On Throwback Thursday, we go back to 1993 -- to the Expansion Draft that started the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins, both of whom played their first ever games 25 years ago Thursday.
Everyone questioned ESPN's decision to televise it. For 6 1/2 hours on Nov. 17, 1992, Keith Olbermann and various analysts talked (and talked, and stalled, and talked) about the 72 players taken in the MLB Expansion Draft between the Rockies and the Marlins. They gathered more than 2,000 player profiles so that when Kip Yaughn and Monty Fariss and the Ramon Martinez who was not the All-Star pitcher were taken, they would have something to say.
It was a yeoman's effort (though Floyd Youmans was not selected).
The next day, the reviews came in: "Boring! Yawn! Who cares?"
They were so wrong. A future Hall of Famer was drafted that day. Ten future All-Stars were drafted, including one who hit 320 career home runs. Three future Major League managers were drafted. And then there was a flurry of trades, one of which brought over a superstar who came close to winning a Most Valuable Player Award.
In other words, it was a baseball geek's dream.
David Nied was the clear No. 1 overall choice -- really, he was the Bryce Harper of that Expansion Draft. A lot of people were shocked the Braves did not protect him. Nied was a 6-foot-2 right-hander with good stuff and outstanding command. In his first six big league appearances, two of which were starts, in 1992, he went 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA and a ratio of 19 strikeouts to five walks in 23 innings. He so wowed the Braves with his maturity that they put him on the World Series roster, though he did not pitch.
One unidentified scout who appeared in several pre-draft previews (same scout?) said that Nied was possibly the top pitching prospect in baseball. He was called a "phenom" in several of those stories, by the way.
And so in just about every mock draft (yes, there were a surprising number of mock Expansion Drafts), Nied was the first overall pick. And then the Rockies made it so.
"Well," Olbermann said on ESPN, "that's one Nied that was filled."
And so Niedmania began.
"We went after what we wanted right away," said Rockies manager Don Baylor, who promptly announced that Nied would start on Opening Day.
"This guy is going to pitch a lot of years for us," Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard said.
"Who will be the hottest baseball card for at least the next month?" warned someone named Marilyn in an ad for "Home Field Advantage Baseball Cards" in Greenville, S.C. "Most likely David Nied. Look to pay $10-$15 for his BC10 Leaf Gold Rookie Card."
"I see a team that is going to be very competitive," Nied said. "We're not going to get wiped off the face of the baseball earth."
This was music in Denver, where baseball fever had caught hold (the Rockies would draw 4.48 million people that season, a record that will never be broken) and Nied was the center of all their hopes.
He did start opening day for the Rockies at Shea Stadium, and he pitched reasonably well (five innings of two-run ball), though he lost to Dwight Gooden's four-hit shutout. He also started the second home game in Rockies history -- the game was at Mile High Stadium in front of 65,000 -- and again pitched reasonably well, going seven innings and getting the win against the Expos.
Nied had a pretty good first month; he was 3-2 as May began. But that second month was dreadful. He was pounded start after start -- this was before anyone appreciated just how hard it was to pitch in Colorado. Nied had an 8.10 ERA in six May starts. The Rockies were baffled; Baylor admitted that he was at a loss.
"You ask me where do we go with him, and I can't give you an answer," he said. "I don't know what to do with him."
He decided to rest Nied and have him pitch a no-pressure exhibition game against the Rockies' Triple-A team. Nied hurt his elbow in the game and missed the next three months.
It never came together for Nied in Colorado, though he was probably better in 1994 than he got credit for. He went 9-7 in 22 starts with a 4.80 ERA, which might not look great, but it was a better-than-average ERA for a Colorado-based pitcher.
Nied hurt his elbow the following spring and made only one Major League start after that. He retired in 1997 and went to work with his father at Cylinder Heads International near his hometown of Duncanville, Texas. He is married to a woman he went to high school with in Duncanville named Heather Cranford. Her claim to fame is that she twice appeared on The Bachelor.
