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.
When baseball’s 1992 Winter Meetings convened in Louisville, there was panic in the air. In the previous season, attendance had fallen for 18 of the 26 existing Major League franchises. And according to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurkjian, “CBS and ESPN can’t wait to be free of their four-year, $1.5 billion commitment to televise baseball, which expires after next season.”
Making baseball trades used to be relatively easy. In the old days, few players had multiyear contracts and no players had no-trade clauses. Also, few players made enough money that a prospective employer had to worry much about affording their acquisition.
Baseball’s “modern” Winter Meetings have been held every year since 1901—they didn’t take a break during World Wars I or II, or during the labor war in 1994—but only twice have the meetings been sited outside U.S. borders.
In 1979 the meetings were held in Toronto, perhaps to honor the city’s Blue Jays, who had just finished their second season in the American League. A dozen years earlier, the meetings had been held in Mexico City.
When you study the business machinations and the franchise-shaking transactions and the rule changes that have characterized baseball’s various Winter Meetings since (at least) early in the last century, one small benefit is discovering rules that weren’t changed, proposals that weren’t adopted.
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.