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Draft Could Be a Sign of Things to Come

Baseball: Today's picks to feature international talent as trend becomes a bargaining issue.


Major league baseball's annual amateur draft will take a historic turn today when Canada's Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis are selected in the first round.

The left-handed pitchers, both from British Columbia, are projected to be among the top 15 picks in the 50-round draft, the first time two Canadians will be among the first 30 players chosen overall.

The growing presence of the Great White North in the draft is the latest example of the continuing globalization of America's pastime. Today's events, however, are probably only a harbinger of things to come for a draft that has been, for the most part, an all-American affair since its inception in 1965 when Arizona State outfielder Rick Monday was selected with the first pick.

But future top picks seem as likely to come from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic ... or Sapporo, Japan ... or Sao Paulo, Brazil, or even Siberia.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 316 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball player's school--Paul Petit, signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950, attended Narbonne High in the Harbor City area of Los Angeles. The name of the school was incorrect in a Sports story Tuesday.

Major league club owners and the Major League Baseball Players Assn. both have proposals on the bargaining table related to a worldwide draft. Among negotiating issues, the draft ranks well behind a luxury tax on high payrolls and increased revenue sharing among the owners, but each side has a stake in its implementation.

Owners are fed up with paying multimillion-dollar bonuses to both domestic draftees and foreign free agents. A majority of owners also believe that big-budget teams such as the Dodgers, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves have left an unlevel playing field for procuring international amateur players.

"It's become a bidding war for the upper-echelon players internationally, and most teams cannot pay the price," said Kevin Towers, general manager of the San Diego Padres.

The union's interest in a worldwide draft is viewed as largely symbolic, a potential bargaining chip in what historically have been acrimonious labor negotiations. The players also may have a vested interest: Dollars not spent on unproven talent could be pumped into big league salaries.

Scouting directors agree that, when it comes to the draft, this year is possibly the start of a new world order when it comes to identifying and signing international talent.

"We need to have the competitive level come back to earth," said Duane Shaffer, senior director of scouting for the Chicago White Sox. "You have to spread the talent around evenly and let the best people put together the best team."

The draft, held each June, currently covers players in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, though foreign players attending U.S. schools are also eligible. Players can be drafted during their senior year in high school, while attending a junior college, after their junior year at a four-year college or if they turn 21 within 45 days of the draft.

That has not stopped scouts from finding and signing global talent.

According to figures released by the commissioner's office, of 849 players on major league rosters or the disabled list on opening day, 26.1% were born outside the 50 United States, an increase of nearly 6% since 1998. The players came from 15 countries.

Nearly 50% of the 5,781 players signed to minor league contracts were born outside the continental United States. Some 2,865 came from 31 countries, including 1,536 alone from the Dominican Republic.

The success of foreign players such as reigning American League most valuable player Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, the Olympic Games, satellite television and the Internet all have helped the game grow internationally. As the growth continues, so will the talent pool available to major league teams.

"I'm a believer that in 10 years or less, China is going to be involved," said Chuck McMichael, an Atlanta Brave scout who has been involved on the local, national and international level for 22 years. "Within five or less, Europe is going to be heavily involved."

Baseball, fearful of losing its antitrust exemption, was the last of the four major professional sports in the United States to adopt a draft. The National Football League was the first in 1936, the National Basketball Assn. next in 1947 and the National Hockey League held its first draft in 1963.

In absence of a draft, baseball owners agreed to a bonus rule in 1946 to discourage and penalize teams for shelling out big dollars to sign amateur players. It was scrapped in 1957 because teams found creative ways to sidestep the rule every time it was modified.

In 1950, the Pittsburgh Pirates made Lomita High graduate Paul Petit the first $100,000 bonus baby. In 1961, the Pirates again set a bonus record by giving Long Beach Wilson shortstop Bob Bailey $175,000.

But the watershed moment in pre-draft history came in 1964 when Rick Reichardt, a football and baseball star at the University of Wisconsin, signed with the Los Angeles Angels for $205,000. In that same year, according to draft historian Allan Simpson of Baseball America magazine, major league teams spent $7 million to sign amateur players--more than they spent on major league salaries.

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