On this day 50 years ago, major league baseball held its first expansion draft. Two new teams, the expansion Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels, paid a total of $4.325 million to select 61 players from the existing American League clubs.
Each club had to make available seven players from their active roster as of August 31, 1960, and eight others from their forty-man roster. The expansion clubs paid $75,000 for each player they drafted, with a maximum of seven players drafted from each existing club, not including minor league selections. They were required to take at least ten pitchers, two catchers, six infielders, and four outfielders. The clubs also had the option of drafting one non-roster player for $25,000 from each established franchise.
The 1960 format thus protected all but the seven least desirable players on the 25 man roster. It also allowed the existing teams to protect, in essence, their seven top prospects who were within shouting distance of the major leagues.
This meant that most existing teams could protect virtually everyone they thought was good or might become good. Some clubs might, however, have to make available a few big-name veterans with perhaps one or two good years left.
Both expansion teams drafted their share of such players. The Senators selected Bobby Shantz (fresh off his great performance in Game 7 of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates), Dale Long (who delivered a key pinch hit in the ninth inning of that same game), Dick Donovan (who excelled in the 1959 World Series), Tom Sturdivant, Gene Woodling, and Billy Klaus. But they traded Shantz to the Pirates for Harry Bright, Bennie Daniels, and R.C. Stevens. Daniels would lead the team in wins in 1961 (12) and Bright would tie for the team lead in home runs the following year (17) while slugging .462.
The Angels selected veterans Ned Garver, Eddie Yost, Bob Cerv, Ted Kluszewski, and Steve Bilko. Big Klu and Bilko formed a productive platoon at first base.
When it came to young talent, the Angels showed a better eye than the Senators. They snatched up shortstop Jim Fregosi (18) and catcher Buck Rodgers (22), who would become part of the team’s foundation for years. A pair of 26 year old outfielders – Ken Hunt and Albie Pearson – also proved to be inspired selections. Hunt, a Yankee farm hand, hit 25 homers and drove in 84 runs in 1961 before injuries wrecked his career. Pearson, who had been rookie of the year for the original Senators in 1958, was considered washed up by the end of 1960. But he would score 92, 115, and 92 runs for the Angels in their first three seasons.
Leon Wagner joined Hunt and Pearson in a productive 1961 outfield. But Wagner, a National Leaguer, had not been drafted. The Angels acquired him in exchange for Lou Johnson, whom they had obtained from the Cubs for Jim McAnany (a late pick in the draft). Very good business, that.
The Senators did some good business very late in the draft when they snapped up Chuck Hinton and Dean Chance from the Baltimore Orioles. Orioles manager Paul Richards had tried to hide Hinton by planting a story in the Sporting News that he was injured. When the Senators took him anyway, Richards accused them of not reading baseball’s “bible.” Hinton batted .310 in 1962.
Richards’ decision to expose the 20 year-old Chance to the draft was one of the biggest blunders ever by the “Wizard of Waxahachie,” who prided himself on his ability to judge young pitchers. But, if anything, the Senators committed an even bigger one when they promptly traded Chance to the Angels for Joe Hicks. Chance would win 20 games twice, including once for the Angels for whom he also had a league-low 1.65 ERA in 1964. Hicks batted .174 and .224 in his two years as a Senator. Maybe Richards was right about the reading habits of the Senators’ brass.
As you have surely guessed by now, if you didn’t already know, the Angels were by far the more successful of the two 1961 expansion teams. In 1961, their record was 70-91, compared to 61-100 for Washington,who nonetheless managed to tie hapless Kansas City for ninth place. And in 1962, the Angels finished in third place at 86-76, while the Senators slipped to 60-101. It wasn’t until 1969 that Washington posted a winning record.
In 1961, the National League used the same expansion rules to stock its new teams – the New York Mets and the Houston Colt 45s. Future drafts would require teams to make more players available initially – allowing only 15 players to be protected, as opposed to 18 in 1960 and 1961 – but would permit teams to protect three additional players after each one drafted.
Either way, it’s tough to be an expansion franchise.
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