is Tebow means everything is amplified.

Born in the Philippines where his parents were preaching, Tebow made his name as a star quarter-back at the University of Florida. While not having the type of skills that ordinarily transfer to the NFL level, he enjoyed moderate success with the Denver Broncos, before bouncing around other clubs without enduring.

During this brief professional career his public professions of faith became as controversial as the debate about his questionable throwing prowess.

Supporters reckoned he attracted unfair criticism because of his religion, an ironic allegation when you consider the sport is so rife with criminality that it’s often dubbed the National Felons’ League.

Detractors believed he was afforded multiple opportunities with four different clubs because of his “holier than thou” persona rather than his actual talent.

What can’t be argued is the closest he came to a Super Bowl was a cameo in a half-time commercial for the socially conservative group Focus on the Family, in which his parents told the remarkable story of his birth at the end of a very complicated pregnancy.

Extra-curricular activities like that may explain why, earlier this summer, Tebow was mooted as a potential keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. In typical style, it appears Donald Trump (who once used $12,000 of his charity's money to buy an autographed Tebow helmet) made that announcement without ever consulting the man himself. Hearing the story upon returning from missionary work in the Philippines, Tebow dismissed the idea as a rumour, but didn't rule out a future run for office himself.

Political route

“My goal has always been to make a difference in the biggest way possible,” he said. “And one day if that’s a political route, that’s what I’ll do.”

With baseball aficionados openly speculating about whether the New York Mets are simply currying favour with Tebow’s agent Brodie Van Wagenen, who happens to represent several of their best players, a detour to Washington sounds much more realistic than his chances of navigating the treacherous foothills of the minor leagues and one day donning a Mets’ uniform at Citi Field.

Indeed, when the initial story broke about Tebow attempting this audacious gambit, reporters asked Sandy Alderson, the general manager of the Mets, if his club would be interested."Are you asking me if we need a Hail Mary?" replied Alderson, ridiculing the very notion.

A week later the Mets signed him. The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

Dave Hannigan

Dave Hannigan

Dave Hannigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New York