The management of baseball, which sometimes seems like a private club for buffoons, will make this June 2 free-agent draft a closed affair. No names are to be announced until a week after the draft, and then they will be announced not in draft order but alphabetically. Their intention is to get a jump on agents and college recruiters who use the draft to verify their own reports on top prospects. But the real result will be draftees overestimating their own worth and asking for big money. Besides, the public will lose interest in the draft. Once again, the people who run baseball cannot be accused of having either intelligence or a liking for their game.
In any case, speaking of drafts, five notable judges of baseball talent were asked the question: "Who was the best prospect you ever saw?"
Howie Haak of the Pirates, who started with Branch Rickey and the Dodgers 39 years ago and may be the first scout in Cooperstown if that breed is ever admitted to the Hall of Fame: "Alfredo Edmead, a Dominican outfielder whom we signed in 1975. He was 17 years old and so good that he skipped the rookie leagues and started in the Carolina League. He was hitting .314 with 7 triples, 18 doubles and 61 stolen bases when he collided with friend and second baseman Pablo Cruz in Salem, Virginia. Cruz's knee crushed his [Edmead's] skull and he was killed. Doctors later learned that his skull was so thin that, had he been beaned, even if he was wearing a helmet, he'd have been killed. But he had the best skills I ever saw." This from the same man who scouted Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson.
Joe Stephenson of the Red Sox, who has worked Southern California for 36 years: "Ken Brett—but as a centerfielder. When the Red Sox drafted him, they needed pitching, but I never thought he had the makeup to pitch. He was a better hitter, had more power, could run, throw and play defense better than his brother. He'd have been a great centerfielder for Boston for years. Next? Robin Yount."
Dick Bogard, Oakland scouting director: "Reggie Jackson. He could do absolutely everything, and with instinct. Reggie always loved to play."
Brandy Davis, national supervisor for the Cubs: "It would be between Mike Schmidt and Dale Murphy. Schmidt was a college shortstop with extraordinary power, hands, instincts, great presence and maturity....
But Murphy had everything, too." When Davis was with the Phils, he begged for Murphy, but he was overruled and they took Lonnie Smith in the '74 draft.
George Digby, Red Sox Southeastern scout since 1944 (he scouted both Wade Boggs and Haywood Sullivan): "Willie Mays, and not because he turned out to be so great. In 1949, I went up to scout Boston's Double A club in Birmingham. The general manager was a friend of mine, and he suggested that I stay over a day and take a look at the Birmingham Black Barons. As soon as I saw that 17-year-old kid in centerfield, I wanted to sign him. He wanted to sign, too, but when I called back to the office, they told me I had to wait—I guess because he was black. They sent a coach named Larry Woodall down for a second opinion, but Woodall didn't like Mays and signed Piper Davis instead." Digby also said that when Dwight Gooden was in high school, he was the best pitching prospect he'd ever seen.
THE BOSOX AND THE BLEACHERS
When Don Slaught of the Rangers was beaned by the Red Sox' Oil Can Boyd, on May 17, it was suggested by the Rangers that Slaught had lost sight of the pitch against the centerfield backdrop of bleacher fans. "I don't think there's any doubt he didn't see the ball," said the Rangers' Tom Paciorek. "When you get a righthander coming over the top, it's tough to pick the ball from out of all those people. They ought to close that area off. You know what happened to Tony C." The response from Red Sox president Haywood Sullivan was, "Who's complaining about it? Guys who are hitting .190." Actually, one of the most vocal critics was Wade Boggs, who said, "It's a dangerous situation." Said the compassionate Sullivan, "We'll close it if the players agree to take a pay cut proportionate to the lost seats."...Dick Williams has made his response to Steve Garvey's criticism: "Garvey doesn't know everything," said Williams. "He's not an authority on every matter. He has his own management group, but he's not a manager." Williams is already riding herd on the Mariners, threatening changes and the release of some veterans like Steve Yeager and Gorman Thomas....