The Draft

The draft will keep his bonus down, too.

In case you hadn’t heard, baseball used to be different from what it is today. One of the primary reasons for that is the use or disuse of the draft. Before the draft existed, teams signed the amateur players. Early on, this wasn’t a big deal. Scouting was completely different. Teams didn’t dedicate millions of dollars to sending scouts out to check out high school and college games. Most players were signed because of tips from people from the area of the player. A scout came and checked them out. Otherwise, the teams mainly stayed in the area and made the occasional jaunt out to an amateur league to check out an outstanding player. However, as leagues and college games became more formalized and information spread more quickly, the free-market became a problem.

Well, at least for small-market teams. Wealthier teams such as the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, the main perpetrators, could outbid everyone else for any prospect they wanted. You might get angry when they sign free-agents, but being able to use their vast resources to sign any young player they wanted is a much bigger advantage. In fact, since the institution of the draft, the Yankees have only won 7 of their 26 World Series and the Cardinals have only won 2 of their 10. The competitive balance was completely changed by the creation of the draft.

But how exactly did it come about? As I said, certain teams could outbid others. One team would find a player, and the wealthy teams would also hear. They came in and upped the offer. It continued to grow until the wealthy team won. In 1947, a formal rule was implemented. Any team paying a player over $4,000 could not join a minor-league team for 2 years. The player went on the major-league roster or was released as a free-agent. Seems good, right? Well, then certain charges were brought against the Kansas City Athletics. Teams believed they signed players, kept them on the team for 2 seasons, traded the player away, and received under the table money from a wealthy team. Clete Boyer is the best example. The Athletics eventually admitted to doing it.

During the Winter Meeting in 1964, teams knew something had to be done, but not everyone thought that way. The St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers tried to persuade the rest against creating the draft, but it didn’t work. A draft was controversial. A Yankee executive equated it with communism in the 1950’s, and he wasn’t alone in believing a draft was against good, old-fashioned American values. Others believed it was the same thing as the slave trade where players were auctioned off. In the end, the desire for competitive balance won out, and in the final vote, only the St. Louis Cardinals voted against the draft.

The original draft in 1965 was quite different from today’s. College players were eligible as sophomores, but most picks went to high-school players. Originally, there was no limit to the draft, but in 1998, the MLB decided 50 rounds were enough. There were also three drafts. One was held in June and was for college and high-school seniors that had just graduated. Another was held in August for players in amateur leagues. The last was held in January for students who graduated in the winter. The August one was dropped in 1966, and the January draft was dropped in 1987. Finally (well not finally; the draft has changed in a lot of ways), teams could sign drafted players until a week before the next draft (draft-and-follow players) until 2007.

The impact of the draft was obvious. Rick Reichardt was signed for $205,000, ignoring an unwritten rule to not go over $100,000, in 1964. Rick Monday, the very first draft pick ever, received $104,000. In addition to simply affecting American players, Latin American players also saw some drawbacks. They had increasingly come to the United States to play, and teams liked that they could sign them for much cheaper. With the draft, this wasn’t as necessary. When free-agency came, teams went back to Latin America.

Puerto Rico was added to the draft in 1989, and four years later, Canadians were added.

As for the one-year rule on trading prospects, Pete Incaviglia decided that he didn’t like not getting as much money as he thought he could. Montreal tried to work with him, but after 5 months, they traded him later in 1984. A year later, no teams could trade a player so soon after drafting him.

Today, the draft continues to suppress signing bonuses. On one hand, it’s not really fair for players to lose out on money that teams would be willing to pay them, but on the other, dropping the draft would probably kill any competitive balance in baseball.

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