In early 1954, legendary Dodgers scout Al Campanis signed young Roberto Clemente after seeing him play in Puerto Rico. Because Clemente was signed to a somewhat pricey contract by the standards of the era, he fell under the “bonus baby” rules that mandated he be placed on the major-league roster. But the Dodgers didn’t do that.
Instead, they dispatched Clemente to the Montreal Royals of the Triple-A International League (Jackie Robinson’s former minor-league team) in time for the ‘54 season. In part, the Dodgers made that critical decision because some higher-ups feared that the Brooklyn roster already had enough minority players on it. So in an effort to pacify those unfortunate elements, they exposed Clemente to the Rule 5 draft.
In Montreal, the 19-year-old Clemente batted just .257/.286/.372, but his tools and underlying skills were readily apparent. The Dodgers remained extremely bullish on Clemente, but they surely hoped—in error, it turned out—that he would escape the roving eyes of other clubs.
Dodgers operator Buzzie Bavasi even beseeched his old boss, Branch Rickey, who was by then helming the Pirates, to take anyone except Clemente with the top pick. Eventually, though, Rickey settled on Clemente, and his relationship with Bavasi was forever compromised.