Let the record show that J.D. Drew finally began his career with
a major league organization at 6:09 p.m. CDT on July 4 in
Wichita, Kans., about a year later than the rest of the baseball
world thought he should have. His debut featured its own mocking
soundtrack. Before his first at bat for the Double A Arkansas
Travelers against the Wichita Wranglers, the public address
system blared Pink Floyd's Money. For his next at bat the
background music was the Beatles' Money (That's What I Want). His
third at bat was greeted by the strains of Dire Straits' Money
for Nothing, and his final turn was accompanied by the Steve
Miller Band's Take the Money and Run. It didn't take a major
leaguer to detect a theme developing.
the field, Drew has elicited comparisons to his idol, Mantle.
A day earlier the Cardinals had signed the 22-year-old
centerfielder to the largest contract ever for a ballplayer
signed by the team that drafted him, providing a guaranteed $7
million (including a $3 million signing bonus) over four
seasons, with incentives that could make the deal worth $8.5
million. That ended Drew's 13 months of high-profile haggling
with, first, the Phillies, who selected him No. 2 in the 1997
draft, and then the Cardinals, who made him the fifth pick this
year. Along the way Drew, whose agent, Scott Boras, had
initially demanded $11 million from the Phillies, cemented his
status as baseball's new poster boy for greed.
Whenever Drew is asked about his prolonged holdout, he responds
with well-rehearsed piety, insisting that his career path is all
part of God's plan. "I've stuck to my principles all along," Drew
says. "Scott told me what I was worth on the open market, and I
was willing to wait till I got it."
The deal has made Drew a pariah. While his Arkansas teammates
have publicly accepted him, one of them, second baseman Stubby
Clapp, allows that Drew's contract squabbling was "a black mark
on the game." Drew's signing is bound to create a ripple effect
throughout the game, raising the pay scale for all unsigned '98
first-round draft picks. It's especially vexing for the Phillies
as they try to sign Pat Burrell, the player they chose with the
No. 1 pick in this year's draft.
Of the 25 Cardinals on the big league roster, only seven have
more guaranteed money in their current contracts than Drew does.
To avoid further ruffling the feathers of the St. Louis play
ers, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty refused to grant
Drew contractual assurances that he would be called up to the
majors on a specific timetable. But having spent that much on a
draft choice, the Cardinals will now have to up the ante if they
hope to re-sign potential free agents Brian Jordan, Todd
Stottlemyre, Royce Clayton and Delino DeShields.
Jordan has called Drew's deal "outrageous." Mark McGwire proposed
a $250,000 salary cap on future draft picks after saying, "You've
got to have your head examined if you're going to turn down $6
million out of college," referring to the Phillies' offer that
Drew refused. Reaction from other baseball precincts ranges from
similarly ornery to scary, especially in Philadelphia, where
righthander Curt Schilling has said, "They better issue him a
helmet with double ear flaps."
Drew understands that he can best deflect the criticism by
proving his worth, and the lefthanded-hitting slugger did crack
two home runs in his second game for Arkansas. Through Sunday he
was 9 for 31 (.290) with three homers and seven RBIs in eight
games, while eliciting comparisons to Mickey Mantle. With his
powerful swing, his grace in centerfield and his strong throwing
arm, Drew does not shy away from such comparisons and even plans
to wear Mantle's number 7 when he reaches the big leagues.
"Hopefully I'll turn out to be like him," he says. "Who wouldn't
want to do that? I set very high goals for myself."
If Drew makes the majors full time next season as the Cardinals
expect, he may be considered a bargain by the time his contract
ends in 2001. Although he might have collected more money in the
long run by beginning his career last summer and perhaps
becoming eligible for arbitration more quickly, Drew isn't
looking backward. "I'm at peace with my decisions, and if I had
to do it all over, I wouldn't change anything," he says. "Some
people have formed negative opinions of me, but someday
hopefully they'll judge me on my passion for baseball and how I
play the game."
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Issue date: July 20, 1998