Plenty has changed since 1989

BOB ELLIOTT

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

It is wonderful exposure that the baseball draft was televised on Thursday as the industry attempts to catch up with other major sports.

But we kind of miss the old days.

Like in 1989, when the Blue Jays made Eddie Zosky their first-round pick -- ninth overall -- and when all draft picks, outside the first round, were confidential for two weeks. We filed a story after talking with Zosky in Fresno, Calif.

That night, on June 5, the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Jays 5-3 before 48,378 fans -- the opening night of the SkyDome. After the game, we returned to the press box.

Tracy Ringolsby, then of the Dallas Morning News, phoned to say that the Jays had drafted John Olerud with their third-round pick.

"Who the heck is John Olerud?" we asked.

Wayne Parrish, our sports editor and columnist, seated beside me and trying to make his own deadline, knew all about Olerud.

Turned out Parrish had been at a sports editors conference. The Toronto Sun and the Spokane Spokesman-Review were in the same group with other bugles.

Sports sections were studied leading up to the conference and reviewed when the deep thinkers got together.

Spokane was near the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The local paper had covered Olerud extensively as 1988 player of the year, before he suffered a brain aneurysm. His intention was to return to the Cougars as a senior in 1990.

We rewrote our draft story. Olerud was the focus. Zosky became one paragraph.

We followed Olerud throughout the summer: A trip to the rolling hills around Pullman; documented Pat Gillick's nine trips to Washington; wrote about Jays scout Don Welke following Olerud on his summer trip to Alaska (he swung 89 times and missed once) and area scout Andy Pienovi.

We remember one columnist writing "enough about guys who are going to be here in six years" tell us about this year's team.

Olerud signed on Aug. 26 and Gillick announced that the first baseman was on his way to Toronto from his Seattle home.

For a media conference, then to instructional league?

No, Olerud was staying with the Jays. He had eight at-bats that September, never played a day in the minors and won a batting title in 1993. Along with Paul Molitor, Olerud had the best swing we ever saw in a Jays uniform.

Finding out about Olerud was fun. By comparison, yesterday all we did was look on the SLAM! or Baseball America website to see how many Canadians were selected.

Baseball's rationale for keeping things secret was so colleges would not see who was drafted and phone the draftees the next day offering scholarships. The pros did all the work scouting the high schoolers, not the universities.

One draft day, we recall rushing back from the bank to find a 10-minute message from a New York Mets scout. He was waiting in a Florida airport for his flight, sifting through round-by-round sheets looking for Canadians and speaking into my message machine:

"Here's a kid from la belle province ... here's another player from N.B. ... Is that New Brunswick or Nebraska? I'm not sure, I'll give it to you anyway, check him out ... Here are two back-to-back ... You guys own the 38th round ... Look at these two last names ... I'm going to have to spell them ... Hey, Bobby (laughing), I hope your tape lasts longer than a minute ... There are about five more here."

Transcribing that message, looking up hometowns and which arm the drafted Canadians used was a lot of laughs.

No more.

It's not like 1989, when only five Canadians were drafted.


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