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On their way up, promising young players are protected from the free-for-all of the draft by a thoughtful network of contract options. A player on a major league roster can be optioned to a minor league team three times and remain immune to draft. The best youngsters are almost always covered by these options. Nonetheless, bargains are occasionally found in the yearly draft. Oversights, mistakes and sheer luck all work to produce surprises. No baseball man will take the draft lightly on Monday.
Considered strictly as an investment, it is doubtful if anything short of a uranium strike ever exceeded the return the Philadelphia Phils got for $7,500 in the 1931 draft.
The Phils made their investment when they tapped Al Todd, a catcher, from Dallas. Todd played with the Phils for four seasons, hit .318 once and was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two players...
One of the two ex-Pirates, Pitcher Claude Passeau, stayed with the Phils for four years and was traded to the Chicago Cubs for an unannounced sum of cash and three more players...
One of the three ex-Cubs, Pitcher Kirby Higbe, was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for another three players and an announced $100,000...
One of the three ex-Dodgers, Catcher Mickey Livingstone, was traded to the Cubs for Pitcher Bill Lee...
Lee was sold in 1945 for $7,500 and the Phils had their original investment back. They also had a great deal more.
Returns on the $7,500 draft of Todd totaled use of ten players for periods up to four years each, plus an unannounced sum plus $100,000.
It isn't likely that a capital gain like Todd will be drafted Monday. Nor is it likely than an organization will slip as the New York Giants once did and allow a name like Hack Wilson to appear on the list. Wilson, drafted by the Cubs in 1925 after the Giants thought they had him safely hidden, hit 56 home runs five seasons later.
Yet on the 1954 list there may be someone who doesn't belong, who's too good, who should have been covered up but wasn't. It's a long list. Between now and Monday lights will burn late in major league offices.