Ryan, Bench, even Seaver (who didn't sign) among those selected in 1965
By Paul Casella
Though former All-Star outfielder Rick Monday will forever have the honor of being the first Draft pick in Major League history, plenty of notable names followed Monday's in that inaugural 1965 Draft.
Two of the all-time greatest pitchers were selected in that Draft -- though only one signed at the time -- as well as one of the best catchers the game has ever seen.
The following is a look at the five best players to come out of that first Draft, ranked in order of WAR (according to Baseball-Reference.com), as well as some other notable selections, including a couple of players who chose not to sign.
Nolan Ryan, Mets (12th round, 226th overall)
Career WAR: 83.8
The Mets undoubtedly got the steal of the first Draft, selecting future Hall of Famer Ryan after 225 other players had already been taken off the board. Ryan helped the Mets win their first World Series title in 1969, but his career didn't fully take off until after they included him as part of a notorious December 1971 trade to the Angels in exchange for Jim Fregosi, a six-time All-Star at that point. Fregosi was gone from the Mets within a year and a half, while Ryan led the Majors in both strikeouts (329) and shutouts (nine) in his first season with the Halos.
Ryan, of course, went on to tally an all-time record 5,714 strikeouts while making eight All-Star appearances over a 27-year career with the Mets, Angels, Astros and Rangers. That strikeout total remains 839 more than any other pitcher has ever recorded.
Johnny Bench, Reds (second round, 36th overall)
Career WAR: 75.0
The Reds got the cornerstone of what would come to be known as the Big Red Machine when they selected Bench. The future Hall of Fame catcher wasted no time making a name for himself, claiming the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1968 while making the first of 13 consecutive All-Star appearances -- and 14 overall. That stretch also included two NL MVP Awards, 10 Gold Gloves and back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. Bench spent his entire 17-year career with the Reds, finishing with 389 career homers.
Graig Nettles, Twins (fourth round, 74th overall)
Career WAR: 68.0
The Twins didn't directly benefit from this pick as much as they would have liked, as Nettles played just 121 games for them over parts of three seasons before they traded him to Cleveland following the 1969 season. He started to hit his stride a bit during his time with the Indians, but the prime years of his career came after he was traded again following the 1972 season, this time to the Yankees.
Nettles went on to make five All-Star appearances, win two Gold Gloves and twice finish in the top six of American League MVP Award voting over 11 seasons in the Bronx. More important, he helped the Yankees win back-to-back World Series titles in 1977-78, while also winning two other AL pennants, including in 1981, when he was named AL Championship Series MVP. Nettles later added a fifth World Series appearance as a member of the Padres in 1984.
Sal Bando, Athletics (sixth round, 119th overall)
Career WAR: 61.4
The Athletics were certainly one of the winners of the first Draft, evidenced by the fact that two of the five players on this list were A's selections. Bando spent his first 11 big league seasons with the A's and played a key role in the club winning three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-74. He finished in the top four of AL MVP Award voting three times in a four-year span from 1971-74, including checking in as the runner-up in '71.
Gene Tenace, Athletics (20th round, 399th overall) Career WAR: 46.8
Though he was taken 14 rounds after Bando, Tenace also proved to be a key piece of those A's championship teams in the early 1970s. After playing just 82 games during the '72 regular season and going 1-for-17 (.059) in the ALCS, Tenace stepped up to hit .348 (8-for-23) with four home runs en route to being named the World Series MVP. He also helped the A's win titles in each of the next two seasons before winning a fourth as a member of the Cardinals in 1982.
Tom Seaver, Dodgers (10th round, 190th overall)
Career WAR: 106.3
Seaver is one of the ultimate the-one-who-got-away picks in Draft history. Selected in the middle of the 10th round, Seaver elected not to sign with the Dodgers, triggering what proved to be a crazy path to the big leagues. He was drafted in the first round the following year by the Braves, but the pick was voided by then-Commissioner William Eckert because Seaver's college team, the University of Southern California, had played two exhibition games that year -- though Seaver had not appeared in those games himself.
While Seaver intended to return to USC, the NCAA ruled he was now ineligible because he had signed a professional contract. Seaver's father battled Eckert over the ruling, leading Eckert to reverse course and say that other teams could match the Braves' offer for Seaver. Three teams -- the Mets, Indians and Phillies -- agreed to do so before a special lottery ultimately awared Seaver's rights to the Mets. Of course, Seaver then went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1967, lead the Mets to the 1969 World Series title, win three NL Cy Young Awards and toss a no-hitter in 1978 as part of a 20-year Hall of Fame career.
Darrell Evans, Cubs (13th round, 241st overall)
Career WAR: 58.5
The inaugural Draft would prove to be just one of six in which Evans' name would be called. After electing not to sign with the Cubs, he would be selected twice in 1966 -- once in the second round by the Yankees in the January phase of the Draft and once by the Tigers in the fifth round in June -- but did not sign either time. He once again did not sign when the Phillies selected him in the secondary phase in January 1967, but finally inked a deal with the Athletics when they took him in the June portion of the 1967 Draft. Before ever suiting up for the A's, however, Evans was taken by the Braves in the Rule 5 Draft in December 1968, and he went on to hit 414 career homers over 21 seasons with the Braves, Giants and Tigers.
Andy Messersmith, Tigers (third round, 53rd overall)
Career WAR: 40.2
Messersmith can be classified as another one who got away in the inaugural Draft. The right-hander did not sign with the Tigers after being selected in the third round and instead ended up landing with the Angels one year later when the Halos took him in the first round of the 1966 Draft. Messersmith went on to make four All-Star appearances and finish in the top five in Cy Young Award voting three times in his eight full seasons as a Major League starter. He ultimately retired at the age of 33 in 1979, finishing an overall 11-year career with a spectacular 2.86 ERA.
Ray Fosse, Indians (first round, seventh overall)
Career WAR: 12.9
Fosse's promising career was largely derailed by a plethora of injuries, most notably the shoulder issues that stemmed from his infamous home-plate collision with Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game. Fosse suffered a separated shoulder, though it wasn't properly diagnosed at the time, when Rose barreled him over in a violent collision. That was just the beginning of a long list of problems for Fosse, who made back-to-back All-Star appearances and won consecutive Gold Gloves in 1970-71. As it turned out, he would play more than 100 games in only four of his 12 big league seasons, though he would later help the A's win those two titles in 1973 and '74.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.