05/16/2002 5:01 PM ET
Evolution of the draft
Selection process has seen many phases since 1965
By Gary Rausch / MLB.com
Carl grew up on Long Island, the son of a Polish-American potato farmer. Baseball fundamentals began at age six for the youngster who dreamed of being a New York Yankee one day.
There were frequents trips into the city to see his heroes, and semi-pro games on teams full of Carl's cousins and uncles. Dad made sure Carl only did farm chores that strengthened his arms and wrists.
The Yankees took note of Carl's .650 batting average and presented a $40,000 offer, the highest they'd ever pledged for an untested high school senior. Carl's dad demanded $100,000, but the Yankees wouldn't budge.
The Braves got in the game at $60,000. The Phillies raised the ante to $102,000, and the Reds and Giants also made competitive bids. But Carl's dad wasn't satisfied.
While Carl was away at college for a year, the bidding war continued. The Red Sox eventually got involved and signed Carl for $108,000. They even threw in a two-year $10,000 Triple-A contract and Carl's remaining college tuition.
That was 1958. Two minor league campaigns, 3,419 Major League hits, 452 home runs and 23 Red Sox seasons later, the potato farmer's son retired. In 1989 Carl Yastrzemski was a first-ballot Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
The $100,000-figure was the self-imposed ceiling on baseball bonus babies for a few years. When Gene Autry's fledgling Angels won a bidding war for University of Wisconsin outfielder Rick Reichardt with a $250,000 bonus in 1964, the old guard owners decided to implement control in the distribution of amateur talent.
The Amateur Draft was born in 1965, and renamed the First-Year Player Draft in 1998.
Teams selected players in reverse order of their previous season's finish, with leagues alternating No. 1 picks in even and odd-numbered years. The draft was supposed to give weaker organizations first crack at top talent. But nothing works perfectly.
The Kansas City A's made Arizona State sophomore outfielder Rick Monday the first-ever selection. He signed for a reported $104,000, well under his value on the old open market.
Major League Baseball originally held January and June drafts as well as a late-summer selection of American Legion players (dropped after 1966). The January (eliminated in 1987) and June processes involved a secondary phase for previously drafted but unsigned players. That also was shelved in 1987. Teams unable to sign first-rounders were allotted a supplemental first-round pick the following June.
Drafts have always been endurance contests with selections continuing until every team passes. The 50-round limit wasn't introduced until 1998.
In 1969, the existing 24 clubs drafted 1,042 players during the June regular phase, 90 by Kansas City. Longtime Royals outfielder Al Cowens wasn't taken until Round 84.
Like the family Ford and Chevrolet, the draft underwent significant changes in the past 36 years. Collegians were originally eligible as sophomores. That was changed to age 21.
Growth of the Basic Agreement, free agency and the Players Union led to a series of compensation amendments. A short-lived one involved Major League free agents being dumped into a compensation pool.
The initial step toward an international draft was broached in 1985 after the Brewers signed Puerto Rican Juan Nieves, a Connecticut high school student, for $150,000 on the open market. Thereafter all foreign players attending U.S. high schools or colleges went into the draft.
Four years later, players from Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, previously eligible to sign as free agents at age 17, became draft eligible after their high school class graduated. In 1991 Canadian players were taken off the open market and added to the draft. Two years later all Cuban defectors living in the U.S. were placed in the growing foreign pool.
Oklahoma State outfielder Pete Incaviglia took a stand against conscription in 1985 by asking for the largest contract ever paid to an amateur player. Montreal drafted him eighth overall, but refused his demands -- a gangly left-handed pitcher from Southern California named Randy Johnson went north of the border in Round 2. After five months of haggling, the Expos traded Incaviglia to Texas.
|Carl Yastrzemski's father sought $100,000 from the Yankees for signing his son, who eventually ended up with the Red Sox for $108,000. (AP Photo)
To guard against future Incaviglias, teams were barred from trading a draftee until a year after he signed. By 1995, MLB owners were pushing for a pro-rated bonus cap for draftees and international signees. The players union quickly shot down that change.
Players deciding which team or teams were acceptable didn't surface with Incaviglia. Five years earlier Billy Cannon Jr., a Louisiana high school football-baseball standout and son of the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner, was taken by the Yankees in the third round. New York lost its first two picks to compensation and saw its selection of Cannon voided by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on tampering charges.
It seems Cannon's father sent out telegrams to the other 25 clubs saying his son would only sign for a $250,000 signing bonus -- $50,000 more than the then-record bonus Kirk Gibson received in 1978.
The advent of agents or "advisors" created another conundrum. No longer were fathers orchestrating financial windfalls. Agents began setting asking prices that only the wealthiest clubs could meet.
The result is the rich keep getting richer. If six and seven-figure asking prices aren't enough leverage for a high school prospect, the player-parent-agent triumvirate will go with old faithful, accepting a college baseball scholarship.
Two and four-year programs have a never-ending battle. First they recruit against other schools to land the premier players. After the June draft, they're forced to re-recruit many of those same players. Keeping college coaches in the dark was one of the reason Major League Baseball conducted the draft in secrecy for decades.
Other professional sports like football, basketball and hockey make their drafts a media-enhanced event. Baseball held off as long as possible before making selections public. Other than the first-rounders, names were not released for weeks. In recent years, however, baseball has got up to speed with draft picks being posted on MLB.com since 1998.
Only 10 Hall of Famers are former draftees. Johnny Bench (Reds 1965) was the first selectee reaching Cooperstown with his 1989 induction. Tom Seaver (Mets 1966) was next in 1992, followed by Reggie Jackson (A's 1966) in '93, Mike Schmidt (Phillies 1971) in '95, George Brett (Royals 1971), Nolan Ryan (Mets 1965) and Robin Yount (Brewers 1973) in '99, Carlton Fisk (Red Sox 1967) in 2000 and Dave Winfield (Padres 1973) and Kirby Puckett (Twins 1982) in 2001.
Ozzie Smith (Padres 1977) becomes the 11th-inducted draftee this summer. Smith was a fourth-round choice, Ryan a 10th-rounder. All the rest were taken in the first two rounds.
Baseball America tracks each draft class with latest numbers covering 1965-1995. During that period, 64.9 percent of Round 1 selections eventually played at the big league level, 41.6 percent of second-rounders. Including sandwich picks between the opening two rounds, the combined figure is 53.5 percent.
The percentage drops nearly 10 percent in each of the following rounds to only 12 percent for Round 5 choices. And Rounds 6-10 combined is only 15.5 percent.
First-round picks usually guarantee instant millionaire status. Bonuses ranged from $845,000 to $3.96 million in 1999, $400,000-$5.3 million in 2000 and $900,000-$5.15 million last year.
And that $108,000 that Yaztrzemski received in 1958, and the $104,000 Monday pocketed in 1965? That would have been seventh-round money in 2001.
In 1985, Oklahoma State outfielder Pete Incaviglia asked for the largest contract ever paid to an amateur player. After five months of haggling, the Expos traded Incaviglia to Texas.
Gary Rausch covers the minors for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Any opinions referred to here are not necessarily those of Major League Baseball.