Born to Lose
Miami and Denver will get the same old leftovers
Faye Throneberry. Marion Zipfel. Merritt Ranew. Choo Choo Coleman.
Those were some of the not-quite-household names in the original baseball expansion drafts, in 1960 and '61. Back then the Los Angeles Angels, Washington Senators, Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets each paid $2 million to join the major leagues. Last week baseball's ownership committee recommended that Denver and Miami be given the right to pay entry fees of $95 million apiece. And what will the two new franchises be getting for their money? Faye Throneberry. Marion Zipfel. Merritt Ranew. Choo Choo Coleman.
Thirty years ago, major league teams were able to protect 15 players from the draft. That tradition continued when the two leagues decided to expand in 1968 and the American League grew again, in '76. Lou Gorman, now the Boston Red Sox general manager, represented the Kansas City Royals at the '68 American League draft, and he recalls, "After we took three players—Roger Nelson, Joe Foy and Jim Rooker—Ewing Kauffman [the Royals' owner] asked me what was left. I told him not much. He said, 'Why don't we just give 'em the money and not take the players?' "
Plans for the coming expansion draft, in November 1992, call for much the same setup as the earlier ones had: Each established club gets to freeze 15 players, an additional three players after it loses one, and another three after a second player is chosen. The one significant change this time is that the other league will be adding to the pool for the first time. Commissioner Fay Vincent ruled two weeks ago that each American League club will get $3 million of the $190 million expansion fee and that, in return, each team must provide players for the draft pool. (Predictably, both leagues griped about the deal.)
The inclusion of American League players means merely that Miami and Denver will have more mediocre players to choose from, not better ones. As former Houston Astro general manager Tal Smith, who conducted a couple of mock drafts as a consultant to several of the expansion groups, says, "You're not going to see a whole lot of quality. The new teams may be able to get a few fading veterans, but that's all."
In their first year of competition, the 10 previous expansion teams had a combined winning percentage of .369. The worst, of course, was Choo Choo's 1962 Mets, with .250; the best was Throneberry's '61 Angels, at .435. It's time to change the rules. Decreasing the number of players who can be protected by existing teams would be a big help. So would giving the new teams priority in next year's amateur draft.
The Denver and Miami baseball people are too happy now to complain. But for $95 million, they deserve competitive teams. All baseball fans deserve that.
Jack McCallum assesses the upcoming NBA draft
There is no clear-cut No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft, scheduled for June 26 at Madison Square Garden, but there is a lot of talent at the top. Here's a quick look at what the teams with the 11 lottery picks are likely to do: