Had Steve Chilcott only broken for third base 27 years ago, he might not be building houses today.
It would have seemed boneheaded at the time: a slow-footed catcher running for third after the pitcher made a pickoff throw to second. But, given what happened when Chilcott's right arm slammed back into the second-base bag, popping his shoulder loose, the foolhardy play probably would have been wiser.
Had the shoulder injury suffered during that play not ruined Chilcott's chances of playing major league baseball, he might not be the answer to the following trivia question:
Who is the only player to be selected first in baseball's June amateur draft and retire without playing a game in the major leagues?
\o7 1. Steve Chilcott, catcher, Antelope Valley High, by the New York Mets.
\f7 You could look it up.
Casey Stengel, managing the Mets at the time, personally scouted Chilcott at Antelope Valley in 1966. But, because of injuries, Chilcott never rewarded the Mets for their confidence.
Chilcott played parts of seven minor league seasons, never advancing higher than triple A. For practical purposes, though, Chilcott's career ended at second base one night in the Class-A Florida State League, just about a year into his career.
Chilcott's playing days were dotted with injuries, but none led more directly to his retirement than his shoulder problems.
"I just couldn't throw a ball hard enough to break a pane of glass," said Chilcott, now a 46-year-old construction supervisor in Santa Barbara.
"I figured I'd better start finding something else to do."
Steve Chilcott was the guy other guys wanted to be in high school.
"He was everything that you'd want an athlete to be," said George Fetters, one of Chilcott's teammates on the Antelope Valley High football team in 1965. "When you are young and you look at a guy you'd like to be like, I wanted to be like Steve Chilcott."
Said Jerry Watkins, who played football and baseball with Chilcott in high school: "He was the epitome of a ballplayer."
Chilcott not only started three years for the baseball team, leading the Antelopes to three Golden League titles, he played quarterback for a league-championship football team his senior year.
"He was just a heck of an athlete," said Fetters, now an assistant football coach at Antelope Valley. "He could throw the ball a long way and he was really a strong, physical kid.
"The only thing I remember is him running me over all the time. I was an inside linebacker and I thought I was pretty good, but he would run us over.
"I always thought he should have played football."
Football was merely an amusement for Chilcott. He knew baseball was his ticket. Chilcott moved to catcher from third base his senior year. With a muscular 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame, a strong arm and a powerful left-handed bat, he was a scout magnet.
"It was kind of funny," he said, "there were usually more scouts in the stands than fans. It would be 25 scouts and 20 fans."
The number of fans increased significantly on one occasion, though, because of one of the celebrities who had come to scout Chilcott.
"Casey Stengel came to town," Chilcott remembered. "He showed up just before the game started, and by the second or third inning, there were hundreds of people there, checking him out. Then after Casey left, it was just those 25 scouts and 20 fans."
With all the attention, Chilcott figured he would be a first-round pick. The Mets made him not only a first-round pick but the first overall pick in 1966. He signed for $75,000, plus a college scholarship.
The highest paid major league players--Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax--in that era made only about $100,000 a year.
Chilcott split his first season between the rookie-level Appalachian League and the Class-A New York-Penn League. He started the 1967 season at Winter Haven, Fla., and was adjusting to professional baseball well. He was hitting .290 with six home runs and 45 runs batted in through 79 games.
Game No. 79 was the fateful one, though.
Chilcott was leading off second base when the pitcher whirled and threw to second. Chilcott dived into the bag with his right arm.
Making the pivotal play in his career even more miserable, Chilcott missed the umpire's sign and thought he was out. He was safe. When Chilcott got up to run to the dugout, he was tagged out.
He didn't know just how \o7 out \f7 he really was. "I thought I would be back to play in a short time," he said.
Chilcott, who didn't play again that season, now knows his injury to be a chronic recurrent posterior semi-dislocation.
He underwent surgery in 1969, but that was only one of his problems.
An infection suffered after he fouled a ball off his shin sent him to the hospital for a month, and later he suffered a broken hand on a foul tip. All along, his shoulder continued to bother him.
"Sometimes the pain would just come back," he said. "I'd have to get cortisone shots and have to sit out a week or two. It was just really a frustrating routine."