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A joint ordeal is scheduled this Monday with major league officials and baseball writers battling for the role of star sufferer. The officials will meet at New York's Biltmore Hotel to start the annual "draft" of talent from the minor leagues. Each official has received, and presumably studied, a 69-page list of draftable players prepared by the Commissioner's office. The draft tests each official's ability to remember and to choose. It combines the main features of a final examination and tap day.
When Monday wanes and the draft is ended, the reporters' anguish starts. The newsmen will be required to write as much as 1,000 words on the enlistment of such players as George Schmees, outfielder. Schmees, the No. 1 draft choice in 1951, became famous as soon as his selection was announced.
"Who's Schmees?" shouted a puzzled newspaperman.
"God bless you," said his neighbor. That was George Schmees' moment in the sun. He failed to make the St. Louis Browns' outfield, turned to pitching and was traded to Boston. There he couldn't make the Red Sox's pitching staff. Schmees was back in the minors again the following summer. He is eligible to be drafted again Monday.
The draft, and the draftees in it, are not what they used to be, as Ty Cobb might say. The bargains are harder to come by, but that the draft has survived at all is remarkable. It began in the late 19th Century and today not much is heard of early contemporaries of the draft such as the Open Door Policy, Tony Pastor's and the battleship Maine .
The actual process of drafting entails simply selecting players from a list. Major leaguers pick and minor leaguers yield the contracts of players for a sum fixed by baseball law. The sum varies from $15,000 for Pacific Coast League draftees to $2,000 for Class D ball players.
No more than one man may be drafted from any one team, and the clubs make their picks in reverse order of the season standings. The leagues alternate first pick annually and on Monday the Kansas City X's, successors to last-place Philadelphia Athletics, will make the opening choice. Then the Pittsburgh Pirates, last in the National League, choose. So it goes until the New York Giants have picked, and then the whole thing starts over again until everyone has made all the choices he wants or all the major league rosters have reached the 40-player limit.
The original idea of the draft resembled the original idea of the hammer lock. In the 19th Century the major leagues forced a draft upon the minor leagues to keep the line clear between major and minor. The theory was to prevent a minor league club from keeping good young ball players until they had become great young ball players and given, say, East Walla Walla a "minor league" team of major league caliber.
The theory proved practical and the draft was a pillar of baseball's complex structure until Branch Rickey, perhaps the most practical man in baseball history, hit upon something that replaced the old pillar with a new one. Rickey took thought one night and invented the farm system.
Today nearly every minor league team works with a major league team. Some are owned outright; others are tied to big brother by working agreements. Most of the standout players in the majors today are products of the farm system. When Rickey built the great St. Louis Cardinal teams of the 1930s, he built them with farm products. Dizzy Dean was one. Joe Medwick was another. A trend was established and current major leaguers from Stan Musial to Willie Mays are up from the farms.