Last week, one of our sister pages asked this fundamental question: How might baseball's amateur draft be more compelling?
Most of the answers were along the same lines: Don't bother, because it's nearly impossible. Which is a perfectly reasonable position. This never would have come up in the first place, except the NFL and NBA drafts became such big events. I remember reading one of Jayson Stark's columns a long time ago, in which he essentially said, "Why can't we be more like the NFL and the NBA?"
To which I responded as politely as possible, "Because we're not the NFL and the NBA."
Last June, the Portland Trail Blazers drafted Weber State's Damian Lillard with the sixth overall pick. This season, he averaged 19 points per game. The New Orleans Hornets had the first pick and drafted Kentucky's Anthony Davis, who averaged nearly nine rebounds per game this season. Of course, Lillard and Davis were exceptional; the great majority of drafted players don't make that sort of impact less than a year after being drafted. But it does happen.
Same thing in the NFL, but more. Last year, the first two players selected in the NFL draft were quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III; both went straight into the lineup, and both guided their teams to the playoffs. Quarterback Russell Wilson wasn't drafted until the third round ... but he matched Luck's and Griffin's feats. Again, these players were exceptional. But most of last year's first-round draft picks immediately became valuable professional football players.
Which is why it's so ridiculously easy for fans to care a great deal about those drafts. That guy your team just drafted in the first round? He's probably going to play now, and he might be really good and really soon. Of course you're going to get excited about that.
That's not baseball, and never will be. Every so often, there's a player -- Alex Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper -- who's labeled "can't miss" and is obviously going first ... but even those guys don't do much in the majors for at least a year and usually more. Which means the draft is essentially exciting for fans of the team with the first pick, every five or 10 years (on average).
Compelling television? Hardly, even with MLB Network's analysts routinely comparing second-round draft picks to established major-league players.
But of course the televised draft isn't going away, and Bleed Cubbie Blue's Al Yellon does have one suggestion that really would help:
You know, the draft already has been made somewhat more compelling over the last decade; there is much more coverage of amateur baseball, mock drafts, and it's now a prime time show on MLB Network, though I admit it could use a less snooze-inducing host than Bud Selig. (Hey, how about Bob Costas announcing the picks?)
Yes! A new host! Bud Selig may list many fine qualities on his résumé, but I'm afraid that compelling television presence just isn't one of them. Knowing how much Selig a) loves baseball, and b) wants the draft to attract viewers to MLB Network, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that he's decided to step aside, handing the baton to some polished presenter. Bob Costas, f'rinstance, or Nathan Lane.
Major League Baseball continued rolling out more details on its draft broadcast on June 6-8, with three Hall of Famers (George Brett, Jim Bunning and Tommy Lasorda) among the club representatives for each team on the first night at MLB Network’s Studio 42 in Secaucus, N.J.
On the first night of the draft, each team will have representatives at MLB Network. Commissioner Bud Selig traditionally announces the first-round picks, with club representatives announcing the later picks.
I don't know. Maybe somebody's tuning in for George Brett, Jim Bunning, and Tommy Lasorda. Plus Luis Gonzalez and Ralph Garr and Jason Varitek and Kerry Wood and Al Bumbry and Frank Thomas and Eric Davis and Pedro Astacio and Jose Cruz and David Eckstein and Charlie Hough and Tony Oliva and Mr. Mariner and Crime Dog and so many others. I think if you're already watching, it's fun to see those guys. But you're not going to watch because Alvin Davis and Fred McGriff are hanging around with nothing to do except look pretty.
I'm not going to suggest that nothing can be done. Allowing trades would spice up the proceedings, although I don't guess that many teams would actually trade draft picks. And there might well be something that nobody's proposed; there's probably something that will seem completely obvious, the moment someone proposes it. But my gut tells me the draft will always be what it is: of interest to only the most rabid of the cognoscenti. Even with Bob Costas filling in for Commissioner Bud.
Or maybe I'm just bitter about Bubba Starling.