This Draft Pick Will Be Better Than Steve Chilcott
In 1966, the Mets made what was perhaps their worst decision in franchise history. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Mets selected Steve Chilcott. It was the worst decision in franchise history not only because Chilcott never played in the majors. It was the worst decision in franchise history for the reasons why the Mets didn’t make the obvious pick.
No, the Mets passed on a player named Reginald Martinez Jackson, or as you better know him, Reggie Jackson. This wasn’t a case of a player being overlooked for another player. No, Reggie was widely seen as the best player in that draft as was evidenced by the then Kansas City Athletics selecting him with the second overall pick in the draft. The Mets didn’t pass on Reggie because they felt stronger about Chilcott than other organizations (although they might have). They didn’t pass on Reggie because they believed he wasn’t suited for New York (turns out he was). They didn’t even pass on him because they felt there was an organizational need for a catcher (they didn’t with Jerry Grote aboard). No, the Mets passed on Reggie for the dumbest reason of all – racism. It turns out the Mets didn’t like the fact that he was dating a Hispanic woman.
When Reggie Jackson got his opportunity to exact revenge upon the Mets, he did. Reggie was the MVP of the 1973 World Series. While the Mets were floundering in the late 70’s, barely getting over a million fans to Shea Stadium, actually lower in other years, Reggie was leading the Yankees to the 1977 and 1978 World Series. In 1993, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Yankee.
Meanwhile, Chilcott flamed out at 23, in part, because he suffered a shoulder injury. Chilcott became an unfortunate footnote in MLB history as the first ever first overall pick not to make the majors. It’s worth nothing that the Mets did eventually get the first overall pick right when they picked Darryl Strawberry in 1980. It’s also worth nothing that no first overall pick made the Hall of Fame until this summer when the 1987 first overall pick, Ken Griffey, Jr. will officially be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Overall, the MLB draft is full of hits and misses. It’s natural for players to be compared with the players who were drafted above and below them. Drafting in major league baseball is an inexact process. We were reminded of that this past weekend with Jose Fernandez shutting down the Mets, while the player drafted immediately before him, Brandon Nimmo, is still developing in AAA. However, we can live with decisions like Nimmo over Fernandez as there were sound reasons to draft Nimmo over Fernandez. If Nimmo continues his current development, he will become an effective major league player. That’s a lot more than anyone can say about Chilcott.
It’s important to keep the Reggie Jackson/Steve Chilcott situtation in mind each and every draft. There are busts, and there are players who exceed expectations. The only thing you can ask of your team is to have the right process in place when making draft picks. The Mets didn’t have the right approach in 1966. Presumably now, even in the absence of Paul De Podesta, the Mets have the right process in place. As such, we know the Mets are going to make a decision based upon the proper criteria. Accordingly, we know that the Mets are about to make a much better draft pick than the one they made in 1966.