Only days before the 1971 amateur baseball draft, the Chicago White Sox telephoned Grant High School star Leon Lee to discuss if the two-time All-City standout would consider switching positions. Lee was a third baseman; the White Sox wanted him to become a catcher.
The White Sox told Lee if he said yes, they would select him with the first pick. Lee, believing he was worthy of a No. 1 pick regardless of position, said no.
“The White Sox liked me as a player and they really liked my arm strength,” Lee said. “Had I agreed to their proposal, I would have been the first pick of the draft. I already was so convinced I’d go in the first round that nobody was going to convince me otherwise. I didn’t even give their suggestion a second thought. ”
The White Sox instead selected catcher Danny Goodwin of Peoria (Ill.) Central High School. Though he’s hardly a household name, Goodwin is the only player selected first overall in two drafts. In 1975, the California Angels took him with the first pick.
Lee, who expected to be picked in the first round with his best friend and Grant teammate Taylor Duncan (10th overall to the Atlanta Braves), didn’t hear his name called until the ninth round, picked by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lee still regrets his decision.
“If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t blink an eye. I’d make the change in a heartbeat,” Lee said. “Looking back, I think I would have gotten to the big leagues in three years. As it turned out, I became a catcher my last minor-league season with the Cardinals before I went to Japan.”
Lee wants to pass on that valuable lesson to players eligible for the first-year player draft Thursday through Saturday.
“If a team comes to you and asks if you would make a position change or adjust your batting approach or change your pitching mechanics, whether you like it or not, the answer is yes, yes, yes,” Lee said. “Do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door.”
Around the bases
• The first two rounds and supplemental rounds of the draft Thursday will be televised live from MLB’s studios in Secaucus, N.J., beginning at 4 p.m. The second day will cover rounds 3-10 and the third day rounds 11-40, beginning at 10 a.m. each day.
• The 30 major-league teams at the draft are expected to be represented by four Hall of Famers, four Cy Young Award winners, two MVPs, one World Series-winning manager and 29 All-Stars. Among the seven amateur players invited to attend the draft is outfielder Derek Hill of Elk Grove High School.
• Outfielder Ryan Cordell (Valley Christian) was named Player of the Week in the Class-A South Atlantic League. The Texas Rangers’ product has been Hickory’s best hitter since joining the Crawdads on May 3. He went 13 for 22 with two doubles, two triples, two homers and seven RBIs.
• Cal State Fullerton junior outfielder Austin Diemer (Rocklin) and Holy Names sophomore infielder Dusty Zeisler (Nevada Union) were named to the Capital One Academic All-District VIII first team. Diemer was named to the Division I and Zeisler to the Division II squads.
• New Mexico Highlands’ Andrew Ratterman (Dixon) was named to the South Central All-Region second team, announced by the American Baseball Coaches Association. The junior outfielder also was named first-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. He led his team in hits (62) and RBIs (38) and was second in batting average (.367).
• Rowland Office (McClatchy) – the only major-league player with the first name Rowland and the only one with the last name Office – was a fourth-round pick by Atlanta in 1970. He became the youngest player in the National League when the Braves called him up at 19 in 1972. In 1976, he hit safely in 29 consecutive games, batting .408 (51 for 125) during that stretch. In the 35 games before the streak, he hit .207; in the 35 games after the streak, he hit .220.
Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.