Draft : : Story
Friday, June 07, 2013

Baseball Draft Acting Its Age

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game

At 48, Baseball Draft
Finally Acting Its Age

With the first three picks coming off the board as projected, and the remainder of the first round going pretty much according to form, the thing that struck me most about Day One of baseball’s first-year player draft was the widespread media coverage.

Granted, much of that coverage came from predictable sources like mlb.com, Sirius/XM Radio’s baseball-specific channel and Baseball America, but there was blanket coverage of the event by the combined team of Perfect Game and Baseball Prospectus, along with any number of other media outlets that generally make baseball coverage a priority, and even the mainstream media in a few circumstances.

Not only were more media outlets all over the first two rounds like perhaps never before, but more people than ever who had an expert opinion to express on the draft appeared to have at least an educated working knowledge of all 73 players drafted Thursday—even a couple of the unconventional selections. That’s in contrast to some of the blank stares we’ve seen in past years, when a team went off the board to make an anonymous selection.

What I saw, heard and read Thursday night only confirmed my long-standing belief that the baseball draft, given the proper amount of exposure, can be compelling theatre—even if none of the players selected plays in the big leagues this season.

Granted, it may never rival the NFL or even NBA for general fan appeal, and it still has a way to go to catch even the NHL, but the baseball draft has finally garnered some of the attention it could and should have been getting for at least the last 15-20 years, if not for the draft’s entire 48-year life.

Mind you, that assessment comes from someone who remembers precisely where he was when Rick Monday was selected with the first pick in the first draft in 1965—much like people remember where they were when man landed on the moon for the first time four years later.

Thursday’s draft coverage also had me thinking back to 1981, and even as recently as 1998, when the baseball draft was largely an afterthought—perpetuated by some incredibly shallow and short-sighted thinking on the part of the powers that be at Major League Baseball.

When I launched Baseball America from the garage of my home in Canada 32 years ago, the baseball draft had no national exposure and yet was at the forefront of our coverage from the very start, especially after we accurately pegged Mike Moore and Joe Carter as the top two picks in 1981. It still remains the one area that the publication is most synonymous with and, like Perfect Game, and even mlb.com, the 2-3 days that the baseball draft is conducted each June continue to generate substantially more web traffic than any other day or event.

As recently as 15 years ago, when Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett went 1-2, the draft got little or no national exposure (outside of in BA) because MLB, in all its wisdom, refused to promote the event, even to the point of withholding the names of every player drafted beyond the first round for the period of a week—and even then refused to divulge the round players were drafted in for four months. Ostensibly, that was aimed at keeping the names of drafted players out of the hands of agents and college coaches, at a time of significant bonus inflation—even if it meant short-changing baseball fans and eligible players themselves, in many cases.

Those efforts by MLB to keep the public in the dark and forego an obvious opportunity to market and publicize the game in a positive way only spurred my resolve. As the then-editor of Baseball America, I was determined to get my hands on the entire draft list (from sources/friends in the industry) and publicize it while the iron was still hot.

We even promoted our intentions to do just that in the pages of BA in the weeks leading up to the draft, and only at that point did we get MLB to back down and agree to publish the list immediately, and in its entirety. MLB’s rationale was that if BA was going to publish the list anyway, then everyone should have access to it.

In the years since then, MLB has a done a full 180 in its approach to the draft, and now promotes it as one of its special events on the calendar. The commissioner’s office has led the charge in putting the draft on TV (if only the first two rounds) and has made a concerted effort to bring in some of the top prospects, to be seen and interviewed on camera as the first round unfolds, to personalize the event.

In many cases, agents have discouraged their clients from attending the draft, and with only nine players on hand Thursday at MLB’s New Jersey TV studio, it is apparent that the baseball draft is still scratching the surface. It isn’t close yet to matching the hockey draft, which will have all 30 first-rounders and their families in attendance later this month (June 30), ironically also in New Jersey, with thousands in attendance at the Prudential Center (home of the New Jersey Devils)—just a matter of a few miles from where baseball staged its opening-night draft festivities.

While the baseball draft still has a long way to go to become a must-see event for casual baseball fans, Thursday’s coverage makes me think that I might have gotten it right all along, that the baseball draft was worthy of the attention it was given. I just might have been 48 years ahead of my time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Allan Simpson, who joined the Perfect Game staff in 2006 after 25 years as the founding editor of Baseball America, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the history of the baseball draft.

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