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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Griffey a Pirate? Chipper a Tiger? The MLB draft rule that changed history

What if I told you that, if not for a now-defunct MLB draft rule, Ken Griffey Jr. would be wearing a Pirates cap on his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown?

And that Alex Rodriguez never would have been a Mariner, either?

And that Chipper Jones would’ve gone to Detroit, not Atlanta?...

All of that is due in part to a small yet significant draft rule retired 15 years ago. It stipulated that the No. 1 pick alternate each year between leagues. The NL drafted first in even years; the AL was first in odd years. Take Griffey’s draft, for example. The NL had drafted first in 1986 — Pittsburgh took Jeff King — and the top pick ping-ponged back to the AL in 1987. The lucky losers? The Mariners, despite having a better record than the Pirates.

This rule, alternating draft order by league, lived for 41 years. It shaped the course of baseball history, and then it quietly went away.

“I did not know about that rule,” Jones said, then laughed. “Not until now.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 27, 2020 at 10:39 AM | 4 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: draft

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   1. Itchy Row Posted: May 27, 2020 at 12:15 PM (#5953826)
If, for some reason, Todd Van Poppel had been OK with Detroit picking him first instead of Atlanta, Chipper would have still been there for the Braves at #2. The next three picks after Chipper were Tony Clark, Mike Lieberthal, and Alex Fernandez. At least one of them would have been available at #5, and Seattle and Cleveland tied for the fifth-worst record in 1989. Both teams were good by the mid-90's but would have been better with Clark, Lieberthal, or Fernandez than the players they did take, Marc Newfield for Seattle and Tim Costo for Cleveland. Of course, they may not have developed the same way in different organizations.
   2. SoSH U at work Posted: May 27, 2020 at 01:40 PM (#5953858)
The rule made sense before IL play was instituted. Record alone couldn't identify whether the 63-win Orioles were worse than the 64-win Padres. Even now, it wouldn't be unreasonable.
   3. flournoy Posted: May 27, 2020 at 06:57 PM (#5953965)
I preferred the alternating method, since it made it a lot easier to remember who was drafted which year. (If I were trying to remember whether Phil Nevin was drafted #1 in 1991 or 1991, then I could remember that Chipper Jones was drafted in 1990, so Nevin must have been 1992.)

Would the Tigers have taken Chipper Jones #1, or did they prefer Tony Clark anyway if they weren't going to take Van Poppel? I guess we'll never know. For what it's worth, Bobby Cox (the Braves' GM when Chipper was drafted) has said that he preferred Chipper Jones to Todd Van Poppel regardless. Whether you believe that or think it's revisionist history is up to you, but I think it's true.
   4. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: May 28, 2020 at 04:02 PM (#5954188)
Griffey a Pirate?

Mark Merchant is fine too, I guess.

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