Tagged: Arizona State University

The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

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Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

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Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

Rick Monday Flag
Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

DJ

Building the Future

This year’s Major League Baseball First Years Players Draft marks the 50th year of the draft.  While the MLB Draft does not receive the same fanfare as the drafts for the other major sports, it is equally important.  The major difference is the arrival of those selected to the parent clubs is not immediate, and in many cases never happens.  The first overall pick in the draft can be a bust, and the last pick in the 40th and final round could turn out to be an All Star.  It is a slow motion venture that teams do not know the results from until years later.

The inaugural draft was held in 1965.  The Kansas City Athletics used the first overall pick to select outfielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State University.  He would go on to have a 19 year career with the Kansas City/ Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers.  Monday was a September call up for the Athletics in 1966 and played in two All Star games (1968 and 1978).  Monday is most famous for his swiping an American flag away from two protesters who were trying to set it on fire on the field during the 4th inning of the Cubs-Dodger game on April 25, 1976 at Dodger Stadium.

The first 1st overall pick in MLB Draft history, Rick Monday of the Kansas City Athletics (www.asuwebdevilarchive.asu.edu)

The first 1st overall pick in MLB Draft history, Rick Monday of the Kansas City Athletics (www.asuwebdevilarchive.asu.edu)

The New York Mets held the second overall pick, and selected pitcher Les Rohr out of Billings West High School (Montana).  Rohr was also a September call up, making his Major League debut on September 19, 1967.  He earned the win against the Dodgers for the first of his two career wins (both coming in 1967).  Rohr pitched in 6 career games, compiling a 2-3 record with a 3.70 ERA in 24 1/3 innings.  He made his final Major League appearance on September 19, 1969, exactly two year after his debut.

The Houston Astros held the fourth overall pick in 1965, and selected shortstop Alex Barrett out of Atwater High School (California).  Barrett spent seven seasons in the minor leagues.  He played at every level possible in the minors, but never got the call to join the Astros in Houston.  Barrett’s career is like so many hopeful draft picks.  They believe in themselves, yet everyone is eventually told they can no longer play the game.  Some people are told in high school, some are told after more than 20 seasons in the Major Leagues, but at some point everyone is told they can no longer play.  It is rare for a player to leave under their own terms, it is often forced upon them rather than their own decision.

Vanderbilt Commodores won the 2014 College World Series and were crowned National Champions. Photo by Joe Howell.

2015 1st overall pick, Dansby Swanson from Vanderbilt University. (www.throughthefencebaseball.com)

The MLB Draft is how teams obtain many of the building blocks to build their team.  Look no further than the Houston Astros for a recent example or the Atlanta Braves for an example over the long term.  The Astros have restocked their farm system and turned themselves around from the doormat of all of baseball into one of the best teams in the American League so far in 2015.  The Astros had the first overall selection from 2012 through 2014.  Carlos Correa just made his Major League debut, and they have been able to avoid drafting a complete bust.  Their inability to sign Brady Aiken in 2014 meant the Astros picked second overall in 2015, in addition to their fifth overall selection, so they can still get a quality player out of a bad situation.

Every team aspires to emulate the Braves of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Winning 14 consecutive Division titles means a team will be selecting late in the draft.  Atlanta and Houston have signed some free agents, but they have not been the sole driving force behind both teams success.  Teams must scout, draft, and develop young talent well if they have any chance to sustain success.  Few teams have the deep pockets that the Yankees and Red Sox have, and even their ability to spend top dollar on free agents does not always equate itself to success as much of their success has been driven by home grown talent.  Teams need the ability to bring up their own talent from the minor leagues to fill in hole during the season.  Finding players like Chipper Jones or Ken Griffey Jr. (both first overall picked) is not always as easy as it would seem.  Mike Trout was the 25th overall pick in 2009, he is arguably the best player in all of baseball and most teams wish they could have a do over.  If it was easy to discern what players would make it to the Majors and which would not, there would be a longer list of top picks who went on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers than did not.  Currently there are no first overall picks enshrined in Cooperstown., Jones and Griffey will soon be the first.

2015 2nd overall pick Alex Bergman from LSU. (wwwbaseballamerica.com.)

2015 2nd overall pick, Alex Bergman from Louisiana State University. (wwwbaseballamerica.com.)

The MLB Draft is an inexact science.  Teams do and will make mistakes in their selections.  They select the best player available to fit their needs, but there is never a guarantee that a first round pick will become the player the team hopes they would.  There is no guarantee that the players selected this week will make it to the Majors, but their journey begins this week.  Teams and fans can catch a glimpse of their future, or what they hope is their future, this week when the dreams of hundreds of baseball players come true.

D