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When the White Sox failed to sign the first overall pick

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43 years before Brady Aiken refused to sign with the Houston Astros, Danny Goodwin chose college instead of Chicago

Before and after.
Before and after.

The Houston Astros' interminable rebuilding process hit another snag when they failed to come to terms with the 2014 draft's No. 1 pick, Brady Aiken. It's a story that dominated the headlines and baseball Twitter, because it's perfect yelling fodder. Every side loses, every side made mistakes, and you can attack it from three fronts if you're so inclined:

  1. The Astros are an arrogant front office that just had a cover story declaring them the 2017 World Series champs despite having the No. 1 overall pick for three straight seasons.
  2. Aiken, a 17-year-old, turned down $5 million, which is stupid and anger-inducing and so forth.
  3. The draft pool is a flawed system that creates all sorts of conflicts of interest, punishing both teams and advisors for selecting too many talented players, and the amateur players suffer the most.

It's also an explosive story because this pretty much never happens. Aiken became just the third No. 1 pick in baseball history to decline to sign with the team that drafted him. Tim Belcher refused to sign with the Twins in 1983, and back in 1971, Danny Goodwin decided to go to college instead of signing with ... the Chicago White Sox.

Yes, the White Sox were once like the Astros. The nadir of the White Sox franchise -- at least since the Black Sox scandal -- was 1970. The Sox went 56-106, they drew fewer than 500,000 fans, and plenty of heads rolled when September rolled in.

For all that turmoil, at least the Sox received the first pick in the 1971 draft. And they used it on the consensus No. 1 player in the country: Danny Goodwin, a catcher from Peoria (Ill.) Central High School. From The Sporting News on June 26, 1971:

One thing almost every club agreed upon was that the nation's No. 1 prospect was Danny Goodwin of Peoria, Ill., a 6-1, 195-pound catcher. His name had been mentioned most prominently before the draft so there were no surprises when the White Sox, selecting first, announced their desire to negotiate for Goodwin. He was expected to be signed for a $100,000 bonus.

The fact that Goodwin wasn't mentioned in The Sporting News until June 26 tells you the kind of attention the June draft received, because the White Sox selected Goodwin on June 8. The Chicago Tribune's draft day story also floated the $100,000 figure, but only to debunk it.

Goodwin had been quoted from his home in Peoria as stating that he was torn between getting a college education and playing ball, something which [Roland] Hemond agreed was "a normal initial reaction." A figure of $100,000 has been tossed around as a bonus, but Goodwin said he had dropped this figure to no one, and in Chicago Stu Holcomb, executive vice president of the Sox, refused to acknolwedge that this was his asking price.

"Well have to sit down with Danny and his parents and get a few things straightened out," said Holcomb. "With the money they want, schooling may have to be secondary. We hope to talk about it by the end of the week."

Updates were hard to find in the Tribune afterward. Goodwin's uncertain status was mentioned on June 22, when the Sox' second-round pick, Ohio State outfielder Bill Sharp, stopped by Comiskey Park after signing for a "fair and acceptable" bonus. A week later, the paper mentioned that the Sox and Goodwin had run up against a deadline -- the start of the American Legion season, which Goodwin remained eligible for:

The White Sox have only until tomorrow to rest their case in attempting to sign Danny Goodwin, the 17-year-old catcher who appears to be leaning heavily toward a concentrated period of schooling for dentistry instead of accepting a prolonged scholarship plan along with a handsome bonus to play pro baseball. Negotiations can be renewed briefly in August, however, when Goodwin finishes his American Legion schedule in Peoria.

The Sporting News referenced the disparity between the two parties in its July 3 edition ... and a certain dollar figure returned:

The White Sox have run into difficulty trying to sign Danny Goodwin of Peoria, their No. 1 choice in the June 8 free-agent draft. Danny wants more than $100,000 and wants it in a lump. The White Sox offered a bonus spread out for five years, which would net the Peoria Central High star more in the long run.

Goodwin didn't sign with the Sox, before the start of Legion ball, and he didn't sign afterwards. Instead, he chose to attend Southern University "after the Chisox failed to meet his demand for a six-figure bonus," The Sporting News reported.

