05/18/2004 7:49 AM ET
First basemen headlined '89 draft
Thome, Thomas, Olerud, Bagwell among stars
By Kent Malmros / Special to MLB.com
The first to reach the Major League level wasn't the best -- and the best of the five may have been the last to dress in a big league uniform. But from John Olerud to Jim Thome, history will measure the 1989 draft as one that defined the first base position for the next decade and beyond.
|Two-time MVP Frank Thomas was one of five All-Star first basemen drafted in 1989. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Olerud, Thome, Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn and Jeff Bagwell were all scouted, selected and signed by Major League teams during the summer of 1989. And they all reached a level beyond expectations -- even if only for a short time.
Among the five, they've amassed 17 All-Star appearances, four Most Valuable Player awards and four Gold Gloves. They've hit 1,806 career home runs and driven in 6,133 RBIs ... and counting. The lowest career batting average of the five first sackers? Jim Thome's .286 mark.
And they're definitely not done. Thome is in the prime of his career, hitting 47 homers last season to lead the National League. Bagwell's performance has declined slightly, but he's still a run-producing machine. Thomas, meanwhile, is actually resurrecting his career after several down years.
Their production is astounding individually and as a group. They're bound by the way they've played their common position and swung ferocious bats. And yet, individually, they've all contributed to the game in a slightly different fashion.
Thomas was arguably the best right-handed hitter in baseball during the 1990s. His seasonal averages of more than 100 runs, 100 walks, 180 hits, 40 home runs, 120 RBIs, and a .300 batting average were impressive in that or any era.
His star rose to the level of Ken Griffey Jr. His mantel was decorated with trophies. He earned the nickname "The Big Hurt" for the way he treated pitchers. With the White Sox, Thomas truly defined the standard of offensive excellence, until The Big Hurt was perpetually, well, hurt. Injuries robbed him of the 2001 season, and after coming back he wasn't close to the same hitter until just last year.
While Thomas battled Mark McGwire each year for consideration as the best American League first baseman, Mo Vaughn quietly trailed close behind. The Seton Hall product posted a breakout season for the Red Sox in 1995, crushing 39 homers and driving in 126 runs to win the AL MVP award. His best statistical season came a year later, when he tallied 44 home runs, 144 RBIs and a .326 batting average.
Vaughn was bitten by the injury bug more than the four other first basemen from the class of '89, but for eight years he rivaled Thomas and others as the best offensive player in the AL. He was the first to exit the game, retiring before the 2004 season.
While first-round selections Thomas and Vaughn were projected as stars, the best value of the draft came in Round 13 when the Indians selected third baseman Jim Thome with the 331st overall pick. The left-handed-hitting Illinois native was the last of the five to develop, hitting 25 home runs in 1995, his first full season.
Thome moved to first base in 1997. Between 2000 and 2003, he averaged 46 homers and 120 RBIs. Arguably the premier power-hitting first baseman in the game, he should reach the 400 career home run milestone this season.
Like Thome, Jeff Bagwell, selected in the fourth round by the Red Sox, was drafted to man the other corner of the infield. Best remembered as the "player who got away" from Boston in a 1990 trade for veteran reliever Larry Andersen, Bagwell quickly became a top National League first baseman.
Since 1993, Bagwell has never hit fewer than 20 home runs for the Astros, a stretch that includes three seasons with more than 40 and three seasons of 39 homers. With 424 career homers, 1,441 RBIs and a .300 batting average, Bagwell has quietly constructed a Hall of Fame resume.
In contrast to the slugging ways of Thomas, Vaughn, Thome and Bagwell, Olerud -- taken in the third round by the Blue Jays -- made his All-Star impact with a high average, a knack for driving in runs and great leather. Olerud's finest season came in 1993 when he flirted with .400 late into the season before falling to a league-leading .363.
Along with McGwire, these five clearly helped define the first base position for a generation of fans and players. Their production alone makes 1989 an historical draft. Of course, 1,483 other players were selected during the draft's 87 rounds. Some fulfilled their potential, and some didn't. Here's a sample of 1989's solid first-round choices, flops and its later-round gems:
First round to the Big Leagues
No. 1, RHP Ben McDonald, Orioles (Louisiana State): Big Ben signed a Major League contract in late August and debuted for the Orioles in September. He was expected to join a Baltimore pitching lineage that includes Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan. But after winning eight games in 15 starts while posting a 2.43 ERA in 1990, McDonald's star faded. He was out of baseball by 1998 with a 78-70 record.
No. 2, C Tyler Houston, Braves (Valley HS, Las Vegas, NV): Never the player drafted with the second overall pick, Houston reached the Majors in 1996 -- his only year with the Braves. He finally became a consistent Major League contributor as a third baseman for the Cubs and then the Brewers.
No. 13, OF Brent Mayne, Royals (Cal State-Fullerton): Mayne reached Kansas City a year after he was drafted and didn't really look back. Now in his 15th season, the left-handed-hitting catcher has never become an everyday player, catching more than 100 games in a season just four times.
