The Detroit Tigers are often talked about more for their ineffectiveness in the MLB draft. However, 1976 was a nearly perfect draft class.
Once upon a time, the Detroit Tigers had a nearly flawless draft class. While that was 42 years ago, the impact the draft class of 1976 had on the Detroit Tigers organization cannot be understated enough. Strangely, it’s the player who they weren’t able to sign who may have had the biggest impact.
Coming off a disastrous 1975 season that saw the team go 57-102, the Tigers had the second overall pick in the June 1976 draft. After Arizona State left-hander Floyd Bannister went first, the Tigers took high school left-hander Pat Underwood.
Underwood was by no means a prize, pitching just 343 innings with the Tigers, posting a 4.43 ERA and a 13-18 record. He was out of pro baseball by age 26.
Off to an auspicious start, things immediately got better in round two. The Tigers went with another high schooler, a shortstop from Kearny named Alan Trammell. Trammell, of course, went on to become the best shortstop in team history and was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame last season. He wasn’t the only Hall of Fame infielder drafted by Detroit that season, but we will get there.
Round three was Detroit’s second bust, as they took high school catcher Scott Johnson. His career was as memorable as his name, as he hit just .183 in 208 minor league at-bats.
Round four brought Detroit another huge piece of their 1984 World Series winning team, as the team went with their fourth high schooler, right-handed pitcher Dan Petry. Petry played for the Tigers for 11 years, posting an 18-8 record and a 3.24 ERA in 1984.
Round five was when Detroit finally branched into the college ranks, selecting right-hander Jack Morris from BYU. Morris joined Trammell in the Hall of Fame this past season, and ranks as one of the best starting pitchers in franchise history.
It remains the only time any MLB team has drafted two Hall of Famers in the same draft class.
Drafting two Hall of Famers and a very solid starting pitcher through the first five rounds is extremely notable, but Detroit wasn’t done. Round six was another high schooler, Lawrence Douglas, who never made the show.
Round seven saw Detroit grab their fourth shortstop of the draft, a switch-hitter from Cal Poly University named Ozzie Smith. Unfortunately, Smith decided to return to Cal Poly and was drafted the following year by the San Diego Padres. Smith, as you probably know, went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Padres and Cardinals.
So the Tigers are the only team to draft multiple Hall of Famers in the same draft, and they drafted three. Along with a solid rotation piece. The rest of the draft wasn’t super notable, although Kip Young had a solid 1978 season after getting plucked in the 23rd round.
Here’s to hoping the 2018 draft class, which brought in future studs like Casey Mize, Kody Clemens, Brock Deatherage and Parker Meadows, can mirror that kind of success. Stranger things have happened.