Dodgers adapt to change, stage best draft of all time
By Ken Gurnick
They gave Al Campanis a lot of fancy titles over his 44-year baseball career, but he was always a scout.
He loved to sit there and watch a potential ballplayer go through his paces and recite a Branch Rickeyism or two.
"It's not what you see," Campanis would say. "It's what you think you'll see."
Campanis was from the old school of scouting. You found a player, you wooed his family, then you signed him. At the worst, you had to outbid maybe one other club working as hard as you had.
But in 1965, the rules changed. The free-agent draft was formed. Every team had a shot, the worst teams getting the earliest shots.
"The draft was created to help the have-nots," said Campanis, whose grandson Jim is a prominent figure in this year's draft. "It used to be, if you found a player, he was pretty much yours. If he had talent, you signed him. If not, you didn't. But with the draft, you had to be better prepared, because the player you wanted might not be there when you pick. The key word became coverage. You had to know more about more players."
By 1968, with Campanis the director of scouting under outgoing general manager Buzzie Bavasi, the Dodgers were ready to pull off the greatest draft baseball has ever seen.
Combining the regular and secondary phases of the January and June drafts, they came away with the nucleus of the team that won four division titles and a World Series.
Steve Garvey came from that year's drafts. So did Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Bill Buckner, Bobby Valentine, Tom Paciorek, Doyle Alexander, Joe Ferguson and Geoff Zahn. In all, an unheard-of 14 draftees that year eventually reached the major leagues.
But to get to the point where the Dodgers would make draft history, it took a blend of progressive education, a shift in team philosophy, a high draft position and a lot of luck.
The football factor
This draft game was something new to Campanis and he didn't know quite how to approach it. So he went to someone who did.
The NFL had a draft, and Campanis figured he could learn something there. First he talked to Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves, then called on San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman, who handed Campanis off to Al LoCosale, then in charge of San Diego's draft.
"He actually showed me how to draft," Campanis said of LoCosale, who became Raiders owner Al Davis' right-hand man. "He explained the difference between drafting the best athlete or going for need. He showed us how to rank players on a scale of 100 based on fundamental skills. He took a neophyte and taught me how to approach a draft, and I think this helped us."
With the draft coming up in reverse order of finish the previous year, the Dodgers drafted low in 1966-67, but from those drafts came Bill Russell, Charlie Hough, Ted Sizemore and Steve Yeager.
The Dodgers were known for pitching in the mid-1960s. But once Sandy Koufax retired after the club lost the 1966 World Series, the Dodgers weren't known for much at all.
"In our meeting before the '68 draft, I remember telling Peter (O'Malley), who wasn't very involved at the time, that we were going for bats," Campanis said. "We couldn't get a hit. If you're hungry, you eat. So when we had the choices, we went for a Garvey and Cey, a Buckner and Valentine. Every time we had a tough choice to make, we went for the better hitter."
Valentine was the first-round choice in June, a multi-sport high school star from Stamford, Conn., taken fifth overall. At the time, some in the organization preferred slugger Greg Luzinski, who went 11th to Philadelphia. Two days before the draft, Campanis went to see Luzinski play a doubleheader in Chicago, but it was rained out.
Campanis, meanwhile, continued east to watch Valentine. He said he had trouble deciding between Valentine and Buckner.
"We ended up getting both," said Campanis. "We went for Valentine first because he was the better athlete with better speed, even though Buckner was a better hitter. I remember Hank Peters from Cleveland saying he was going to take Valentine next."
Valentine never fulfilled expectations on the big league level, and his career was ruined when he mangled his leg crashing into the Anaheim Stadium fence while playing for the California Angels. But back then, he was a can't-miss outfielder who reported with many of those other '68 draftees to the Dodgers' Pioneer League club in Ogden, Utah.
Imagine the great fortune of the Ogden manager, who was able to pencil in Buckner at first, Garvey at third and Valentine in center field, with Sandy Vance winning 14 of his 18 starts.
"Without a doubt, it was the best rookie league team I'd ever seen," said Tom Lasorda, who was jumped to manage the Triple-A club at Spokane the next year. "Find me another rookie club that had three eventual big league stars in the starting lineup."
The league leaders looked like the Ogden stat sheet. Bucker hit .344, Garvey was second at .338 with a then-Pioneer League record 20 homers and Valentine was third at .281. Paciorek hit .386, but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the title.
Ogden finished 39-25, winning the pennant by one-half game over Idaho Falls, an Angels affiliate which was led by the legendary Danny Loomer.
Two years later at Spokane, things hadn't changed much. Garvey was called up to the big league club at midseason hitting .319, while the rest of his class was tearing up the Pacific Coast League. Spokane finished 94-52 in 1970, winning the PCL's Northern Division by a mere 26 games. The Indians then crushed Hawaii 4-0 for the championship.
Valentine led the league at .340, Buckner was third at .335 and Paciorrek was seventh at .326.
Lucky or Good?
"Charlie Metro was scouting for Detroit at the time, and he sent a report on our Triple-A club to (general manager) Jim Campbell saying we had 16 major league prospects, and Campbell called him on it," said Campanis. "But every one of them played in the big leagues."
The Dodgers went on to make 71 selections in the regular phase of the 1968 draft--17 more than any other club.
"I think we had nine farm clubs at the time," said Bill Schweppe, then the assistant to farm director Fresco Thompson and later Thompson's successor.
"The draft was in its infancy and we didn't have much experience," said Schweppe, who retired last year. "The thought was that you didn't know how well you would do signing these players, so you better draft as many as you can. Plus, we had a large number of scouts.
"Twenty years later I view it as a nine-plus, reserving a 10 for somebody who might come along and do a better job. But that won't be easy. It's hard to conceive of any organization being that good or that fortunate."
Lucky or good? Twenty years later, even the participants are sure.
"It was a combination," said Campanis, who was pressured to resign as a Dodgers' vice president last year. "We had a new philosophy of going for hitters, we had a high draft position, and we had lady luck. It was a good combination."
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