Rob Neyer, the author or co-author of six books about baseball, currently works as SB Nation’s national baseball editor. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Take a casual glance at the 1967 draft—the big one in June, that is—and you might figure teams were still trying to get a handle on this strange new institution. After all, it was only the third year of the amateur draft, and a fair number of clubs were really just winging it.
Number of future Hall of Famers drafted in June of ’67? Zero.*
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.
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.
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.
Without a doubt, the defining characteristic of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft has always been uncertainty. Some years ago, analyst Rany Jazayerli conducted a comprehensive study and found that once you get past the very first pick, the draft becomes essentially a crapshoot. And especially once you’re past the first 10 or so picks.
The New York Giants’ 1951 season might be the most famous season any team has ever had. Their season includes probably the most famous comeback and probably the most famous home run. And their season got famous all over again a half-century later (more on that in a moment).
Of course, Manager Leo Durocher was right in the middle of everything.
Curly Ogden. In the annals of important World Series pitchers, Curly Ogden doesn’t usually figure real high on the list.
No wonder! In his five-season career in the Major Leagues, Ogden went 18–19. More to the point, his entire World Series career consisted of only two batters faced, one of whom he walked.
Before we get to the “meat” of this essay that you’re so eager to taste, here’s something you might not have heard before: Before Dennis Eckersley’s miraculous transmogrification into a devastatingly effective relief pitcher, he was NOT an old broken-down pitcher on the verge of forced retirement. At least not obviously.
As the Detroit Tigers entered the stretch run in 1968, Manager Mayo Smith had a small problem.
The good news was that Smith’s Tigers looked like a great bet to win their first American League pennant since World War II. They’d grabbed first place in the middle of May and never let go; by the middle of September, they had a double-digit lead in the standings and the pennant race was over.