Although, the format has changed over the years, a story on baseball rookies (page 30) has become something of a tradition at SI. This year, as our baseball staff sifted through the current crop, someone wondered how good (or bad) our picks had been in years past. So we hearkened to the immortal words of Casey Stengel and looked it up. Well, we've had our hits, our runs and, of course, our errors. For instance, last year we were confident that Dodger Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela would be one of the best rookies, and he was. In 1965 we were confident that Cardinal Infielder Ed Spiezio would be one of the best, and he wasn't.
"We haven't always tried to pick the Rookie of the Year," says baseball editor Larry Keith. "Often we've looked rather for an unusual story. For example, when we did Shortstop Harry Chappas [in 1979], we didn't even know if he'd make the team. We did him because he was interesting—and 5'5" tall."
Our top pick was made in 1961 by Walter Bingham, then a baseball writer, who went to baseball editor Bob Creamer and asked if he could do a story on just one rookie. "It seemed to me," says Bingham now, "that every year we were doing as many as 11 guys with, at best, mixed results." Bingham's pick was a kid from Long Island who had done really well in his two years in the minors and, in fact, was supposed to take over in left-field for Boston's legendary Ted Williams. Creamer said O.K. and Bingham wrote, right up there in the first paragraph, "... Carl Yastrzemski, a rookie with the Red Sox, is going to be a star."
We did not pick Mark (The Bird) Fidrych in 1976, but we had spotted another bird in 1975, Jim (Emu) Kern, whom, along with Keith Hernandez, Marc Hill, Tom Veryzer, Gary Carter and Phil Garner, we billed as "The Most Likely To Succeed." We are pleased to announce that they all did.
Last week we asked Creamer, our most venerable baseball hand, to select an SI all-star team from the rookies we've tapped over the years, and here's what he came up with: starting pitcher, Jim Kaat; relief pitcher, Kern (we picked very few pitchers); catcher, Johnny Bench; first base, Orlando Cepeda (over Boog Powell and Hernandez); second base, Willie Randolph; shortstop, Tony Kubek; third base, Brooks Robinson; leftfield, Yastrzemski; centerfield, Willie Wilson (moving over from left); rightfield, Lou Brock; designated hitter, Roger Maris (originally rightfield); manager, Sparky Anderson (we had picked him as a second baseman, but he only lasted one season).
Now all this may make us look pretty good, but to be perfectly honest, we think you should know that in 1968 we selected Detroit First Baseman Don Pepper, who appeared on our cover with four other rookies. He never made it. In 1976 we picked (among others) Texas Pitcher Jim Gideon. He never made it.
In the soon-to-be-immortal words of Larry Keith, "You've got to have a sense of humor about it."