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The spirit of '76 draft

The spirit of '76 draft

In the days leading up to the amateur draft in June 1976, a left-handed pitcher with 19 victories for Arizona State University was the overwhelming favorite to be selected No. 1 by the Houston Astros.

Floyd Bannister already had been named College Player of the Year, was All-America in 1975-1976, led the nation in strikeouts with 217 in '75 and 213 in '76 and won 34 games during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Pitching was at a premium back then -- just as it is now -- and Bannister was considered the best of the blue-chip hurlers available in the two-day draft.

"The thing I remember most about it was the anticipation," Bannister recalled. "The Astros had the first pick, but several teams had watched me and you never knew where you're going to go. But just getting an opportunity to play pro ball was exciting."

The Astros compiled a National League-worst 64-97 record in 1975, and although the Detroit Tigers had a 57-102 record in the American League, because of the alternating-year stipulation, it was the NL's turn to draft first in '76.

And so, on the morning of June 8, two days before his 21st birthday, Bannister was selected by the Astros, beginning a draft that would become known as one of the most productive in Major League history.

The first 10 players selected played in the Major Leagues at some point during their careers, with varying degrees of success. Six of the players selected in the first round would become Major League All-Stars, but that was just the frosting on the cake.

By the time the two-day selection process ended, players who would lead the Tigers to a World Series championship were in place, the Red Sox quietly plucked a future five-time batting champion in the seventh round in Wade Boggs, and the greatest basestealer of all-time had been quietly selected in the fourth round by the Oakland Athletics.

Rickey Henderson did not stay quiet for long, reaching the big leagues on June 24, 1979. He would spend a quarter-century in the Majors, stealing 1,406 bases -- including an MLB record 130 in 1982 -- for nine organizations. Boggs would end up with 3,010 career hits, a .368 career batting average and induction into the Hall of Fame in 2005.

Oh, what a draft it was.

The Tigers, coming off their first 100-loss season in 23 years and just eight years removed from their 103-win season in '68 that featured the Major Leagues' most recent 30-game winner, Denny McLain, faltered a bit with their first draft selection, the second choice overall.

They chose pitcher Pat Underwood, the younger brother of Phillies hurler Tom Underwood, who was in the third year of an 11-year MLB career. Though Pat Underwood fell short of expectations -- compiling a 13-18 record and 4.43 ERA during a 113-game big-league career -- the Tigers hit a gold mine with shortstop Alan Trammell (second round), pitcher Dan Petry (fourth) and pitcher Jack Morris (sixth).

All three were instrumental in the Tigers' World Series championship team in 1984. Trammell batted .314, won a Gold Glove and was selected as the Fall Classic's Most Valuable Player; Petry compiled an 18-8 regular season record, and Morris went 19-11, just missing a second straight 20-win season. But Trammell was just one of two noteworthy shortstops drafted by the Tigers in 1976.

The other one was a defensive wizard from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo named Osborne Earl Smith -- known to most as Ozzie. Smith rejected the Tigers' contract offer, remained in college, and was drafted again in '77, this time in the fourth round by the San Diego Padres.

He signed a contract soon afterward and the rest is history, as in Hall of Fame history.

The Wizard of Oz reached the Major Leagues in '78 and spent 19 years making highlight-reel plays at shortstop, first for the Padres and then the Cardinals. He played in three World Series and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Smith and Boggs are the only members of the '76 draft class currently in the Hall of Fame, but will be joined by Henderson, who becomes eligible for the first time in '09, and possibly Morris, who compiled a 254-189 MLB record finished sixth in the most recent election.

But there were other high-quality first-round selections in '76. In fact, 14 of the 24 draft choices played in the Major Leagues.

Outfielder Ken Landreaux, one of Bannister's teammates at ASU, was the sixth overall pick by the Angels; left-handed pitcher Steve Trout (son of Dizzy) went No. 8 to the White Sox; first baseman Leon Durham (15th overall) was selected by the Cardinals; outfielder Pat Tabler (16th) was selected by the Yankees; catcher Mike Scioscia (19th) went to the Dodgers; and left-handed pitcher Bruce Hurst (22nd) was drafted by the Red Sox.

But Bannister had the distinction of being considered the best of the best.

Now 50 and living in Paradise Valley, Ariz., Bannister doesn't recall exactly where he was on the day he was drafted. But his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Jana, remembers him "running across campus to tell me."

The rumors going around indicated that Bannister would be the top choice, but he wasn't sure.

"At the time, [the Astros] were in financial straits and didn't know what kind of money it would take to sign me," Bannister said. "I never really had a price."

It had cost the Angels $125,000 to sign catcher Danny Goodwin, the first overall draft choice in '75. With Gary Walker, Reggie Jackson's agent and fellow ASU alumnus, handling the business side of the deal, Bannister signed for $100,000.

"After taxes I bought my first new car, an Oldsmobile Cutlass," he said.

Bannister spent just one year in the Minor Leagues.

"Dallas Smith (the Astros scouting director) told me the day I signed that they were going to treat me exactly the same as everybody, right at the bottom and work my way up," Bannister said. "So I was sent to rookie ball in Covington, Va."

Bannister was promoted two weeks later and ended his first pro season at the Triple-A level. He earned a spot in the Astros' starting rotation the following season, posting an 8-9 record and 4.04 ERA in 24 appearances.

Bannister was traded to his hometown Mariners prior to the 1979 season, became a free agent after the '82 season and spent the remainder of his MLB career with the White Sox (1983-87), Royals (1988-89), Angels ('91) and Rangers ('92), finishing with a 134-143 record.

He was selected to the AL All-Star team in 1982 when he went 12-13 with Seattle and was the team's only representative at the Mid-Summer Classic.

Others in the '76 draft did better. So many, in fact, that even 30 years later, it is considered one of the best drafts ever.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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