Best First-Round Picks – #10
A reminder, here’s our methodology.
Best First-round Picks — #10
1985 – Oddibe McDowell
This is probably biased on my part. I was a five-year-old, and my earliest baseball memory was seeing a guy on a bad baseball team do something remarkable—indeed, something that had never been done before.
But we’ll get to that.
The Golden child
Oddibe McDowell was a college baseball legend before the Rangers ever called his name at #12 in the first round of 1984. Despite a rather small stature (5’9”, 170), the lefty outfielder from Hollywood, Florida had burned up the amateur ranks at ASU, and then played prominently as baseball debuted as an exhibition sport in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Oddibe McDowell was a standout in the outfield for the Arizona State Sun Devils from 1983 to 1984 and played for 2007 College Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Brock. He was a career .380 hitter with 30 home runs and 31 doubles. In 1984, he hit .405 with 23 home runs, a performance that earned him the Golden Spikes Award. That same year he was named Player of the Year by both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. He also was a two-time All-American and was the first Sun Devil to have his number retired.
Consider that last fact, and this: some of the names to grace ASU baseball through the years have included first-ever draft pick Rick Monday; Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson; the captain of the Oakland A’s dynasty, Sal Bando; NCAA Home Run champion Bob Horner; 1971 #1 overall pick Alan Bannister; and legendary college arms Eddie Bane and Floyd Bannister. It also includes perhaps the greatest player of all time, warts and all: Barry Bonds, who played with Oddibe.
But Oddibe’s number went up first. The numbers show why; here are his junior and senior seasons in Tucson:
Including high school and various collegiate selections, this was the senior’s sixth time to be drafted.
Kid makes good
Coming into the Rangers system, McDowell’s debut was nothing if not auspicious: despite the fairly advanced start of debuting in AAA, he shone.
At Oklahoma City, in 31 games and 146 plate appearances, he slashed .400/.486/.632 with seven doubles, eight triples, and a pair of homers. He drove in 18 and scored an incredible run per game (32 in 31 games). He also averaged a walk for every strikeout (19:20 walk-to-whiff rate). He stole 12 bases, but was caught six times—flashing both the speed and the abandon that defined his early-career running game. With those kinds of numbers, Oddibe was not long for Triple A.
That was especially true because of the team because of the team Oddibe was joining. The early 1980s were rotten times to be a Rangers fan.
From 1982, the absolute basement of their decline, here are the Rangers’ team records, including leading up to McDowell’s Rangers debut in 1985:
|1985 (through May 18)||10-24|
McDowell got the call up from new Rangers GM Tom Grieve and new Rangers manager Bobby Valentine after a month of tearing up OKC, on May 19, 1985. Against the White Sox in Chicago (and fellow rookie Ozzie Guillen, who would beat him out for Rookie of the Year), Oddibe fanned in all three plate appearances. One day later, in front of just under 19,000 in his home debut, McDowell singled for his first career hit, then was caught stealing. After a really rough first week, he managed to break out against Boston on May 25th. Moved down to the #2 spot to try and manage the pressure on him, he went 3-for-5 with a run scored and a remarkable five RBI in a 10-3 Rangers win.
Nonetheless, he continued to struggle until just after the All-Star break. From there, he took off; here are his splits for the first and second halves of 1985:
Fittingly, the moment of his season (and, as it turned out, his career), came in that second half.
There are still many fans in Texas that will tell you the moment of the 1980s for this team—at least before Nolan Ryan—came on July 23, 1985, in a Rangers’ 8-4 victory over the Indians in Arlington.
On that night, fate shone on McDowell. In front of 8,985 fans (although another 20,000 will swear they attended), #0 did something no Ranger had ever done. Leading off the game, he doubled. In the bottom of the 3rd, he singled. One inning later, he tripled. After another single in the 6th, he came to the plate in the 8th with a chance for history. He hit a two-out fastball from Tom Waddell over the center field fence for a home run and the first Cycle in Rangers history.
That was far from his only highlight in 1985, but it was by far his greatest.
He finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting, slashing (.239/.304.431) over 406 at bats, with a surprising (and for him, unfortunately, an outlier) 18 home runs with 25 steals against 7 caught stealing, and solid defensive numbers (10 assists, a .993 fielding percentage, a 3.13 range factor against a league-average RF per 9 of 2.91). His overall WAR for his rookie campaign was 2.4.
As noted by Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball, Oddibe played a big part in helping the Rangers’ surprise all of baseball with their youth-laden push for the West crown in 1986 (they fell short, fading, as was their long-time tendency, in the heat of August):
“The turning point came on June 2, 1986, and McDowell was a major part of it. The Rangers came into Chicago with a 24-24 record, having just been swept in a three game set at Kansas City. The sweep put the Royals in a tie for first with the Rangers, with the California Angels just a half-game back, and conventional wisdom said that the Rangers were now done…they had a nice little run, but with the arrival of June and the summer heat, they would fade back into mediocrity, letting the Royals and Angels slug it out for the A.L. West title.
