Bob James – 1988 Donruss

March 4, 2011

Worst. Rotiss. Draftee. Ever.

Ah, memories. My college friend Steve invited me to take part in a Rotisserie League in his hometown in 1986. It was a 12-team AL only league with 14X9 player allotments, so basically almost everyone in the AL was drafted. Draft day was a challenge because you didn’t want to spend you allotment early and have to take the $1 specials at the end. (A few were OK, but not six or seven).

Anyway, saves were a hot commodity (of course) and in 1985 James was the closer of the White Sox. My partner in crime was a White Sox fan with some inside dope, which was always helpful.

It was the middle rounds. Pitching was going fast. I had a closer but needed a starter or two. Steve didn’t have a closer, and also needed a starter. Of course, you want to have two closers, perhaps, for trade bait or to dominate the category (or both).

So James came up for bid.

In perfect rotiss fashion, we bid on James to drive the price up. My partner, Brent, knew that James was having a rocky camp and this Thigpen kid may come up and take the saves away during the year. So he didn’t want James, but everyone knew he was a Sox fan (he wore a Sox hat to the draft, naturally) and they surmised that Brent really wanted James.

Heh. Though he suckered me for a minute until a punch in the thigh set me straight after I gave him a “WTF” glance.

James went to Steve for big $$. I mean, big $$. He was one of the most expensive players in the draft.

A couple players later, Ted Higuera came up for bid. We had the $$ for him. Steve wanted him, craved him. He was a main target for him. But he couldn’t bid for him. He didn’t have the cash because of Bob James.


We finished in the money that year, won it the next year, and came in the money the year after. Sure, picking up guys like Kevin Seitzer on the cheap helped, but not overpaying for saves (or catchers) also helped.

Of course, every draft from thereafter, Bob James was a running joke. Even after James retired, we’d jokingly say “$5 for Bob James” and laugh at Steve. Heck, when Steve came back to our college campus, Brent and I of course brought it up to him, 20 years after the fact.

Callbacks never get old, do they?

James had a rotten 1986 (14 saves, 5.25 ERA, 8 blown saves), and his 1987 wasn’t much, either (10 saves, 4.67 ERA). In fact, his career WAR was only 2.1, and in 1985 he had a 4.1 WAR. That says something, doesn’t it?

His track record before 1985 was lousy, too. He was a high draft pick in 1976 by Montreal, and after pitching well through 1978 in the minors (and getting a small cup of decaf in Montreal at age 19) he got rocked in AAA (8-13, 6.68 but it was Denver). He rebounded in 1980 but was lousy in 1981 again, and after making the big club in 1982 and under-performing Montreal sent him to Detroit in a ‘conditional deal’.

He didn’t pitch well in Detroit or Evansville, and then got hit hard in a brief stint in Detroit in 1983, so he was sent back to Montreal in a ‘conditional deal’.

Basically, I think the trade was, “Please, please take him, and if you want, you can send him back in a year, no questions asked.” Talk about satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

James then pitched mediocre ball for Wichita in 1983, but put it together when the Expos called him up later that year. In 1984, he recorded 10 saves for the Expos. However, he blew 9 saves and had a negative WAR with a 3.66 ERA. Still, he had 10 saves so the White Sox sent the Expos Vance Law for him.

Then 1985 happened. And then 1986 and 1987 happened, and in late December 1987 the White Sox released him. He was done. He didn’t hook up with anyone else. And still, Donruss gave him a card. Why?

Oh, yeah, there were way too many cards per set in the junk wax era.



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