Philadelphia Inquirer - November 14, 1980
Draft leaves McGraw in the cold
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
NEW YORK – Tug McGraw was out rehearsing his version of "Casey at the Bat" at the Academy of Music yesterday afternoon. Meanwhile, in New York, baseball's fifth annual free-agent re-entry draft was in progress, and in that one, mighty Tugger was striking out.
McGraw, despite his 36 years, was supposed to be one of the big names in this year's free-agent pool. He was the Phillies' heart-patting, fist-pumping darling of World Series watchers everywhere. Surely, he would blitz through the auction place and emerge with the same million-dollar bankrolls so generously bestowed in the past upon the Dave Goltzes of the earth.
Instead, McGraw provided the shocker of the draft by going through 15 rounds without being selected by a single team.
It isn't all bad. He now has the right to negotiate with all 26 baseball clubs instead of only 14. "For all practical purposes," McGraw's financial adviser, Dick Moss, said yesterday, "it's better this way. But on the other hand, it's a real downer for Tug."
All afternoon', baseball people groped for explanations of what had happened. McGraw wasn't the only big name rejected. Montreal's Ron LeFlore, who stole a mere 97 bases this season, was selected only by the Chicago White Sox in the 11th round. Unless two teams draft a player, he is free to negotiate with everyone. So LeFlore is in the same confusing boat as McGraw.
At least they have plenty of company. Twenty of the 48 available players were selected by one or no teams. They included Luis Tiant, Lee May, Pete LaCock and Ed Figueroa, along with a lot of assorted Dave Raders and Jesse Jeffersons.
But a guy named David W. Roberts, who a lot of people probably thought was a Channel 6 weatherman, was chosen by 12 teams, the most of any player. The Phillies made him their second pick. He is a utility type who hit.238 for Texas this year.
Then there was Boston's Jim Dwyer, an outfielder-first baseman who declared free agency partly because he wanted to play winter ball and the Red Sox wouldn't let Wm. He was the Phillies' first-round choice, and he was chosen by 11 other teams as well. Dwyer batted.285 this season, but his seven-year lifetime average before that was.239.
The Phillies also drafted three low-budget pitchers – Minnesota lefthander Geoff Zahn and Montreal righthanders Stan Bahnsen and John D'Acquisto. They also retained the right to negotiate with Del Unser, who was chosen by four other teams (Pittsburgh, Boston, San Francisco and Milwaukee).
Clearly, there was a trend toward thrift, and McGraw got caught in it.
"You look at last year, and there was an awful lot of disappointment for the $35 million that was spent," Phils general manager Paul Owens said. "I don't think it was collusion. I think people are just getting tired of it. Maybe this could be the end to all this wild spending."
Owens said it was almost as if two different drafts were going on. One involved the Yankees, Mets and Astros, slobbering after the big names. The other involved everybody else, trying to line up a few useful possibilities who wouldn't look to make more than Gulf Oil.
McGraw may have been the victim of a drive to keep his market value lower than the $2-million, four-year deal he was reportedly seeking. That was Owens' theory.
Moss said he was sure that what happened yesterday did not reflect a lack of interest in McGraw.
"I know that for a fact," he said, "because I talked to a lot of clubs. I think I know what happened. Everyone was just sitting back waiting for someone else to go first. I think if someone else had drafted Tug, seven or eight or nine clubs would have come in. But since no one did, they laid off him.
"Obviously, it's better for the club that signs him now, because they don't have to give up an amateur draft choice.... This same thing has happened to a lot of players the last two years. But he's probably the biggest player it ever happened to."
Owens and owner Ruly Carpenter met with McGraw and Moss for three hours this week and made what Owens termed "a very good offer." Owens said that McGraw's reaction was not so much "that he didn't respect our position, but he just felt that as long as he'd gone this far he might as well test the market."
Yesterday's developments probably made McGraw more signable for the Phillies. But not so for Unser.
Moss also is Unser's agent, and he said that, while Unser would like to stay with the Phillies, the two are "very disappointed" with the club's last offer. He said he would treat the Phillies in negotiations "just like everybody else" who drafted Unser.
Boston reportedly is very interested in Unser. That is ironic, because if the Red Sox make off with him the Phils would respond by making a heavy pitch for Dwyer.
One scout, when asked about Dwyer yesterday, said, "I'll tell you who he reminds me of – Unser." And Jim Bunning, who is Dwyer's agent, said Dwyer is "a younger-type Unser." Dwyer. 30, is an excellent outfielder, more versatile than John Milner, and has a reputation for playing hard. He was a great minor league hitter but didn't have a good big-league year until this season (nine homers, 38 RBIs in 260 at-bats).
Versatility is what Owens likes most about him, and that also is what attracted the Phillies to Roberts, 29.
"Hugh Alexander (the Phillies' chief scout) saw him play seven positions the last two years," Owens said. "He can catch, play all the infield positions and play the outfield. He also might be able to hit me 10 homers, and that's another big thing. He'd give us another righthanded bat. And I felt like we were short of that at times."
Zahn was 14-18 with a 4.45 earned-run average this year. He also is 34 years old, and one baseball person described him yesterday as "a real slopballer." His major attraction is that he is lefthanded. With the inevitable departure of Randy Lerch and the possible loss of McGraw, the Phils might need another lefthander, especially against the Pirates.
Owens said he chose Zahn over the 1 younger Billy Travers of Milwaukee because he "might be better able to come over to this league and get left-handed hitters out."
Bahnsen, 35, and D'Acquisto, 29, are righthanders. But the Phillies might need one to complement McGraw and Sparky Lyle, either instead of or in addition to Ron Reed. Bahnsen was 7-6 with a 3.07 ERA and four saves for Montreal this year. But he has "always pitched well against us," Owens said. "And I like his makeup."
D'Acquisto was 2-5 with a 3.38 ERA and three saves with San Diego and Montreal this season. Hardly anybody throws harder than D'Acquisto. But hardly anybody is as erratic, either.
"We had mixed emotions about him," Owens said. “But if he could get consistent, he could help any club.”