McDowell led off that June 2 game at Comiskey Park by drawing a walk. He was bunted over the second base by Scooter Fletcher, and Pete O’Brien drove him in with an RBI single. That 1 run ended up holding up, with Charlie Hough pitching the Rangers to a 1-0 victory.
But more importantly, that win was the start of a hot streak by the Rangers that would vault them into first place, as the Rangers took the next two at Comiskey as well, and then sweeping a four-game series against the Mariners at Arlington Stadium to win seven in a row, as part of a 10-1 stretch.
And McDowell kept coming up big throughout that run. He started a rally on June 4 in the third inning that led to Pete Incaviglia’s go-ahead homer in the third, and homered in the 9th to give the Rangers an insurance run. In the opener of the 4-game series with Seattle, McDowell tripled in Curtis Wilkerson early in the game to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead and scored later that inning, then doubled home Geno Petralli in the bottom of the 10th to give the Rangers a come-from-behind, 6-5 victory. In the opener of a doubleheader with Seattle on June 7, McDowell led off the bottom of the first with a homer off of Mike Morgan. The next day, McDowell started the Rangers off with a triple off of Mike Moore to lead off the first, scoring the Rangers’ first run in a 5-4, extra-innings victory. And on June 11, in extra innings at Minnesota, Oddibe (who had come into the game as a pinch-hitter in the 11th) hit a three-run homer in the 16th inning to give the Rangers the lead, and the win, against the Twins.
Rangers teammates noted McDowell’s impact, no one moreso than staff ace and knuckleball artist, Charlie Hough:
“When Oddibe (McDowell) plays well, we usually do well. He gives us speed. He gives us power. He gives us a spark. But honestly I like his attitude as much as I do his physical ability.” – Hough, in Baseball Digest (August 1986)
Oddibe’s career would never live up to the promise he showed in 1985 and ’86.
Here’s Oddibe’s totals in Texas for his four prime seasons (not including his ill-fated, but actually relatively effective, attempt to come back in 1994 as a 31-year-old a year-plus removed from his last Big League game):
The fact of Oddibe was simpler than the idea of him: he was done in by unrealistic expectations over true poor performance, and by the heroics of those drafted in his class and just after, in 1985 (the greatest draft class ever).
Fans expected a .300 batting average at the time, and didn’t realize that his overall power and relative patience helped make up for his lack of a high average.
He played three more big league seasons—two in Atlanta, one in Cleveland—and had a strong year with the Braves in 1989, slashing 304/.365/.471 in around 300 plate appearances.
Oddibe still ranks among the best of Rangers center fielders, although that’s not an illustrious group; he can’t be blamed for that. He also played a part in one of the best trades in Rangers history.
Franco, would, of course, go on to win an All Star game MVP and batting title, hitting .341 in his magical 1991 campaign.
He remains one of the most popular Rangers of all time—as should the man he was traded for, Mr. Cycle, #0: Oddibe McDowell.
Other notes from 1984
Two picks before the Rangers took McDowell, the A’s took his 1984 U.S. Olympic teammate, a USC pitcher and first baseman named Mark McGwire.
Despite the taint of steroid use, he nonetheless had a remarkable career.
“Big Mac” broke in with a bang in 1987, hitting 49 homers (a still-standing record for a rookie). He, of course, set the baseball world afire with his 1998 dual with Sammy Sosa for Roger Maris’ season home run record. McGwire ended the season with 70. For his career, he hit 583 homers and slashed .263/.394/.588.
He was long considered a sure Hall of Famer until his (admitted) steroid use finally came to light. As of present, he never reached even 25% of the balloting for Cooperstown, fell off the ballot, and is now on the “Current Game” candidate list (although he failed to be elected by that selection committee either, in 2017.
With the 31st overall pick, and their first pick of Round 2, the Cubs took the best pitcher of his generation: Greg Maddux.
Maddux’ achievements are too numerous to mention; he was the first pitcher in major league history to win the Cy Young Award for four consecutive years (1992–1995). During those seasons, he had a 75–29 record with a 1.98 ERA. For that time, he averaged less than one base runner allowed per inning pitched.
He’s the only pitcher in big league history with at least 17 seasons consecutive winning 15 games, and he holds the all-time fielding excellence record at his or any other position: 18 gold gloves. He’s second in the live-ball ERA (post-1920) to Warren Spahn (363) with 355 career wins. He’s also the only pitcher in history with 300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts, and fewer than 1,000 career walks.
The one other most notable pick in ’84 was future hall of famer Tom Glavine, whom the Braves took in the 2nd round only after convincing him to give up a college hockey career. As would be his wont throughout his career, it was great decision-making by Glavine.