Whoever’s name is called by the Arizona Diamondbacks as first overall in the 2015 MLB Draft will instantly have the expectation of greatness placed upon his shoulders. This player will be a significant part of the team’s future.
Rick Monday had to be the future of not only the Kansas City Athletics but the MLB Draft era. The Sun Devil All-American was selected first overall in the first MLB Draft in 1965. Despite knowing he had a good shot at being the first overall pick, he did not really know what else to expect when it came to draft.
“No one really understood how it was going to work other than the fact it was in ascending order,” Monday said. “Some of us who would be selected in that initial draft…had gone through the other process of talking to clubs out of high school. “
Before the draft came about, players could sign with any team offering a contract. In 1963, Monday was not short on options from major league clubs or colleges, and played for a high school prospect team in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization coached by Tommy Lasorda.
One night, Lasorda sat down with Rick and his mother, dead-set to make Monday a Dodger. His mother declined the offer, but Lasorda came back twice more with larger signing bonuses. She, however, would not be swayed.
“Every time she put the pen down, she said, ‘Tommy, he’s 17. We are huge Dodger fans. He needs to at least get the start and foundation of an education, whether it’s after two years or three years or four years. When we decide to sign, obviously we will sign with the Dodgers, but he needs to get a start of an education.’”
Collectively, the Mondays opted for Rick to go to college, but that then raised the question of where he would play his college ball. Monday had been talking to five or six colleges, but not Arizona State. That is until Bobby Winkles sat next to Monday’s mother at one of Rick’s games.
The Sun Devil head coach made an impression on her.
“My mother simply said, ‘Rick, you need to listen to this man,’” Monday said. “And I did. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Winkles was straightforward in his pitch to Monday, and the outfielder bought in almost instantly.
“I had never seen the campus (when I committed). I didn’t have to see the campus because I had in a very short time had a tremendous trust and feeling of a bond with Coach Winkles,” Monday said.
That bond helped earn the Sun Devils a 1965 College World Series title, the university’s first, and Sporting News National Player of the Year honors for Monday. More importantly, Monday had two years of guidance and growth under Winkles.
“I really learned how to play baseball my freshman year and particularly my sophomore year because it was a demanding program,” Monday said. “If you were going to play for the Sun Devils, you had to come in prepared and understand the fundamentals, understand tradition, understand teamwork and understand the fact that we are all in this thing together.”
The first MLB First Year Player Draft took place while Monday and the Sun Devils were in Omaha on their way to the school’s first College World Series title. Sitting along the right field line and waiting for the game before theirs to wrap up, reporters began to approach the team to talk to the Sun Devils who had been drafted. Coach Winkles was able to hold off the news that Monday was the top pick and some of his teammates were selected until after they played their game that day. Even after the draft was completed, teams, players, and fans still doubted the validity of the results.
“I actually had two attorneys that came to me and said, ‘Look, what baseball is doing they cannot do and we can challenge this in court and you can sign with any team thereafter that you want to’. I said how long will this take, and they said probably three or four years, and I just put up my hands and said I’m not interested.”
Now the top pick for the Kansas City A’s, Monday said he felt the expectations were greater for any first round selection that year, but the weight of the top pick was especially grueling.
“If I went 3-4 and someone else on another team went 4-4, well then why didn’t I have the four hits? If a pitcher is drafted in the first round, in the very first pick, why doesn’t he win 20 games each year if he is the number one pick?” Monday said. “I understand those expectations and you hear them. You hear them even if you’re drafted even lower. There are just tremendous expectations in professional baseball regardless of the level that it’s at.”
Monday was eventually able to make good on his mother’s promise to Lasorda when he was traded to the Dodgers in 1977. He spent eight seasons with the club, winning the World Series in 1981, and is currently a part of the Dodger broadcast team, where he gets to see firsthand how the draft has evolved and exposure for the event continues to grow.
“I think for the game of baseball, it’s wonderful,” Monday said. “I have done more interviews this year within the last week than I probably did for an entire month when I was drafted in 1965.”
Though, he would make one change to future drafts by moving the draft date back so the College World Series would be completed before the draft took place. He understands it may lose some exposure, but it gives players the opportunity to play and not focus what round they may be taken.
“I remember the looks of disappointment on some of my teammates faces that thought they would be drafted higher or drafted at all. They are expected to play in the biggest game they’ve ever played a few hours later.”
Monday brought in the draft era and has been an ambassador for it everytime he stepped on the field or got behind the microphone. Each year, when June rolls around, he knows what that top pick will carry with him and what he mindset he needs to carry that burden.
“If they are one of the top players, they understand this already, but maybe not the extent that they need to: This is just the beginning of the journey. This is just scratching the surface. Now, depending on how your journey is going to go and how long it is going to last is up to that person.”
The journey begins for newest member of the fraternity of first overall picks as the Diamondbacks open the draft on Monday night.