The Major League Baseball player draft (also known as the Rule 4 draft) has been around since 1965. Much more than the NFL, NBA, or NHL drafts, the baseball draft can be a frustrating crap shoot disguised as an inexact science.
Success in professional baseball is hard to predict, since desire and commitment can often trump natural ability. Just ask Pete Rose. Frank Marcos, of the Major League Baseball scouting bureau, put it this way: “You can’t put a radar gun to a player’s heart or head.”
That initial 1965 major league baseball draft lasted 44 rounds. A whopping total of 813 players were drafted. Today, it is only a bit smaller: It goes on for 40 rounds. Still, that is much longer than the NBA draft, which lasts only two rounds (with 60 selections), the NHL entry draft, which lasts seven rounds (with about 215 picks), or the media extravaganza that is the NFL draft (seven rounds, and a maximum of 256 selections, provided no picks are forfeited).
Of the 44 players the Tigers selected in 1965, nine of them were from the state of Michigan. It was hardly a successful draft for Detroit. It would not be too harsh to call it a bust. Only nine of the 44 players even made it to the major league level, and only three played for the Tigers, with not much success.
Here’s a look at the nine Tigers picks from the 1965 draft that made it to the majors:
Gene Lamont (1st round, 13th pick overall): Lamont, a catcher from Kirkland, Illinois, played five years for Detroit, with a .233 lifetime batting average. He homered in his first big league at-bat, and it was basically downhill from there. He later became the manager for the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates, and has been a long-time bench coach for the Tigers (for better or worse, some fans would argue).
Andy Messersmith (3rd round, 53rd pick overall): Although drafted by the Tigers, he never signed with the team, so it was basically a wasted pick. He chose to return to the University of Southern California, Berkeley, to finish his education. He was later drafted by the California Angels in the 1st round of the 1966 draft. Messersmith is easily the best of this bunch. A four-time All-Star pitcher who could bring the heat, he had a couple of 20-win campaigns with the Angels and the Dodgers.
Bob Reed (4th round, 11th pick overall): A Boston native and University of Michigan product, Reed pitched for Detroit in 1969 and 1970 with two victories. And that was it.
Gary Taylor (10th round, 163rd pick overall): Born in Detroit, Taylor attended Ferris State University, as well as Central Michigan University. His big league pitching career consisted of seven games with the Tigers in 1969, with zero victories.
Rick Austin (22nd round, 398th pick overall): Out of Tacoma, Washington, Austin was drafted but did not sign with Detroit. The lefty opted for the University of Washington, where, according to his 1971 Topps baseball card, “his biggest baseball thrill was throwing a perfect game against Gonzago U. in 1968.” They probably meant Gonzaga, but it still sounds impressive. Austin pitched four years in the majors with the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers, with a 4-8 lifetime mark.
Steve Arlin (23rd round, 402nd pick overall): Arlin’s obscure claim to fame was that his grandfather, Harold Arlin, was the announcer for the first-ever radio broadcast of a major league baseball game, in 1921 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Rather than sign with the Tigers, Arlin enrolled at Ohio State University, where he became a star pitcher. He led the Buckeyes to the College World Series title in 1966, and was named series MVP. His big league career was less successful. He was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the 1966 draft, and later drafted by San Diego in the expansion draft in 1969. Arlin endured dreadful years of 9-19 and 10-21 with the Padres, before retiring following the 1974 season to become a dentist. He was voted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Ray Peters (28th round, 459th pick overall): Peters was yet another draft pick that the Tigers were unable to sign. In subsequent years he was also drafted by the A’s twice and the Mets once, but did not sign at any time. He wound up attending Harvard, where his baseball coach gushed, “A pitcher like Ray comes along just once in a while. He was one that could throw the ball by the hitter.” Peters was the first round selection of the Seattle Pilots (later Milwaukee Brewers) in the 1969 draft. He pitched two games in the major leagues with the Brewers in 1970, with an ERA of 31.50.
Terry Ley (30th round, 510th pick overall): Ley was a hard-throwing lefty who, you guessed it, also did not sign with Detroit. He later attended the University of Oregon, and his big league career consisted of six games with the Yankees in 1971, with no wins. He also pitched for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan, where he had the dubious distinction of issuing three balks in one inning in 1974.
Bill Butler (37th round, 610th pick overall): The 6 foot two, 210-pound lefty had some solid seasons in the minors for the Tigers, but was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft in 1969. He had a solid rookie season that year, when he won nine games and struck out 156 in 193 innings. His final big league numbers totaled 23 wins and 35 losses in seven seasons with the Royals, Indians, and Twins.
The Tigers’ choice of Lamont as first pick in 1965 was curious, if not downright head-scratching. The team already had a young all-star receiver in Bill Freehan. There was another catcher available in that draft, although he didn’t get chosen until the second round. His name was Johnny Bench, the Reds’ future Hall of Famer. Other notable selections in the 1965 draft (and all passed on by the Tigers) included future big league stars Ken Holtzman, Stan Bahnsen, Gene Tenace, Detroit native Bernie Carbo, Darrell Evans, Graig Nettles, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Sal Bando, Tom Seaver, and Nolan Ryan.
Welcome to the unpredictable world of the major league baseball player draft.