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  Sun, June 6, 2004


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Elliott on baseball column
Jays best and worst draft picks
By BOB ELLIOTT, TORONTO SUN

The best drafts in Blue Jays history?

With the annual amateur draft of high schoolers and collegians starting tomorrow, it's a question for the day. Free agents come and go, but an organization is refreshed and rebuilt through the draft process.

If you go by games played, not a bad barometer because you have to be good enough to get in the lineup, the answers are easy.

Lloyd Moseby played 1,392 games for the Jays, second only to Tony Fernandez, an undrafted free-agent.

Moseby was chosen with the second overall pick in the 1978 draft. Next most active homegrown was Jesse Barfield, a ninth-rounder in 1977 who played 1,032 games for the Jays.

On the mound, Dave Stieb leads the Jays with 452 games. He was a fifth-rounder in 1978.

Second to Stieb is lefty Jimmy Key, who pitched in 317 games after being selected in the third round in 1982 draft.

But who are some of baseball's worst first-round picks at draft time?

For the Jays, it would be catcher Greg David in 1985. He spent five seasons in the minors and had four operations.

In 1990, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for future considerations ... three visas.

Other drafts that didn't work out:

- The White Sox chose Kurt Brown, a California catcher who was taken fifth overall in 1985, one pick before Pittsburgh grabbed Arizona State's Barry Bonds. Brown never made it past triple-A.

- The Oakland A's chose Ariel Prieto ahead of slugger Todd Helton, who went to the Colorado Rockies in 1995, and Todd Van Poppel in 1990.

- The Seattle Mariners chose Al Chambers first overall in 1979. Chambers hit .208 in 57 games. The M's fared better with their other overall No. 1 picks: Mike Moore (1981), Ken Griffey Jr. (1987) and Alex Rodriguez (1993).

- The Texas Rangers had a lengthy debate on which pitcher to select in 1990. They chose lefty Danny Smith, who won one game in the majors. Option B was Mike Mussina.

- The Cleveland Indians took University of California-Riverside righty Daron Kirkreit in 1993. He never made it out of double-A. With the next pick, the Houston Astros chose Billy Wagner.

- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays gave Josh Hamilton $3.96 million US in 1999. He has played only 23 games above single-A and may never play again -- he is suspended for the 2004 season for repeated violations of baseball's drug policy.

- The Montreal Expos made lefty B. J. Wallace of Mississippi State University the first pick in 1992. He had shoulder surgery in 1994 and was out of baseball by age 25.

RIOS HAS A LOT TO PROVE

ROOKIE ALEX RIOS is supposed to look overmatched by a major-league curve ball or a 3-2 changeup.

Yet, tracking fly balls in the bright California sun and using his hand to shield his eyes, while his sunglasses rest atop his cap, is something else.

Ditto for his jogging to first base Friday night on a ball that snuck by a diving Eric Byrnes in left field.

Rios wound up with a double when he should have been on third.

We know injuries have accelerated his path to the major league, but he has yet to show that he is the complete package when it comes to playing the game.

ZAUN HUNTING

Florida Marlins would like a return to their glory days.

Not 2003, but 1997 when Gregg Zaun was their backup catcher to Charles Johnson. The Marlins are looking for help behind the plate and are eyeing Zaun.

One problem. With Kevin Cash and Greg Myers injured, Zaun is the Jays' incumbent catcher. That could change when Cash returns.

In Miami, catcher Ramon Castro has been placed on the disabled list and since Mike Redmond has a bruised right forearm, infielder Mike Mordecai had to catch the final eight innings Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds.

Matt Treanor has been recalled from triple-A Albuquerque, but the Marlins want experienced help.

BRIAN AIN'T LYING

Earlier this season, Tony Pena shuffled his starting rotation in order to hand Brian Anderson, 32, the ball every fifth day. Now, the Kansas City manager is hesitant to use Anderson, who has been demoted to the bullpen.

"Nobody is this bad," Anderson said after yielding 12 hits in four innings against the Detroit Tigers. "I mean nobody in pro ball. You could take some high school kid, some kid in rookie ball, give them 10 or 11 starts and they would not do what I've done.

"Nobody can possibly be this bad. And I'm this bad. If I was out there yelling what pitches I'm going to throw they should not be hitting me like this."

FATHER FIGURE ETCHED FOREVER

YOUR MOST important parent -- next to your mother, of course -- is your father.

So, when Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek lost his father, also named Tom, on Thursday morning, things were different on the Jays' broadcast from Oakland that night.

It's why manager Carlos Tosca choked up during his pre-game show discussing the death of Cheek's father with Jerry Howarth, possibly thinking of his own father, Dr. Carlos Enrique Tosca, 79.

FIRST MISSED GAME

It's why for the first time in club history, Cheek was not in the radio booth. He'd been there night in, day out since opening day 1977 for 4,306 consecutive games and 41 post-season games.

Cheek drove to Salinas, Calif., to be with his father's wife, Marie.

You know about Cheek the broadcaster. Papa Cheek, otherwise known as Commander Tom Cheek, United States Navy (retired) was a war hero.

The pilot shot down three Japanese Zeros in the Battle of Midway June 4, 1942 as World War II in the Pacific turned. Cheek was at the controls of one of six F4Fs from the destroyer Yorktown encountering 41 enemy planes.

His damaged plane crashed into a barrier upon landing on the deck of the Yorktown and flipped on to its back, but he was okay. He was presented with the Navy Cross.

A WAR HERO

"He was a war hero, fighting against unbelievable odds and winning," the son said of his father this spring.

Cheek and Howarth have been together for 23 years. So different and yet so alike.

Howarth's father, also named Jerry, was a Lt. Commander on the USS Guardfish submarine, which survived constant depth charging for 19 hours. He won the bronze star.

Deepest sympathies are extended to the Cheek family.

EX-BLUE JAY OF THE WEEK

BILLY KOCH, CHICAGO WHITE SOX

A year ago he walked around the Chicago White Sox clubhouse as if he couldn't find his locker. He was lost.

White Sox reliever Billy Koch also looked lost on the mound as well. His pitches couldn't find their destined location and he did not have a defined role in the bullpen.

However, Koch has found his way under new Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen. He picked up his eighth save Friday as the Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 4-2.

Koch, who has converted eight of 10 chances, is our Ex-Jay of the week.

Koch was dealt Dec. 7, 2001 to the Oakland A's for third baseman Eric Hinske and righty Justin Miller.

A premature baby, born at 15 ounces, Koch spent the first 6 1/2 weeks of his life in hospital.