Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.


With the excitement surrounding Monday’s major league draft, and the Reds pick of prep phenom Hunter Greene, there must be some perspective relative to the fact that where baseball’s concerned…all that glitters is not gold!

Like most Reds fans I was enthralled with the hype and the statistics that came with first round draft choice Hunter Greene on Monday night.  And why not?  He’s 18 years old, he’s been clocked at 102 miles per hour off the mound, he can throw a baseball farther than a football field in the air…and was rated as one of the nation’s best amateur shortstop prospects when he’s not pitching.

The MLB talking heads went on and on about him:  How he’s the complete package, how humble he is, how mature, and how ready he is to be, in the words of one scribe…”a generational player.”I guess that means that he’ll soon take his place alongside Ken Griffey Junior, and Derek Jeter.  Those guys get paid to talk, by the way, so keep that in mind before you buy everything they say.

I have some unique perspective on the draft, and draft choices, because over my 7-plus years of minor league umpiring I saw a lot – a lot – of first round draft choices come and go.  Some hit, and it seemed…a lot more missed.

Some that stood out…….

Clint Hurdle, the Royals’ first round choice in 1976, was one that stands out as having had that same ‘generational’ tag that the MLB guys were giving Hunter Green on Monday.

Hurdle, however, never materialized into that kind of player.  The Royals tried, but his best years (or year) came at the end of his up-and-down big league career, with the Mets, as I remember.  He even spent some time with the Reds.

But I remember him best during those times when he was in the minors, largely arguing over balls and strikes.  Hurdle, in his view, had a very narrow strike zone.  He was a good guy, but I often wondered if he didn’t labor under the enormous expectation of being the #1 choice in the draft.  Given more time to develop and grow into his potential, I wondered if he someday wouldn’t have paid the dividends expected.

Montreal's Bob James threw the ball as hard as anyone I ever personally witnessed, but his career did not match his draft potential.

Montreal’s Bob James threw the ball as hard as anyone I ever personally witnessed, but his career did not match his draft potential.

Bob James was the Expos top pick in 1976, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher from the west coast who was the first legitimate 100-mile-per-hour pitcher I saw in the minors.  The problem was…he never learned to harness that fastball.  And, he never really developed the off-speed pitches to go with it.  He signed for a lot of money, and the Expos gave him a lot of rope, hoping that eventually he’d figure it out.  But others drafted later, Bill Gullickson. Scott Sanderson, and Bryn Smith, quickly passed up James in the minor league system and he was gone in four years.  He did see big league time with the White Sox, but only as a middle-reliever.

The Baltimore Orioles drafted Dallas Williams back then, citing that he had everything that Paul Blair had…and more.  Blair was the centerfielder on their great teams after the Frank Robinson trade, and Williams was picked out of New York City as a “can’t miss” outfielder that would someday play center field like Blair and lead the American League in stolen bases.  The problem was…he couldn’t steal “first” base.  He languished in the the minors for several years before spending barely a month in the big leagues.  In fact, he played but two games with the Orioles…and in 18 games as a member of the Reds in 1983.

One of the biggest flops I witnessed was a first baseman named Jim McDonald, whom the Yankees took with their first pick in 1975.  So touted was McDonald that he was immediately sent to their High-A team in the Florida State League…and McDonald, who was said to have massive power, ended up having massive power failure.  He simply couldn’t hit;  but having tools, and the Yankees’ money, they didn’t give up, and for a while they put him on the mound to see if that would work out.  He left baseball after five seasons, his last in Columbus with the Clippers in the early 80s.

Dallas Williams was supposed to be the next Paul Blair for the Baltimore Orioles, but turned out to be a career minor leaguer.

Dallas Williams was supposed to be the next Paul Blair for the Baltimore Orioles, but turned out to be a career minor leaguer.

Locally, does anyone remember Tom Goffena, from Sidney?    Goffena was the Toronto Blue Jays’ first-ever draft pick in 1977, and played just three years in the minors before a back injury forced him to retire.

And Tim Glass, from Springfield?  Glass was a spectacular-fielding shortstop at South High School that the Indians took with their first pick in the ’77 draft.  Glass could catch it and throw it, but averaged just .245 in ten minor league seasons before leaving baseball after the 1985 season.

Without question, it’s a different draft and a different scouting process now than it was 30 years ago.  Rest assured that every at bat and every pitch that Hunter Greene threw for the past two years was recorded and analyzed ad nauseam by big league scouts from every organization.

And while it’s true that he can throw a baseball 100 miles per hour, in his senior season this spring he pitched in just five games, and for 23 innings.  His record, impressively enough, was 3-0.  But that was a very small sample size.  As a shortstop he hit .324 with 6 home runs in 30 games.

For the Reds sake you hope the hype is real.  It’s been a long time between ‘generational’ Reds with the apparent personality and elan of a Hunter Greene.  The one they have presently…doesn’t seem interested in the attention.

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