Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Baseball Enriched by 1973 Draft Class
RT Staff Note: As one of our correspondents son graduates HS school this year awaiting the draft, but more than likely off to honor his commitment to a major D-I, it made us think back to the year we graduated. For me, it was 1973 and the baseball writing Gods had my back today, because as I was just about to look up the players that were significant in 1973, there pops up an article from MLB and Jack O'Connell. Jack is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
The 1973 First-Year Player Draft was distinguished by having three of the first four players go directly to the Major Leagues without any time in the Minors. In the case of two of those players, Robin Yount and Dave Winfield, they began a journey that eventually took them to the Hall of Fame. In the case of the top overall pick, David Clyde, the fast track proved a grave mistake.
Clyde, a left-handed pitcher from Houston, became the prime example of a player moving up too fast. The Rangers were in their second year in Texas after the Washington Senators franchise moved to Arlington after the 1971 season, and the selection of an 18-year-old Texan in the amateur Draft put dollar signs in the eyes of owner Bob Short, whose decision it was to place Clyde on the Major League roster.
Short saw in Clyde not only a talented pitcher of unlimited potential, but also a box-office draw. Clyde was 18-0 as a senior at Westchester High School, where he allowed only three earned runs in 148 innings (0.18 ERA) and pitched five no-hitters, two of them perfect games. He received a $125,000 signing bonus and began earning it immediately.
The original plan was for Clyde to make two starts for the Rangers and then be farmed out. Clyde's debut on June 27, 1973 attracted a crowd of 35,698 to Arlington Stadium. He lasted five innings and was credited with the victory as the Rangers beat the Twins, 4-3.
Clyde won his second start as well, pitching seven solid innings in a 5-4 victory over the Tigers. That convinced Short to keep Clyde with the Rangers for the remainder of the season. It worked well at the gate, as Texas, which finished last in the American League West that year with a 57-105 mark, drew more than 20,000 people to each of Clyde's starts, but at year's end his record was 4-8 with a 5.01 ERA.
After posting a 3-9 record in 1974, and losing his first start in 1975, Clyde finally wound up in the Minor Leagues. Traded to the Indians in 1978, Clyde was 11-15 in two combined seasons in Cleveland and was finished at age 26 with a career record of 18-33 with a 4.63 ERA.
Yount was also only 18 when he opened the 1974 season as the shortstop for the Brewers, who had taken him as the third overall pick in the '73 Draft. Like Texas, Milwaukee was a struggling franchise at the time, but there was no pressure placed on Yount to draw fans as there was on Clyde. The Brewers wanted Yount to concentrate on defense and let the offense gradually come. It did, some 3,142 hits worth by the time he retired in 1993 with two American League Most Valuable Player Awards in tow and a ticket to Cooperstown, N.Y., ready to be punched.
Winfield, who had also been drafted by the National Basketball Association's Atlanta Hawks, the American Basketball Association's Utah Stars and the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings (even though he did not play football in college), was taken by the Padres as the fourth overall pick and joined the San Diego outfield later that month. A pitcher and an outfielder at the University of Minnesota, Winfield, a St. Paul native, was the Most Valuable Player of the College World Series.
He also was a strong rebounding forward of the Gophers' basketball team that won its first Big 10 championship in 53 years.
"There was never any doubt in my mind which sport I was going to play professionally," Winfield said. "I chose baseball, because to me baseball is the best game of all."
The Phillies had the second overall pick in '73 and used it to select John Stearns, who was a baseball outfielder and a football defensive back at the University of Colorado. Stearns played in one game for Philadelphia in 1974 and was part of an offseason trade to the Mets that sent Tug McGraw to the Phillies.
Other first-round selections that year who went on to some measure of success in the Majors were infielder Johnnie LeMaster (Giants), outfielders Gary Roenicke (Expos) and Lee Mazzilli (Mets) and catchers Steve Swisher (White Sox) and Steve Nicosia (Pirates).
The Red Sox chose University of Southern California outfielder Fred Lynn in the second round with the 41st pick. Two years later, Lynn became the first player in history to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season.
Yount and Winfield weren't the only future Hall of Famers to come out of the 1973 Draft. Switch-hitting first baseman Eddie Murray of Locke High School in Los Angeles was picked in the third round by the Orioles with the 63rd selection.
Others taken in the third round were pitchers Len Barker (Rangers) and Floyd Bannister (A's) and outfielders Mitchell Page (Pirates) and Ruppert Jones (Royals).
Pitcher LaMarr Hoyt, the 1983 American League Cy Young Award winner with the White Sox and the 1985 All-Star Game MVP with the Padres, was selected in the fifth round by the Yankees. Another future AL Cy Young Award winner, Mike Flanagan, was a seventh-round pick by the Orioles.
Outfielder Jack Clark, who went on to hit 340 home runs in the Majors, wasn't drafted until the 13th round by the Giants with the 294th pick. Relief pitcher Jeff Reardon was a 23rd-round pick by the Expos, but did not sign and instead attended the University of Massachusetts. He eventually signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent and was traded to Montreal in 1981, beginning a long career of success as a closer.
The Cardinals used their 25th-round selection (No. 567) to choose Yale University shortstop Dick Jauron, who was also a defensive back and a fourth-round NFL pick of the Detroit Lions. Jauron decided to make football his game and is now head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
Other mid- to late-round choices in '73 included pitchers Matt Keough, Bob Stanley, Mike Krukow, Brian Kingman and Jay Howell; infielders Wayne Gross, Garth Iorg and Butch Hobson; outfielders Dwayne Murphy, Billy Sample and Ken Landreaux and eventual hitting-coach guru Rudy Jaramillo.
One of the last selections of that year's Draft to go on to carve out a decent career in the Majors was pitcher Bryn Smith. The Cardinals chose Smith in the 49th round with the 741st pick. He did not sign with them, and a year later signed with the Orioles as a Minor League free agent. The right-hander compiled a 108-94 record over 13 seasons with the Expos, Cardinals and Rockies.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.