I'm worried about the A's draft today. No, I'm not worried over who the A's might pick -- I have no earthly idea who that's going to be. (Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus does, but you'll have to give him a shiny new coin to find out who.) And I'm not even that concerned about a Sons of Sam Horn thread that Ken passed along, which theorizes that players picked in the bottom half of the first round have a 70 to 80 percent likelihood of never being much more than a replacement level player. The A's pick when? In the bottom half of the first round? OK, then.
No, I'm worried because this is the first time Major League Baseball will televise its draft. In years past, the draft was little more than a glorified conference call. But since training cameras on a speaker phone while disembodied voices rattle off the names of high school seniors you've never heard of before and probably won't hear of again is not compelling television, ESPN has decided to NFLDrafticize things. So this time, Baseball is holding its draft in Orlando, with representatives for each club striding to the podium to announce which obscure junior college transfer their team is selecting.
Of course, since the Billy Beanes and David Forsts and Billy Owenses and Eric Kubotas of the world will be busy Thursday morning with the, you know, actual drafting, the representatives on hand are not going to be actual front office personnel. Rather, with a few exceptions, the list of representatives is composed largely of grizzled ex-ballplayers who enjoyed enough moments of glory with a team to win a cushy Vice President of Shaking Hands and Playing Golf title once they retired. Look -- there's Boston Red Sox great Dewey Evans announcing the BoSox's draft choice. And there's beloved Met Darryl Strawberry. And good news, everybody -- Tommy Lasorda is on hand! Who would have imagined he'd agree to appear on camera?
The trouble for the A's is, if you peruse the list of front office personnel, there aren't many Beloved Ex-Players Now Rewarded With a Lucrative Sinecure on the payroll. The only person with significant Major League playing experience appears to be Billy Beane, and like I said earlier, he's somewhat preoccupied on Draft Day.
"I really don't know exactly what I'm supposed to do,'' Steinbach said, "but they said I don't have to know who all the prospects are, so I said OK. It should be interesting.''
But that's not what has me worried either. All Steinbach has to do really is repeat a name that someone writes down for him, and that shouldn't prove to be too difficult. No -- the problem here is that not only has Terry Steinbach been corralled into doing this thing for Oakland despite not having any connection with the team since departing as a free agent after the 1996 season, he's also on the payroll of another team. As recently as this past spring, he was a spring training instructor with the Minnesota Twins. These would be the same Twins who pick just two spots after the A's.
You can see the potential for skulduggery, I hope.
Beane: All right now, Terry, we're going to draft Talented High-Ceiling Prospect, a left-handed pitcher out of State University. Now go up there and announce the pick.
Steinbach: Very well... with the 26th pick of the draft, the Oakland Athletics select... Obscure and Poorly Regarded Third Baseman from Podunk Valley High School!
Beane: What the deuce!
Steinbach: And with the 28th pick of the draft, the Twins select that pitcher the A's were going to take.
Beane: Steinbach! Have you gone mad? What are you doing?
Steinbach (ripping off suit and tie to reveal a Twins jersey): Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!
Beane: Judas! We've been betrayed by Terry Steinbach!
Steinbach: Twins rule! A's drool! Whoo!
Karl Ravech: An interesting turn of events here in the first round.
So I think you can see how that would be awkward for everyone involved.
Game 58: A's 3, Red Sox 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Kennedy (2-4) LP -- T. Wakefield (5-7) S -- S. Casilla (1)
Went Deep: Nobody.
Your Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza Star of the Game: I went back and forth on this one, alternating between Jack Cust and Santiago Casilla. I'm a sucker for four-out saves, particularly when the relief pitcher comes in with the tying run on base. But the A's essentially won the game thanks to Cust's fourth-inning double, which not only plated the game's first run, but also put the A's in position to score two more runs if Bobby Crosby could deliver a two-out hit.
The Turning Point: Bobby Crosby delivered the aforementioned two-out hit.
Today's Difficult Question: The A's have a glorious history -- nine World Championships (four of them in Oakland) and many, many Hall of Famers. So how come you don't see any ex-Athletic greats hanging around the joint? How come we have to get a loaner from the Twins for our draft representative.
I understand that part of the problem is a fair chunk of the A's glorious history happened in another city -- and happened so long ago that the folks who are going to enthuse about Jimmy Foxx and Lefty Grove (or even Eddie Joost and Ferris Fain) are also going to tell you stories about that villainous Kaiser and how nickels used to cost a penny, assuming they're in any position to talk at all. It also doesn't help that the owner of the team for its first dozen years in Oakland was such a miserable wretch that everyone who left the team was so overjoyed to see the Coliseum in the rear-view mirror that they're unlikely to be lured back. So that doesn't help.
But the fact remains: the best hitter on those three-time World Champion teams of the '70s is in the Hall of Fame with a Yankees logo on his cap. The best pitcher doesn't have any logo on his cap. Should the Hall of Fame voters stop acting like pearl-clutching schoolmarms for a moment and vote in the feared slugger from our '89 championship team, he's going to go in as a Cardinal. For all I know, Rickey Henderson will insist on being enshrined as a San Diego Surf Dog.
Dennis Eckersley plies his post-career trade out in Boston. Dave Henderson is in Seattle. Dave Stewart tried his hand at a front office job, but not here. The next Old Timers' Day the A's host will be the first.
So I guess my difficult question is, why does a team with a pretty worthwhile history do so little to preserve it? That video of the Swingin' A's set to the Who song that they play before games doesn't count.
All in All: So here's my draft prediction. In the past, the A's have loaded up on college players who are ready to contribute at the Major League level. Last year, it was high school pitchers who could fill in the need at the bottom of the player development system. This time around, I expect to see -- or hope to see, at least -- Billy Beane roll the dice on at least one of the three pre-second round picks on a player who may not necessarily pan out but who promises a huge ceiling if he does. Out of necessity, Oakland has put a premium on adequacy in the players it chooses to draft and develop as of late. The result of that is the .500-give-or-take team you see before you today. It's time to take a chance on a player who's either going to do something spectacular, be it develop or flame out.