Los Angeles Angels: How an Angels signing led to the first MLB Draft

After sigining two-way star Rick Reichardt to a record-breaking contract, the Los Angeles Angels tipped the scale for Major League Baseball to institute the first amateur draft.

Rick Reichardt isn’t a name that rolls off the tongue for many baseball fans. The left fielder never made an All-Star team, he never led the league in any statistical category, and unless you are steeped in the history of Angels baseball, you might never know of him. On his 77th birthday, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how his first contract with the Angels led to the creation of the MLB amateur draft.

In 1963, Rick Reichardt was one of the top college stars in the country, playing as a two-sport athlete for the University of Wisconsin, where he twice led the Big 10 in batting and also started at fullback for the football team that was ranked second in the country before losing in the 1963 Rose Bowl to USC.

When Reichardt was looking to sign his first professional contract in his preferred sport of baseball, a bidding war ensued, leading to the Angels signing him for a whopping $205,000 amount, higher than any MLB player at the time. Two teams offered him even more money, including the Kansas City Athletics, who reportedly offered twice as much, but the two-sport star felt most comfortable with Angels owner Gene Autry.

Reichardt’s contract would change the entire game of baseball. A year after signing for more than baseball legends such as Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, and Mickey Mantle, Major League Baseball instituted a draft system that quickly deflated signing bonuses for amateur stars. Rick Monday became the first player selected in the 1965 Draft, signing for half the amount Reichardt fetched the previous year.

When we think of the draft in modern terms, we often think of it as an equitable means to distribute talent throughout the league. In the name of competitive balance, teams are awarded draft picks in reverse order of their record from the previous season. The draft keeps the game fair for fans of teams that are desperate for new talent. In reality, the draft is a labor mechanism, created to protect owners against skyrocketing salaries. The Angels dishing out $205,000 on a college player was the final straw before the league decided it was time to make sure owners couldn’t inflate the salaries of amateur players above what they were paying the game’s brightest stars.

Reichardt hit the first regular season home run at Anaheim Stadium, off a pitcher whose name baseball fans most certainly will recognize, Tommy John. But he never lived up to the size of his contract. He played parts of seven seasons for the Angels, batting .261/.328/.406 with 68 home runs and 261 RBIs over 563 games. He later had stints in Chicago, Kansas City, and Washington, before retiring after taking one final at-bat in 1974.

Baseball fans might not remember his name today, but his impact sure lives on. Happy Birthday, Mr. Reichardt!

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