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First pick showed draft's imperfection

First pick showed draft's imperfection

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates brass approached the 1965 draft as rigorous disciples of the Branch Rickey philosophy that a good athlete could inevitably be molded into a good baseball player.

It wasn't the stats or baseball instincts the club's scouts saw in a prospect as they scoured the nation in preparation of baseball's inaugural draft. Technique and the game's finer points could be taught later. What they were looking for was a specific, but crudely simple, cast of traits.

"You had to have enough arm strength, some bat control and the body type," said George Zuraw, then a scout for the Pirates. "And if you allowed that type of athlete to improve, the belief was that they could become a good [Major League] player."

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Doug "Wayne" Dickerson fit the bill and the Pirates selected him with the 10th pick in the first round.

It didn't exactly work out. The Alabama high school kid never made it past A-ball and was gone from the organization within five seasons.

"It's not an exact science," said Zuraw, who signed Dickerson and is now a scout with Tampa Bay. "When they go out to play, the circumstances are beyond our control."

The situation in Dickerson's case was a complex one.

Dickerson was a standout three-sport athlete at Ensley High, a prep power in Birmingham. He was the quarterback of the football team, the center on the basketball team and the center fielder on the diamond. Standing six feet and weighing 180 pounds, he had the prototype frame the Pirates were looking for.

Pittsburgh had its sights on Dickerson throughout his senior season and staged multiple workouts with the 17-year-old lefty. From Zuraw to manager Danny Murtaugh to general manager Joe Brown, the opinions were unanimous: the kid had the makings of a star.

"If there's any argument over No. 1, you're not going to take him," Zuraw said.

So the club signed him in June for $25,000 and the investment immediately looked to be paying off. After a month of playing rookie ball at Salem, Dickerson was the leading hitter among the 20 players taken in the first round.

But late in the 1965 season, Dickerson came down with a severe case of viral influenza and dropped 15 pounds. He fully regained his strength by the onset of the 1966 season, though the Pirates now had other problems on their hands.

Dickerson reported to camp considerably out of shape, having "put on a few extra pounds."

"He was never the same," Zuraw said.

In 1966 at Class A Gastonia, Dickerson hit just .254 with eight homers. After three more middling seasons in the Minor Leagues, the Pirates released him following the 1969 season and he was never heard from in baseball circles again.

That Dickerson was picked well before the likes of Tom Seaver, Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan and Graig Nettles seems unthinkable today, but it only further illustrates the mystifying nature of the draft.

"You just don't know," Zuraw said. "It's the mysteries of the game."

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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