Major League Drafts: The Magic Number Five

Alan Schwarz has an interesting feature at ESPN entitled, “The Magic No. 5.”

If history is any indication, baseball’s 2005 draft, which begins Tuesday afternoon, should be one of the most notable in history. That’s because the baseball draft loves any year that ends in 5. Consider this: Such years have seen the first draft ever (1965), the worst draft ever (1975), the best draft ever (1985) and a 1995 affair that stocked the NFL almost as much as it did MLB.


1965-Major League Baseball’s first amateur draft, held at New York’s Commodore Hotel, came about for a very simple and time-honored reason: team owners wanted to save money. The previous year, the best prospect on the market, University of Wisconsin outfielder Rick Reichardt, had received an unheard-of $205,000 bonus from the Los Angeles Angels. So the owners voted for a draft, becoming the last of the four major sports to do so (the NFL draft began in 1936, basketball in 1947 and hockey in 1963).

The superstars of the 1965 draft were Johnny Bench (2nd round, Cincinatti Reds) and Nolan Ryan (1oth round, New York Mets).

Ryan’s low selection is even more baffling today. The Alvin (Texas) High right-hander was the 295th player chosen, amid rumors that he was too small (155 pounds), was overused by his high school coach and suffered from malaria. “I swear he threw over 100 mph as a junior,” said Red Murff, who signed Ryan for the Mets. “There were no radar guns in those days, but he had the best arm I’d ever seen — not just in high school, in my life. And I’d seen Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax. It’s always been a mystery to me why other organizations never saw in him what I saw.”

Drafting is an inexact science, indeed, as demonstrated by the 1975 draft which yielded no players the casual fan has heard of in the early rounds.

The ’75 draft will always be remembered for two things. First, Danny Goodwin was the No. 1 overall pick once again, the only time a player has had that honor twice. And second, very few subsequent picks proved much better than Goodwin — so this draft holds the distinction of being the worst draft of all time.

A decade later, the opposite occured:

1985-Their names ring out like a who’s who of baseball’s last 20 years: Bonds. Johnson. Larkin. Palmeiro. When they left college 20 years ago, after ushering in one of college baseball’s most glorious eras, they entered pro ball with such legends and talent that everyone recognized they were destined for greatness. More stars emerged from the 1985 draft than any other. Don’t forget Will Clark, John Smoltz, Mark Grace, David Justice and many more. At the time, many considered the 1984 draft one of the best ever because of U.S. Olympians such as Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder and Billy Swift. But when the next draft rolled around, they knew they’d spoken too soon.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    I believe that’s two “Amazings” to conclude posts today. What the hell’s wrong with you, Joyner – “Heh, indeed” not good enough for you? We have TRADITIONS!