Dollar figures were vague throughout the whole process, but baseball historian Bruce Markusen says the Sox fell well short of the demand:

The Sox considered Goodwin the best available player in the draft, someone they simply could not bypass. Even in off-the-field areas, the likeable Goodwin graded out highly; he did well in school and owned a good attitude. On all counts, the draft direction pointed toward Goodwin.

After drafting him at No. 1, the White Sox offered Goodwin a contract paying him an estimated $60,000. He turned down the less-than-impressive offer, which he believed to be worth less than a college scholarship from Southern University in Louisiana. Goodwin opted to continue his education. A highly intelligent young man who possessed interests in science and math, he enrolled at Southern, eventually becoming a zoology major. As part of his four-year tenure at Southern, Goodwin earned collegiate baseball player of the year honors.

1971 was Roland Hemond's first full season as a general manager, having replaced Ed Short the September before. Had this situation been transplanted 40 years later, failing to come close to a fair price on the first overall pick, the Sox would've been the laughingstock of the league, and Hemond would've been put through the wringer.

Fortunately, Hemond and the Sox had a few things in their favor. The youth movement featuring Bill Melton had started to take hold, and they were en route to a 23-game improvement that had the Chicago media envisioning a contender in short order, and Harry Caray became an instant favorite among fans that same season.

Moreover, the first pick in the draft hadn't produced any surefire stars over its first six years of existence:

  • 1965: Rick Monday
  • 1966: Steven Chilcott
  • 1967: Ron Blomberg
  • 1968: Tim Foli
  • 1969: Jeff Burroughs
  • 1970: Mike Ivie

Monday was a nice player, and Burroughs won an MVP in 1974, but the rest  ... nope. Chilcott didn't even make the big leagues. So while Aiken-Astros qualifies as a debacle for both sides, I can't detect any reading on the Richter scale from the Sox failing to sign Goodwin.

It might've been a different story had Goodwin become worthy of the billing. The failure had an opportunity to come back and bite the Sox when Goodwin became the first and only player to be selected first overall twice. The Angels took him with the top pick in the 1975 draft, and they signed him for $125,000, which validated Goodwin's read on the situation four years before. Alas, a shoulder injury decimated his arm and forced a move from behind the plate, and it threw his entire career off course. Markusen writes:

So why did Goodwin, a young man with a good attitude who put up big minor league numbers, fail to flourish in the major leagues? There appear to be several intertwining reasons. The shoulder injury ruined his throwing arm, taking away part of the value that had as a catcher. He would never be the black Johnny Bench. No longer able to catch—in fact, he never caught a single game in the big leagues—the Angels and Twins slotted him as a DH/first baseman. Unfortunately, he lacked the agility and footwork needed to be a good first baseman. Furthermore, he never really hit in the limited opportunities he received with either club; the lack of a strong initial impression resulted in both teams giving up on him relatively quickly, a problem that became exacerbated by the Angels’ and Twins’ frequent change of managers in the late ’70s. I suspect that if Goodwin could have continued to catch, his teams would have waited longer for his bat to arrive in the big leagues, but when he became a DH, they expected immediate, high-impact results.

The Sox also had plenty of company at the top of the first round, as none of the first dozen picks that year turned into fixtures. Only 13 picks in did the Angels find a stud pitcher in Frank Tanana, and the Red Sox took Jim Rice two players later.

If your really want to play "what if," the second round is where the regret is:

RdPck Tm Name Pos WAR G AB HR BA OPS Drafted Out of
1 White Sox Bill Sharp (minors) OF 2.0 398 1104 9 .255 .644 The Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)
2 Padres Willie Boynton (minors) RHP Springfield HS (Skowhegan, ME)
3 Brewers Larry Anderson (minors) RHP -0.5 16 0 0 El Rancho HS (Pico Rivera, CA)
4 Expos Dan Warthen (minors) LHP 0.6 83 89 0 .079 .178 North HS (Omaha, NE)
5 Royals George Brett (minors) SS 88.4 2707 10349 317 .305 .857 El Segundo HS (El Segundo, CA)
6 Phillies Mike Schmidt (minors) SS 106.5 2404 8352 548 .267 .908 Ohio University (Athens, OH)