No. 17, RHP Cal Eldred, Brewers (Iowa): By 1993, Eldred was tagged a star in the making. That season, he pitched 258 innings for the Brewers, winning 16 games in the process. His arm was never the same, as he has pitched more than 200 innings in just one season since.
No. 22, OF Tom Goodwin, Dodgers (Fresno State): One of the fastest runners in baseball, Goodwin has stolen more than 50 bases four times in a season and more than 30 in four other seasons. His legs continue to make him an attractive commodity, and he's now a member of the Cubs in his 14th season.
No. 25, SS Chuck Knoblauch, Twins (Texas A&M): After hitting .341 in 1996, many dubbed Knoblauch the best young offensive second baseman in the game. Two years later he was traded to the Yankees, with whom he began experiencing throwing problems that ended his career.
No. 27, RHP Todd Jones, Astros (Jacksonville State): Jones never filled the role of hard-throwing closer, but managed to save games nonetheless, including 42 for the Tigers in 2000.
Other Notables: No. 9, RHP Kyle Abbott, Angels (Long Beach State); No. 11, 3B-OF Calvin Murray, Indians (W.T. White HS, Dallas); No. 12, RHP Jeff Juden, Astros (Salem HS, Mass.); No. 18, SS Willie Greene, Pirates (Jones County HS, Gray, Ga.).
No. 3, RHP Roger Salkeld, Mariners (Saugus HS, Calif.): The highly-touted righty signed for $210,000 and was the Mariners' top prospect by 1992. But after he was unable to make a successful jump to the Major League level, Salkeld was shipped to the Reds for veteran Tim Belcher in 1995 and was out of baseball two years later.
No. 4, OF Jeff Jackson, Phillies (Simeon HS, Chicago): By 1999, this speedy outfielder had played more games for the Massachusetts Mad Dogs of the independent Northeast League than for the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he never dressed.
No. 5, Paul Coleman, Cardinals (Frankston HS, Tex.): Coleman ended his Major League career with exactly 1,371 fewer games played and 752 fewer stolen bases than former Cardinal speedster Vince Coleman. That's primarily because Paul's totals in both categories are zero.
No. 8, OF Earl Cunningham, Cubs (Lancaster HS, S.C.): Like Jackson, Cunningham found his way to the independent leagues, but never the Major League team that drafted him.
No. 15, RHP Kiki Jones, Dodgers (Hillsborough HS, Tampa): There was a rumor in 2002 that Jones was making a comeback. Which begs the question, how can you come back if you were never there to begin with? Jones did not reach the Major League level for the Dodgers or any other team and is still discussed by Dodgers fans as a disappointment.
OF Tim Salmon, Angels, 3rd round (69th overall): Salmon slugged 31 home runs in 1993, his first Major League season for the Angels. He's surpassed the 30-homer mark four other times. Not bad for a third-round pick from Grand Canyon College.
LHP Denny Neagle, Twins, 3rd round (85th overall): A 20-game winner in 1997, Neagle ranked among the best left-handed starters in the National League while pitching for the Braves.
P-1B Ryan Klesko, Braves, 5th round (114th overall): Klesko is not a superstar, but any team would love a fifth-round pick who delivers 20 home runs and 85 RBIs every year, while playing at least 130 games.
RHP Paul Quantrill, Red Sox, 6th round (161st overall): One of the best setup men in baseball, Quantrill has the stuff to close if need be and is always in demand.
SS Trevor Hoffman, Reds, 11th round (288th overall): You wouldn't expect a college shortstop to end up with 361 career Major League saves. Then again, you never know what to expect from an 11th-round pick.
OF Brian Giles, Indians, 17th round (435th overall): Between 1999 and 2002, Giles averaged 37 home runs and 109 RBIs. Good for a 17th-round pick? Good for any pick.
Other Notables: OF Brian Hunter, Astros, 2nd round; 3B Andy Fox, Yankees, 2nd round; RHP Shane Reynolds, Astros, 3rd round; C Brook Fordyce, Mets, 3rd round; LHP Joey Eischen, Rangers, 4th round; RHP Scott Erickson, Twins, 4th round; LHP Alan Embree, Indians, 5th round; 1B J.T. Snow, Yankees, 5th round; SS Mike Mordecai, Braves, 6th round; RHP Curt Leskanic, Indians, 8th round; 3B Craig Paquette, Athletics, 8th round; LHP Sterling Hitchcock, Yankees, 9th round; OF Marty Cordova, Twins, 10th round; C Kelly Stinnett, Indians, 11th round; RHP Mike Trombley, Twins, 14th round; SS Kurt Abbott, Athletics, 15th round; C Greg Zaun, Orioles, 17th round; RHP Donne Wall, Astros, 18th round; SS F.P. Santangelo, Expos, 20th round; RHP Robert Person, Indians, 25th round; 2B Eric Young, Dodgers, 43rd round; OF Chad Curtis, Angels, 45th round; C Denny Hocking, Twins, 52nd round.
Kent Malmros is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.