While it was a highlight of my day recently to participate in the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame selection process for 2016, I took solo time afterward for another special event. I toured the Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum located in Ballpark Village.
Though I enjoy seeing everything again, as there are always things I missed previously, my specific focus this time was the new exhibit focusing on the long and successful history of the team’s minor league system.
One of the items on display particularly caught my eye. It is an old, typed list of the future Major Leaguers drafted by the Cardinals, starting with the first draft in 1965 and running through 1976. There are many stars listed on the page, including Ted Simmons, Bob Forsch, Keith Hernandez and Garry Templeton.
Of particular note, though, were the minority names denoted by an asterisk. They are the young men once drafted by, but not signed by the organization, later reaching the bigs with another club.
Several names among those who got away really jumped out at me, including one who went on to become a Hall of Famer. That set me off on a brand new search – to find the best players to have once been drafted by St. Louis, but who went unsigned, only to have MLB success elsewhere. To get 10, I expanded the exercise slightly to cover the years 1965-1980.
I went into this hoping for a perfect position distribution, but that did not come to pass. Instead, the top 10 consists of five pitchers and five position players. One nice correlation is that the cutoff line in terms of career performance worked out to be 10 bWAR. As a group, they amassed 260.4 bWAR over their MLB careers, an average of 26 per man.
Of these 10 unsigned Cardinals, only one had been a first-rounder with St. Louis, with two second-rounders and one third-rounder. One very familiar name was drafted twice by the organization, but did not sign until his third time drafted. Six of the 10 were selected in the first round in a later draft, from where they signed with those clubs. Only one of the top 10 was taken after the fifth-round the year he finally signed.
One unsigned Cardinals draftee with 16.5 bWAR was excluded because he later played for St. Louis as a major leaguer. Pitcher Bryn Smith was St. Louis’ 46th-rounder in 1973, but signed the next year as a free agent with Baltimore. After considerable success with Montreal, Smith finally became a Cardinal at age 34 and spent three seasons with the club, 1990-92. His best season wearing the Birds on the Bat was in 1991, when he went 12-9 with a 3.85 ERA over 31 starts, worth 1.0 bWAR.
Two other notables fell just below the 10-bWAR line.
Reliever Rob Dibble, famous as the leader of the Cincinnati Reds’ “Nasty Boys” relief corps, finished his career with 9.5 bWAR. He was selected by St. Louis in the 11th round in 1982, but like almost every one of the top 10, improved his draft standing by waiting to join the professional ranks. Dibble was the Reds’ first-rounder in 1983 and became a two-time National League All-Star on his way to amassing 89 career saves.
Another right-hander, Bart Johnson, was St. Louis’ third-rounder in 1967, but signed with the White Sox after moving up to the first round in 1968. Johnson then amassed 9.0 bWAR over the period of 1969-1977. Though he twice won 10 games, his best season was as a 21-year-old when he went 12-10 with a 2.95 ERA for the 1971 Pale Hose.
Check back in the upcoming days as I periodically unveil one-by-one the members of my St. Louis Cardinals All-Drafted, but Unsigned Team – 1965-1980 and tell a little bit of their stories. I will begin with the one of the 10 with the lowest career bWAR and conclude with the team’s MVP, a player who ended up in Cooperstown and remains active in the game to this day.
St. Louis Cardinals All-Drafted, but Unsigned Team – 1965-1980
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