Palmer, Evans reflect, offer Draft advice
Two former greats represent Orioles, Red Sox organizations
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Of all the many indelible memories from the first staged and mega-casted First-Year Player Draft, one of the coolest was the sight of Jim Palmer sitting at the Orioles' delegate table immediately in front of Dwight Evans at the Red Sox's delegate table during Thursday's opening round.
Close your eyes, and you could harken back to a much simpler "Saturday Game of the Week" era in Major League Baseball, to the certainty of summers with two men who played a combined 39 seasons, and who shared 13 seasons together within the American League East.
There was Palmer, often considered the best pitcher of the '70s (a 20-game winner in eight of those years), with the smooth motion, location mastery, high kick and that TV-spokesmodel glam. There was "Dewey," the personification of a right fielder with his eight Gold Gloves, a big bat, and the beating heart of Red Sox Nation.
Seeing them embrace before the start of the Draft, it just made one realize again how beautiful the tradition of baseball is and always will be.
"It's true what they say: It really is a big train that just keeps on rolling," Palmer said, contemplating yet another wave of drafted talent that pushes the Hall of Famer's contributions further and further into the archives of glory. "But look, I even get to see some of the old guys."
He was pointing to Evans, who had a lot to say as the stars and the steadies and the busts of tomorrow came forth over these two days. Before getting into the past, specifically those days against Palmer, Evans wanted to make sure today's Draft picks listen to some sage advice from someone who has been there.
"The biggest thing I see is, drafting the kid is the easy part," Evans said. "I see an issue here -- the power of the agent getting involved.
"I don't like to see these guys miss a half-season or more. Some are sitting out because they don't get the money they want after being drafted. I think agents are saying, 'We'll get this upfront, so don't worry about it.'
"I want these kids to know, you need an agent. But you've got to go with your gut. If you have doubts, then we haven't done our job. I'm not trying to get the agent out of it. Not at all, speaking as a former player. I'm hearing about $15 million for some of these kids. Can you imagine being an owner and paying $15 million for a kid you haven't seen yet?
"You make it to the Majors -- that's the important thing. You do that, and you're going to get plenty of money, more than you can imagine. This is truly a good group of kids here who are going to be drafted. Unfortunately, some of them will want to put money before baseball. It's just something I'm concerned about on behalf of those players and others who are going to follow them."
If you also want to get Evans started on something serious, ask him about the designated hitter. He would like to see it donated back to the year 1973, from where it came. And that's coming from someone who played 282 games at the "position" -- including all 122 games he played for the Red Sox in his final season with the club in 1990 (he appeared in 88 games for Baltimore the following year and then called it a career).
|1. TB||LHP||David Price||Vanderbilt U|
|2. KC||SS||Michael Moustakas||Chatsworth HS (Calif.)|
|3. CHC||3B||Josh Vitters||Cypress HS (Calif.)|
|4. PIT||LHP||Daniel Moskos||Clemson U|
|5. BAL||C||Matthew Wieters||Georgia Tech|
|6. WSH||LHP||Ross Detwiler||Missouri St U|
|7. MIL||LF||Matthew LaPorta||U Florida|
|8. COL||RHP||Casey Weathers||Vanderbilt U|
|9. ARI||RHP||Jarrod Parker||Norwell HS|
|10. SF||LHP||Madison Bumgarner||South Caldwell HS|
"The biggest mistake in baseball is the DH," Evans said. "I think hitters can learn from talking to pitchers, and vice-versa. That's the way it was with me and Jim Palmer here, especially my last Spring Training that I spent with the Orioles. I also used to talk to [Tom] Seaver a lot, and we learned from each other. If all pitchers batted, they would understand hitters more. It's just something that would make the game better."
Evans remembers Palmer this way: "Jim was just a tremendous talent, a great competitor. Great curve, great fastball, one of four great starters the Orioles had for a while there. I loved facing him, because he came after you. It was his good stuff against your good stuff. He was great. Unfortunately. I hardly ever got a hit off him."
Palmer was signed by the Orioles as an amateur free agent on Aug. 16, 1963, and he was released by the Orioles on May 17, 1984. If you want to find any transactions in between, you're out of luck. There were none. He was just an Oriole, back in the day when you could find a lot of stars who stayed with one team forever.
When Palmer signed, it was two years before Major League Baseball added the Draft -- an event prompted by signing bonuses that owners felt were getting out of hand.
"I was too early for it," Palmer said. "I was in Arizona and was planning to play a different sport, and Reggie [Jackson] was a year or so behind me."
But the Orioles signed Palmer for a reported $50,000 bonus and the rest was history. He would win a lot of games and occasionally bicker with manager Earl Weaver along the way.
Now he was here to represent his only Major League organization as the Draft moved into a new era.
"You read all this about how it's not as impactful as the NBA or NFL drafts," Palmer said. "But in some years there may not be that many picks in those sports' drafts who make a big impact right away. You look around in baseball, and especially with small-market teams, and if things work out well enough, you could see these players in this year's Draft come up and make a quick impact. So I don't know that the old argument holds as much water as it used to anymore."
Palmer advised fans to remember that the talent they see chosen in this two-day Draft is nowhere near the extent of the 2007 talent that could one day reach The Show.
"You're not even seeing players from Venezuela," he said. "These are U.S. and Puerto Rico. Just think of all the talent we now have in the Majors, and the countries that produce them. Probably 50 to 60 percent will come from a Draft like this. But Latin players are, what, something like 30 to 40 percent of the Major League pool now? There's a lot more talent out there to know all about."
Look at Palmer today, and you flash back to those days when he also was a postseason fixture, the only pitcher to win World Series rings in the 1960s ('66), 1970s ('70) and 1980s ('83). Look at Evans, and one thing that immediately struck you was the humongous World Series ring he was wearing on his left hand. Hey, how did that happen? What about 1986 and all those years of the Curse of the Bambino?
"The organization is very good to me," Evans said of the Red Sox, who gave him one of those 2004 rings. Evans took it off and put it in the hands of his interviewer, and it felt as heavy as a cannonball. "Boston has outstanding ownership in place, and today you see players wanting to come and play for the Red Sox."
With that, the two legends of American League East stories of yore slid back into their respective chairs in front of each other, Palmer with an Orioles logo on the phone in front of him and Evans with a Red Sox logo on the phone in front of him. It was time to go to work, two greats ushering in the new talent of tomorrow.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.