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After NFL Takes a Pass, Angels Pick Tony Rice : Amateur draft: Former Notre Dame quarterback hasn't played baseball since grade school. He's playing professional football in Canada.

June 15, 1990|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Rice waited for the call that never came during the NFL draft.

But the Angels have seen to it that he wasn't passed over in baseball's amateur free agent draft--even though the former Notre Dame quarterback hasn't played baseball since grade school.

The Angels took Rice in the 50th round of the recent draft, even though he already has signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League and was busy with preseason drills Thursday in Regina, Canada.

"Chances are pretty good nothing will ever come of this . . . but you just never know," said Dan O'Brien, the Angels' senior vice president for baseball operations. "Tony Rice is an outstanding athlete. We think he can play baseball."

Rice's athletic record at Notre Dame is storied. He led his team to a national championship and a 31-4 record during three seasons as a starter. He opted for the CFL after NFL teams shied away from him because of his slight, 6-foot-1 build and his success as a runner, not a passer.

His accomplishments as a high school athlete in Woodruff, S.C., support his reputation as an exceptional and versatile athlete. He was an all-state forward in basketball, averaging 20.9 points a game. He earned two letters in track, competing in the discus, the shotput, the triple jump and relays.

While at Notre Dame, Rice was named most valuable player of the Bookstore Basketball tournament, a famous campus-wide event.

But baseball?

"You never know where you'll find players," O'Brien said. "They come from the most unlikely sources. I wouldn't think that just because he was a football player at the University of Notre Dame--that's not an unlikely source."

The Angels chose Rice, and even if they hadn't, somebody would have, O'Brien said.

"It all depends on what he wants to do," O'Brien said. "If he wants to try his hand at baseball, we think like everyone else that he could be successful."

A draft list distributed by the Associated Press listed Rice as a catcher, but O'Brien didn't know why.

"I don't see him as a catcher," O'Brien said. "You put him into the system and see how it works out. You start him at the rookie league level. More than likely, it would be in the outfield."

Other than the fact he hasn't played organized baseball in about 10 years, the stumbling block to Rice becoming an Angel is that he is committed to the CFL and has not expressed interest in playing baseball.

He was participating in the Roughrider rookie camp Thursday in preparation for the July-to-November regular season. He will enter training camp as the third-string quarterback, a backup to Kent Austin, who led Saskatchewan to a victory over Hamilton in the Grey Cup, the CFL championship game.

Because the CFL season coincides with the baseball season, Rice would be unable to play football and baseball professionally during the same year. Bo Jackson of the Raiders and the Kansas City Royals has had the greatest success playing both sports. Deion Sanders of the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Yankees has had some success at the major league baseball level. Cleveland Gary of the Rams and the Montreal Expos organization is among a few NFL players making an attempt to play minor league baseball.

There may be another stumbling block to Rice becoming an Angel. It seems that he was not particularly familiar with the team, and even was under the impression that the Los Angeles area has only one team--the Dodgers.

"I don't know where he's been--other than at Notre Dame," O'Brien said.

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