Ben Bodding expected a good haul on baseball’s draft day back in June, 1972, but not this.
Not a bonanza that sent an adrenaline rush throughout the Sacramento Bee newsroom.
Bodding was then a sports reporter for The Bee, and in preparation for the Major League Baseball draft he didn’t have page after page of scouting reports available to view at his fingertips on the internet – still decades away. He relied only on human contact to cull sources. Bodding worked the rotary phones and shoe leather to get the scoop on local prospects. If he wasn’t calling baseball scouts, Bodding met with them during games “and got the word through the grapevine, through the ‘bushes’ as we called it then,” Bodding recalled with laughter Monday from Roseville, where he works for Farmers Insurance.
“In 1972, I’m in The Bee office, watching the Teletype (machine) and names are coming over for the draft, one by one, at an agonizing pace,” Bodding recalled. “Then at No. 12 in the first round, Mike Ondina of Cordova is picked by the White Sox. Oh wow. We didn’t expect that. Then Joel Bishop of McClatchy goes 16th overall (to Boston), and I go sprinting out of the office to get to McClatchy for a story. No computers, no laptops, just scratch pads.”
Further proof of how primitive the draft was then: Bodding had Bishop pulled out of class for the news. The shortstop did not know he’d been selected.
“Then I got a call at the coach’s office from The Bee that Jerry Manuel of Cordova is picked 20th by the Tigers, so we have a reporter race to Cordova,” Bodding said. “That’s how it was done then. We were an afternoon paper then, phoned in our stories, dictation, and we just beat deadline. That was a big day for local sports.
“It’s unbelievably different now – the coverage, the exposure, the player money.”
The 1972 draft with three local first rounders was a surprise, and having two local first rounders last week was also stunning because of the staggering difference in signing bonuses.
Ondina, an outfielder, signed for $60,000 in 1972, Bishop, an infielder, for $45,000 and Manuel, also an infielder, for $55,000. Big bucks then.
While he attended a party in his honor Friday evening, right-handed pitcher Matt Manning of Sheldon went ninth overall to Detroit, the announcement coming on national cable TV and the news going viral on Twitter and every social network known in this high-tech era. That selection has a slotted signing bonus of approximately $3.5 million. Elk Grove High outfielder Dylan Carlson, who waited anxiously at his home with family and friends, was picked 33rd overall by St. Louis with a signing slot bonus of $1.9 million.
Baseball had a purity in Bodding’s day. In the 1970s, he coached a summer team in the Sacramento Night League that played at Renfree Field, and his roster in ’72 included Ondina and Manuel for a spell before they signed and were off to pro ball.
“Our team was California Loan & Jewelry, a pawn shop downtown,” Bodding said. “The last game Manuel played for me, we played in Marysville. We only had nine guys, so there I am, playing left field. Fun times.”
The Night League dissolved over time, and prospects stopped playing locally once they got drafted.
And signing bonuses soared.
The area’s first first-round pick was Leron Lee of Grant in 1966. He signed with St. Louis for $48,000. His nephew, Derek Lee of El Camino, was a first-round pick by the Padres in 1993, signing for $600,000. Geoff Jenkins from Cordova was signed out of USC in 1995 for $911,000, and Tony Torcato signed with the Giants out of Woodland High in 1998 for $975,000.
Manny Parra, a pitcher out of American River College, earned the area’s first $1 million signing bonus in 2002. His deal was for $1.25 million, a remarkable amount for a 26th-round pick.
First baseman Rowdy Tellez of Elk Grove went in the 30th round to Toronto in 2013, signing for $850,000. In 2014, outfielder Derek Hill of Elk Grove received the region’s most lucrative bonus at $2 million. Manning will obliterate that.
But first-round status guarantees nothing but an extra burden of expectation. Bishop serves as a cautionary tale.
“Ronnie King, a scout, told me before the 1972 draft that you’d have to tear the baseball uniform off of Joel. He loved the game that much,” Bodding said. “It’s sad that within three years, Joel quit the game because he didn’t like it anymore. He couldn’t believe he was a first-round pick.”
Bishop died in 2012. Of the 1972 bumper crop, only Manuel reached the major leagues. In 2000, he won American League Manager of the Year honors with the White Sox. He also managed the Mets. Now he runs a baseball academy in Sacramento.
This year’s draft included three area high school players, capped by Davis shortstop Ryan Kreidler, who is headed to UCLA, in the 35th round to the Cubs. And in an oddity, there wasn’t a local community college player selected in the 40 rounds of the draft for the second consecutive season.
Baseball. Unpredictable in any era.
MLB draft picks
Players with area connections selected in the MLB draft:
Cal (Granite Bay)
Cal State Fullerton (Roseville, Sierra)
New York Yankees
Sacramento St. (Rosemont, Del Campo)
Cal State Fullerton (Rio Linda)
New York Yankees
Texas Tech (Yuba City)
Los Angeles Dodgers
Long Beach CC (El Camino)
Cal Poly Pomona (McClatchy, Sac City)