Ted Wilborn and Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente have something in common.
The former McClatchy High School star and the 12-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, four-time batting champion and 1966 National League MVP were both selected in the Rule 5 draft.
At the winter meetings each year, Major League Baseball conducts the Rule 5 draft. The draft is designed to prevent a team from stockpiling young talent in its minor-league system when other teams would be willing to have them on their major-league roster.
The Rule 5 draft is an unconventional way for a player to reach the major leagues, and the majority of players who get there this way aren’t ready.
In 1954, however, the Pittsburgh Pirates saw something in Clemente and pickpocketed him from the Brooklyn Dodgers. He, of course, went on to have a career of memorable and historical significance.
Wilborn, on the other hand, did not have such a spectacular career.
He was a fourth-round pick of the New York Yankees in 1976. He struggled in his first two seasons, hitting .188 at Short-Season A Oneonta (N.Y.) and .215 at Class-A Fort Lauderdale (Fla.). He began the 1978 season with Fort Lauderdale, hitting .186, and he didn’t start improving until he returned to Oneonta.
In 65 games with Oneonta, he hit .309 with a .428 on-base percentage and stole 57 bases. A natural left-handed hitter, he began switch hitting. His performance persuaded the Toronto Blue Jays to take him in the Rule 5 draft.
But selecting Wilborn came with a price.
The Blue Jays had to pay the Yankees a $25,000 fee and put Wilborn on their major-league roster. After 90 days, the Blue Jays could send him to the minors or place him on the disabled list. (In 1985, the fee was increased to $50,000 and the player had to stay on the major-league roster the entire season.)
Wilborn, who was 20 then, started the 1979 season with the Blue Jays, even though he was nowhere near ready for the majors (he appeared in 22 games and was 0 for 12). After three months, Wilborn was sent to the Triple-A Syracuse (N.Y.) Chiefs of the International League, where he hit .247 in 61 games.
It was clear Wilborn would have benefited from playing at a lower level, since he had never played above Class A. But the Blue Jays saw a potential star and wanted to speed his development.
Wilborn was reacquired by the Yankees in a trade at the end of the 1979 season, and he would get only eight more at-bats in the big leagues in 1980.
Wilborn’s older brother William Wilborn (McClatchy, Cosumnes River) played three seasons in the minors for the San Diego Padres (1976 to 1978).
In 12 minor-league seasons, Ted Wilborn played in 1,130 games for the Yankees (1976-78, 1980-81), Blue Jays (1979), Giants (1982-83), White Sox (1984), Tigers (1985) and Orioles (1985-87). In 3,902 at-bats, he hit .268 with 125 doubles, 67 triples, 40 home runs, 421 RBIs and 272 stolen bases.
His major-league numbers: 30 games, 20 at-bats, two hits, five runs scored and one RBI.
Around the bases
• The Giants released Fresno Grizzlies right-hander Mitch Lively (Sacramento State) and signed their 23rd-round draft pick, right-hander Jordan Johnson (Franklin), from Cal State Northridge and placed him on the disabled list. Lively was signed by the Washington Nationals and assigned to Triple-A Syracuse.
• Ben Eckels (Davis) of the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops was named Northwest League Pitcher of the Week. In two starts last week, the 20-year-old right-hander, who was named to the South Division All-Star team, allowed no runs and struck out 17 in 10 innings, leading the Hops to the South Division first-half title and their first playoff berth. He leads the league in strikeouts with 52.
• In his first year as a Texas Rangers special assistant working with prospects, Darren Oliver (Rio Linda) has had to remind himself what it was like starting out in the minor leagues. “I don’t even know what I was thinking when I was in A ball,” Oliver told the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Sun News. “I wish there was someone to help me, but I kind of learned on the fly. “So it’s good to kind of give back and tell them they’re so close but yet so far. It’s fun to watch them, and hopefully I’ll see some of these guys down the road in the big leagues and I get a chance to maybe help them out a little bit along the way.” Oliver was in Myrtle Beach working with pitchers. Myrtle Beach is the Rangers’ Class-A Advanced affiliate.
Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.