FEELING A DRAFT
There will be no live TV audience when baseball conducts its amateur draft on June 1-3. In fact, except for the first round, clubs won't even announce their selections for a week, and even then the names won't mean much: Andy Benes (rhp, Evansville, Ind.), Mark Lewis (ss, Hamilton, Ohio), Bob Hamelin (lb, Irvine, Calif.), Matt Murray (rhp, Swampscott, Mass.). Baseball doesn't work like pro football and basketball; fewer than 60% of first-round draft picks make the majors. Picking baseball talent is so imprecise that 10 pitchers (where have you gone, Jackie Davidson?) were selected in 1983 ahead of Roger Clemens, and in 1979 Don Mattingly went unchosen until the 19th round. Catcher Danny Goodwin was the first pick in not one but two drafts, in 1971 and '75. Goodwin ended up playing with three teams in seven years, batting .236 and never catching.
If you want to know which of this year's draftees will make it, watch the St. Louis Cardinals selections. All of their first-round choices since 1981 are in the major leagues, and all except two are with the Cardinals: Bobby Meacham ( Yankees), Todd Worrell, Jim Lindeman, Mike Dunne ( Pirates), Joe Magrane, Luis Alicea and Cris Carpenter. No other team can match the Cardinals' drafting success.
Making St. Louis's record all the more remarkable is the fact that not once in seven years have the Cards drafted in the top five positions. By contrast, the New York Mets are often praised for their drafting acumen, but they got Darryl Strawberry with the No. 1 pick in 1980 and Dwight Gooden with the fifth selection in 1982. Last year in an SI poll, general managers chose the Cardinals and the Toronto Blue Jays as baseball's best organizations. "We don't do a lot of talking or self-promoting," says St. Louis scouting director Fred McAlister. That becomes obvious when general manager Dal Maxvill says that McAlister is "the most valuable person in the Cards' organization."
As obscure as the baseball draft might be, it makes or breaks a team. "The Dodgers were built for a decade by their '68 draft," says Mets vice-president for baseball operations Joe McIlvaine. That year Los Angeles selected Steve Garvey, Bill Buckner, Ron Cey and Joe Ferguson. As an example of how two teams can go in different directions from a single draft, consider 1982. The San Diego Padres picked third, the Mets fifth.
Round No. 1: Padres take pitcher Jimmy Jones. Mets take Gooden.
Round No. 2: Padres take pitcher Joe Plesac, now retired. Mets take pitcher Floyd Youmans; trade him in deal for Gary Carter.
Round No. 3: Padres take infielder Mark Wasinger. Mets take relief pitcher Roger McDowell.
Round No. 4: Padres take pitcher Mark Williamson; trade him for pitcher Storm Davis. Mets take Tracy Jones, whom they fail to sign.
Round No. 5: Padres take pitcher Gregory Young; deal him for Ray Knight.