Last season over 100 rookies broke into the big leagues. The three top hitting ones, Al Oliver of Pittsburgh (.285), Lou Piniella of Kansas City (.282) and Carlos May of the Chicago White Sox (.281), were all products of the Florida Instructional League. The Mets' Gentry, with only 41 games behind him in the minors, went to St. Petersburg last fall and won five games while losing none. He not only earned himself a starter's position on the World Champions but also helped pitch a shutout in the World Series and worked more innings (234) than any other rookie.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, solid contenders in the National League West until the final three weeks of the season, brought forth from Arizona their Mod Squad, who helped lift attendance in Dodger Stadium last season by nearly 250,000. Although it attracted virtually no attention at all, the Dodger program in Arizona during the fall of 1968 centered around converting a young catcher named Ted Sizemore into a second baseman. Without a single previous inning behind him in the major leagues, Sizemore was to become one of the main reasons why the Dodgers were in contention. Los Angeles now believes that the money it spent on Sizemore may very well have been the best investment the club ever made. This fall, retrying and force-feeding another crop of youngsters, the Dodgers worked on converting Third Baseman Bill Sudakis into a catcher and young Bill Russell into a third baseman.
Instructional league baseball, experimental only a few years ago, has now become an important thing with the parent clubs. The Tigers' Campbell probably said it best. "When Baltimore, Boston and the Tigers won in the Florida Instructional League and got into the Series everbody kind of kidded about it. Then in 1968 the Met youngsters won. We all said to ourselves, 'Well, there goes that myth.' It sure did, didn't it?"
Bert Blylevan and the Minnesota Twins please note.