Where Are They Now?: Ben McDonald
Ben McDonald sat in awe alongside his adviser, Scott Boras, when the two met with Donald Trump associates at Trump Tower in the spring of 1989. The real estate tycoon had an eye on forming a baseball league and he wanted McDonald as the first marquee player stolen from Major League Baseball.
The Orioles made McDonald the first overall pick in the 1989 draft. The 6-foot-7 righthander carried Louisiana State to the College World Series that year and had starred in the 1988 Summer Olympics, racking up two wins for Team USA in a gold medal-winning performance.
McDonald spent a few days on his first visit to New York City and was housed in a Trump Hotels suite that was “as big as my house” growing up in Denham Springs, La.
In the end, McDonald reportedly left a $2 million offer on the table, and the Trump league never got off the ground. After nearly three months of contentious negotiations, McDonald signed with the Orioles in mid-August for a $350,000 bonus as part of a three-year deal that could pay as much as $1.1 million.
Eighteen days after signing the deal, and following two starts in the high Class A Carolina League, McDonald made his big league debut as a reliever, making six appearances for Baltimore.
“In a grown man’s world, it was an adjustment for me for a couple of years,” McDonald says. “It took a couple of years before the light bulb flickered a little bit.”
Among the highlights for McDonald in a nine-season major league career with the Orioles and Brewers were his four-hit shutout in his first career start and being a teammate when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak in 1995.
Even though his career was derailed by injuries, McDonald compiled a 78-70 record and had a 3.91 ERA. He pitched more than 200 innings in a season three times, and he won 40 games in one three-year stretch.
A fork in the road, however, nearly took McDonald to basketball. At 6’7”, 215 pounds, he was the best athlete ever to come out of Louisiana, according to then-LSU basketball coach Dale Brown.
McDonald attended LSU on a basketball scholarship and played parts of two seasons for Brown. Then McDonald recognized that baseball was his ticket to professional sports, despite claims by Brown that McDonald could have played in the NBA.
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The 17-year-old outfielder has gotten multiple opportunities to improve ahead of his pro debut.
During his freshman year in 1987, LSU advanced to both the Elite Eight of the NCAA basketball tournamentand the College World Series, where the Tigers lost a one-run, 10-inning decision to eventual champion Stanford in the semifinals.
“I was able to experience the pinnacle in both of those sports in the same year,” McDonald said. “That was a really cool deal for a 19-year-old kid.”
These days, when McDonald is not coaching his son’s travel baseball team based in Denham Springs, he has a contract with the SEC Network and ESPN to call college baseball games on TV. Once the college season ends, McDonald is in his ninth season of calling Orioles games on radio.