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If ever there was a draft pick who seemed destined to begin his professional career in the big leagues, it was Floyd Bannister, the most dominant college pitcher of his era.
When the Astros selected the talented Arizona State lefthander with the No. 1 pick, however, both parties immediately dashed speculation that he would begin his career on top—as became common practice among elite draft picks in the 1970s.
“I’ve talked to Houston about starting out in the majors and I don’t want to,” Bannister said. “I want to go to the minor leagues first and prove myself there. It will give me a chance to get accustomed to professional baseball and not move up too quickly. I’ve seen too many cases of people starting out in the big leagues and having it hurt them. I’d like to start off low and build my confidence.”
The Astros were in full agreement, which worked out well as the two sides struggled to come to a signing agreement. For Bannister, it was the second time in three years he reached a stalemate in draft negotiations. In 1973, after going 16-0, 0.00 for Seattle’s Kennedy High, he was taken in the third round by Oakland, but A’s owner Charles Finley was in a cost-cutting mode and didn’t make Bannister a serious offer. His recourse then was to fulfill his scholarship offer at ASU. This time, Bannister knew all along what his intentions were.
“There was never any doubt I would sign with Houston,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going back to school. I just wanted some time to relax and think about the whole situation.”
On July 23, the two parties finally reached an accord on a bonus of $100,000.
It was the Astros’ intention from the outset to start out Bannister on the bottom rung of their organization, at Covington of the Rookie-level Appalachian League, and he did begin his indoctrination there. Bannister had few qualms over his initial assignment, as he was mindful of the circus-like atmosphere that Eddie Bane, another standout lefthander from ASU, experienced to his detriment just three years earlier when he was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Twins and made his debut in the majors. Bane never won a game that season, and his career quickly spiraled downward.
Despite a two-month layoff, Bannister overwhelmed the substandard competition he faced in the Appy League; in 13 innings, he allowed three scratch hits, while walking two and striking out 27. That dominating performance left a lasting impression on Covington manager Julio Linares.
“I think he’s got to be the best young pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Linares said. “With the stuff he’s got, he could pitch in the majors right now.”
Bannister made seven minor league appearances over the balance of the 1976 season, including a start in Triple-A in his final outing. A year later, he cracked Houston’s Opening Day roster, and was in the big leagues to stay.
But things were never quite as easy again for Bannister. Though he pitched in all or parts of 15 big league seasons, often flashed overwhelming stuff and even led the American League in strikeouts in 1982 while pitching for his hometown Seattle Mariners, Bannister never lived up to his billing. He even developed a reputation for rarely pitching well in pressure-packed games and posted just a 134-143 record overall.
When Bannister had reconstructive shoulder surgery in 1988 and found no takers for his services, he went to Japan for a season, though eventually returned to pitch two more seasons in the U.S. before retiring in 1992.
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