The Rockies came into the draft with the notion of putting a competitive team on the field right away. The Marlins had a different idea, deciding to build for the future. They took a raw but talented outfield prospect named Nigel Wilson with their first pick. Wilson did not pan out in the Majors, but he went to Japan and became a star there.
Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski was insistent on taking unknown kids. Most have faded away unremembered. But with their fourth pick, the Marlins decided to go into the Reds system and take someone who had not appeared on any of the mock drafts, a one-time infielder whose hitting woes convinced him to convert and become a pitcher.
"I wish I could give you some expertise on him," recently retired catcher Gary Carter said on the Sunshine Network's live coverage of the draft (yes, ESPN was not the only network to show the full draft). "But I don't know a whole lot about him."
That young pitcher was named Trevor Hoffman. As you know, he's going to the Hall of Fame this summer.
"When they said, 'The Marlins pick from Cincinnati is …'" Hoffman said, "in that little instance I was wondering who would go. It was like, 'Who's not going to be with us next year. I was really surprised."
He was not the only one.
"Nigel Wilson? Jose Martinez? Trevor Hoffman? Pat Rapp?" wrote Dave Hyde in the Sun Sentinel. "And if you don't know them, what that means is you have a life."
The rumors surrounding the draft had the Marlins and Rockies going for some relatively big names to try and draw fans -- George Bell, Danny Tartabull, Shawon Dunston and the like were available. The Rockies took a few; the Marlins avoided them entirely. Colorado signed one-time All-Star Andres Galarraga to a free-agent contract one day before the Draft. He found new life in Colorado, leading the league in hitting his first season and leading in home runs and RBIs three years later.
The Rockies did take 27-year-old Charlie Hayes from the Yankees. They took 29-year-old Kevin Reimer from the Rangers (and promptly traded him for another veteran, Dante Bichette, who was a four-time All-Star and almost won an MVP in Colorado). They took other veterans like Jody Reed, Alex Cole and Joe Girardi, who was stunned the Cubs let him go. Seeing Girardi's name is a good reminder that the Rockies also took Brad Ausmus and Eric Wedge, which means they took three catchers who would become Major League managers.
Colorado's best pick was probably Braves shortstop Vinny Castilla. He hit 40-plus homers three times in the Denver air and finished his career with 320 home runs -- three more than George Brett.
Looking back, the Marlins probably did better. In addition to drafting future Hall of Famer Hoffman, they also took reliever Bryan Harvey, who was so good his first year (1.70 ERA, 45 saves) that he actually got a vote for the National League Cy Young Award.
They took a brilliant 23-year-old talent, Carl Everett, from the Yankees, which was controversial. The Yankees insisted that the Marlins return Everett because -- get this -- they were never compensated for giving up their rights in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they had a Minor League team. As you might have guessed, that challenge didn't go very far. In time, Everett would become an All-Star outfielder, though not in Florida.
Perhaps most special, the Marlins took first baseman Jeff Conine from Kansas City. Conine made two All-Star appearances with the Marlins and was a part of their stunning 1997 World Series win. He became so beloved in Florida they began calling him "Mr. Marlin."
There have been six Major League Baseball Expansion Drafts -- the last one was in 1997 when Tampa Bay and Arizona went at it. That one, if we're being honest, wasn't as much fun -- no Hall of Famers or future managers or franchise-defining players were taken.
That's how these Expansion Drafts usually go. They usually are boring. In 1976, the best player selected was probably pitcher Jim Clancy. In 1968 a few old stars like Maury Wills, Hoyt Wilhelm and Mudcat Grant were selected for their name power but otherwise it was a pretty dull.
So the 1993 draft really did have some fireworks. When it was over, Baylor told reporters, "We have a Major League player at every position."
When told that by definition anybody the Rockies played would be a Major Leaguer, he scowled. "You know what I mean," he said.