Only ones who leave expansion draft in real trouble are teams being stocked

Phil Jackman

November 09, 1992|By Phil Jackman

One of these days, while practicing my insomnia in front of one of those late-night comedy club shows, I expect the familiar face of Larry Lucchino of the Orioles to appear on stage rattling off tired old jokes about the traveling salesman and the farmer's daughter.

Lucchino, in the typical under-stated and over-dressed style of an attorney, isn't quoted often. But when he is, he's a combination Robin Williams, Jay Leno and George Burns (for you golden oldies).

In Larry's latest venture into newsprint, he detailed what a long and arduous task it has been preparing the team's 15-player protected list being submitted to the expansion Florida and Colorado teams this very day for next week's expansion draft.

Some of the descriptions he included were "massive amount of effort," "intense study" and the one that really has them rolling in the aisles, "we've looked at what we might lose in each situation [mock draft] to see how sick to our stomachs we got."

If ever there was a bigger ripoff than that perpetrated on expansion franchises under the guise of stocking their rosters, certainly men with names like Boesky, Milken, Keating or Levitt were involved.

The late Bill Veeck labeled the draft the "very quintessence of man's inhumanity to man. After taking their money, we strip them of their dignity and assure that it will take them years to become competitive."

Paul Richards, working for the spiffy new Houston Colt .45s franchise during the first National League expansion in 1962, took one look at the list of players available and returned it to the league, suggesting it had to be kidding. He didn't even want to take part, not at the prices quoted, but the league insisted.

For 60 seasons, both big leagues had functioned with eight teams, the only disruption being the so-called "floating franchises" known as the Braves, Browns, Athletics, Dodgers and Giants. Markets were opening west of the Mississippi, however, television had some money to spend and the city of New York needed an NL team.

The AL started it in 1961 with the Angels in Los Angeles and the Senators setting up shop in Washington to replace their predecessors, who fled to Minnesota to become the Twins.

The best suggestion for stocking, the one that would have given the new teams at least a fighting chance, was for the existing teams to submit their regular eight-man starting lineups with four untouchables designated. The Angels and Senators could then select one of the remaining starters off each team at a cost of $150,000 per player.

Under this plan, fans in the new cities would have a few names they were reasonably familiar with. A similar, completely fair plan covering pitchers also was proposed. And voted down by the powers that were posthaste.

Instead, in a wild fit of philanthropy, the league decided to charge less for the selections. But it allowed teams to protect just about anyone on its roster with a present or a future.

In December of 1960, for example, the Orioles lost catcher Gene Green, infielder Billy Klaus and outfielders Chuck Hinton and Gene Woodling to the Senators for $75,000 each and infielder Leo Burke off a minor-league roster for $25,000. Pitchers Dean Chance and Ron Moeller and infielder Don Ross yielded $75,000 from the Angels and outfielder Albie Pearson $25,000.

Woodling, Pearson and Green had a little bit left and the youngster Chance went on to become a prized pitcher, but this was back in the days when the minors were flourishing and just about all the big-league teams were stocked with big-league players. The stocked teams were still miserable.

Washington, after years of bad teams put on the field by Calvin Griffith and with a fan base only in the hundreds, lost 100 games the first year. The new ballpark (RFK Stadium) did not pack them in.

The NL conducted an expansion draft for the Mets and Houston the next year, and they finished with 216 losses, a combined 97 games out of first place. You never saw a collection like those 40-120 Amazin' Mets.

Just a few years after these initial splashes, both leagues expanded by two teams in 1969. Once again it was time to extort huge expansion fees from those interested while at the same time charging exorbitant fees for players who, for the most part, didn't figure in a team's plans anymore.

The Orioles shipped pitchers Roger Nelson, Wally Bunker and Moe Drabowsky and infielder Mike Fiore to Kansas City and pitcher John Morris and catcher Larry Haney to Seattle for more than $1 million. That was a ton of money in those days, if you recall.

As in 1977, when the Birds "lost" pitchers Bob Galasso and Dave Pagan to Seattle (what, again?) and pitcher Mike Darr and infielders Bob Bailor and Mike Willis to Toronto, teams were allowed to protect 15 players. As soon as they jettisoned one, they could then protect three or four more. The Blue Jays and Mariners lost a combined 205 games their first season.

Mull the names of some of the players plucked from the O's organization over the years: Ross, Willis, Morris, Darr, Galasso, Klaus, Moeller, Fiore and 5-foot-5 Pearson. Now think of the dough the club has raked in during the expansion draft process.

Hopefully, Lucchino will mention this nefarious activity the next time he goes to confession . . . if he's not too busy praying someone takes Randy Milligan and his $1 million salary off his hands.

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