For want of $50,000, a Hall of Fame shortstop was lost.
That’s how the story goes, anyway.
For as long as the draft had been around, teams had been passing up players or, more often, drafting but failing to sign them—because of money. It wasn’t until 1992, though that signability became not only an internal concern for clubs, but (as Baseball America has observed) a buzzword in the business and media.
Josh Gibson’s Story Given Operatic Treatment in Pittsburgh:
“The Summer King,” at the Intersection of Baseball and Opera
Near the top of a sloping hillside at the northern end of the sprawling 300-acre Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, the modest marker of Negro Leagues baseball slugger Josh Gibson is not even visible from the asphalt roadside at the bottom of the hill.
There is a small sign by the side of the road informing as to the location of Gibson’s grave, but you have to climb the hill to get a look at his 16-inch x 22-inch surface-level gravestone.
In 1937, Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s iron-fisted dictator from 1930 through 1961, turned his attention from despotism to baseball. More accurately, he saw baseball as a means to further his despotism. His political rivals, seizing upon the national obsession with the sport, had begun to field formidable teams within the Dominican professional league. Trujillo knew that to fully maintain his grip on public opinion, he would have to do the same.
In 2017, baseball’s draft—the “Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft,” if you want to get all official about the thing—will consisted of 40 regular rounds. Plus a few “supplemental” picks between the first and second rounds. Plus two “competitive balance” rounds. All told, there were exactly 1,215 players chosen this year.
Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? After all, the NFL draft includes only seven rounds (with 253 players drafted last year), and the NBA draft has only two rounds.
In the baseball world, July 8, 1994, was nothing special. It lived but 24 hours and then, like most days, disappeared as though it had never existed. Except, that wasn’t true for Jeff Ballard. That Friday was the last he would ever pitch in a Major League game. Wearing Pirates black, Ballard faced the Reds and gave, if you’ve ever looked at Jeff Ballard’s career numbers, a predictable performance: four runs in two innings, walking one and striking out one.
Ted Williams didn’t exactly come from nowhere in 1941. He had led the league in RBIs as a rookie two seasons earlier, and started the All-Star Game in 1940, but still he was still seen as little more than a “lean, nervous, 22-year-old,” at least according to one contemporary account.
It’s rare for a single draft to clearly determine the long-term fortunes of a franchise. When that does happen, it’s generally because of a single great draft pick. What would the Royals have been without George Brett? The Mariners without Ken Griffey Jr. For gosh sakes, the Pirates without Barry Bonds.
In baseball, it’s important to have a healthy sense of humor. In a sport where even the best hitters fail seven out of every 10 times at bat, how else can anyone survive the long, grueling season without a little laughter along the way?