Last year was the 50th anniversary of the first ever MLB draft. On Thursdays, PSA will dust off the old time baseball time machine and have a look back at some of the more fruitful and interesting draft classes in New York Yankees' history.
Today we'll look back not on one year, but on the very first years of the MLB Draft. For the Yankees, the first five drafts (1965 to 1969) weren't loaded with impact talent. However, a few of those picks did go on to have very productive big league careers. Let's have a look.
Stan Bahnsen (Round 4, 68th overall in 1965)
Drafted out of the University of Nebraska, Bahnsen became a regular member of the Yankees' starting rotation as a 23-year-old in 1968 (winning Rookie of the Year that year), pitching to a 3.10 ERA and winning 55 games in five seasons with the team.
Following a trade to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 1972 season, Bahnsen became part of manager Chuck Tanner's three-man rotation experiment. Bahnsen (41 starts/252.1 innings), Tom Bradley (40 starts/260 innings), and Wilbur Wood (49 starts/376.2 innings) started an incredible 130 of the team's 154 games that year as the White Sox finished with their best record in six years.
The right-handed Bahnsen pitched a total of 16 seasons in the majors, finishing with a 146-149 record and 3.60 ERA in 574 games after retiring in 1982.
Ron Blomberg (Round 1, 1st overall in 1967)
A first overall pick that retired at 29 with just 391 career big league hits might otherwise be un-noteworthy. However, when that person does something in the sport that has never been done before, then he becomes someone you talk about.
After the American League approved of the originally temporary rule change prior to the 1973 season, Blomberg became the first player to ever take the pitcher's spot in the lineup as the designated hitter on April 6, 1973 at Fenway Park. The first plate appearance by a DH ended with a RBI, as Blomberg- hitting sixth- was walked by Luis Tiant with the bases loaded in the first inning.
Blomberg would go on to have the best season of his eight-year career in 1973, slashing .329/.395/.498 with 12 home runs in 100 games, 56 of which he served as the DH. For his career, the left-handed hitter hit .293 in close to 1,500 plate appearances.
Steve Rogers (Round 60, 925th overall in 1967)
Sometimes in fishing, the fish just get away.
Though the Yankees drafted him out of high school, Rogers did not sign with the club and instead chose to attend the University of Tulsa. The right-hander wound up being selected fourth overall by the Montreal Expos in 1971, and went on to have a rather productive career.
Rogers pitched his entire career with the Expos, making the All-Star team five times while three times finishing in the top five in Cy Young Award voting, including placing a distant second to Steve Carlton in 1982 despite arguably having a better season. Rogers won 158 games in his 13 big league seasons, pitching to a 3.17 ERA and 116 ERA+ in 399 games.
Thurman Munson (Round 1, 4th overall in 1968)
Far and away the best player the Yankees drafted in the 1960s, Munson was drafted out of Kent State University and was in the big leagues just over a year after being selected. Munson won Rookie of the Year honors in 1970 as a 23-year-old, hitting .302 and driving in 53 in 132 games. The rugged catcher would quickly establish himself as one of the leaders of the team and one of the best players in the game, making seven All-Star teams, winning three Gold Gloves, and being voted the American League MVP in 1976 in addition to helping the Yankees win two championships.
If not for his tragic death in 1979, Munson very well could have gone on to a Hall of Fame-caliber career, as he already had amassed over 1,500 hits and a .292/.346/.410 batting line to that point in his career. If, like me, you never saw Munson play, or would like a reminder of how good he was, make sure you check out the above video. What a catcher.
On a side note, the first round of the '68 draft has some other interesting Yankee connections. The first overall pick, infielder Tim Foli of the New York Mets, was apart of the 1972 trade that brought Rusty Staub to New York and sent Foli to the Montreal Expos along with current YES Network broadcaster Ken Singleton. Also, after playing in 61 games for them in 1984, the Yankees traded Foli (with Steve Kemp) to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Dale Berra (Yogi's son) and Jay Buhner, thus setting the scene for one of the greatest moments in Seinfeld history thanks to the Yankees eventual trade of Buhner.
Also, Foli served as a coach for the Texas Rangers from 1986-87 under manager Bobby Valentine, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers one pick after the Yankees selected Munson. It's a small world.
Collectively, the five drafts from 1965-69 produced only 27 big leaguers for the Yankees out of the 273 they drafted. Keep in mind that, while the draft now has 40 rounds, the number of rounds in the draft in the early years routinely pushed into the 50s and 60s (and sometimes 70s), though this was primarily due to expansion teams being added. For example, the '69 draft featured 90 rounds, but from the 50th round on, most of the picks were made by the expansion Kansas City Royals and Montreal Expos.
The 27 eventual big leaguers they did draft produced a cumulative WAR of 128.7, with Munson (45.9), Rogers (45.1) and Bahnsen (22.9) producing most of that total.