And with the First Pick in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft, the Pirates Select...
In February 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed 19-year old OF Roberto Clemente out of Puerto Rico and gave him a $10,000 bonus.
At the time he was signed, Clemente -- despite having played baseball for only two years -- was probably the best-known amateur baseball player in Latin America. He starred for Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1953-54, and several other teams (most notably the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Giants -- who were the Dodgers main rivals at the time) supposedly offered him more money, but Clemente wanted to play for the Dodgers.
The Bonus Rule of 1947-50 had been reinstated in 1953, and per this rule any amateur player receiving a bonus in excess of $4,000 (was $6,000 1946-50) who signed a major league contract would have to be placed on the signing club's MLB reserve list (40-man roster) and then would have to spend two calendar years on the club's MLB active list (25-man-roster) before he could be optioned to the minors. If a club decided not to keep the bonus player on the 25-man roster for two years, the player could not be optioned or outrighted to the minors until irrevocable waivers could be secured.
However, Clemente was technically signed by the Montreal Royals (one of two Dodgers AAA affiliates at the time), so the Dodgers did not need to place him on their MLB Reserve List (40-man roster). More importantly, the Dodgers also did not need to carry him on their 25-man roster in 1954 and 1955.
A number of future MLB stars (including Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, and Sandy Koufax, to name four future Hall of Famers) were bonus players in the 1950's and spent two full seasons on MLB 25-man active list rosters as teenagers, but only one bonus player was signed to a AAA contract and then was lost in the Rule 5 Draft... Roberto Clemente.
While the Dodgers certainly would have had room for Clemente on their MLB 40-man roster (see Dodgers 1954 Spring Training 40-man roster below), they apparently did not feel they could afford carry him on the 25-man roster while they were trying to win a pennant. So it was more about the 25-man roster than it was about the 40-man roster.
And while there was no question about Clemente's talent and upside, he was very inexperienced and nowhere near MLB-ready in February 1954, especially on a contending team like the Brooklyn Dodgers where every slot on the 25-man roster had value. If the Dodgers had carried him on their 25-man roster in 1954 and 1955, he probably would have never played (although he could have gotten reps by playing winter ball back in Puerto Rico post-1954 and post-1955). And it would have meant that another position player who otherwise would have been on the Dodgers 25-man roster would not be.
So not having to carry Clemente on their 25-man roster was apparently very important when the Dodgers signed him to a minor league (AAA) contract.
Going into the 1954 season Brooklyn was perennially the best team in the National League (they won the pennant in 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, and tied for first place in 1951 only to lose the playoff to the Giants on Bobby Thomson's famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World"), and the Dodgers also had the #1 farm system in baseball (they were absolutely loaded in 1954 - see list below).
The problem was, as a bonus player assigned to a minor league reserve list, Clemente would have to remain on the Montreal roster through the conclusion of the next MLB Rule 5 Draft (in November 1954) and be eligible for selection in the Major League Phase for the discounted "Bonus Player" draft price of $6,000 (the standard draft price in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft in 1954 was $10,000). So once he signed with Montreal, he could not be added to the Dodgers MLB 40-man roster until after the 1954 Rule 5 Draft (presuming he wasn't selected).
But - IF - Clemente could somehow get past the 1954 Rule 5 Draft without being selected, the Dodgers would not have had to add him to their MLB 40-man roster until after the 1957 season (in 1954, a player not on an MLB 40-man roster was eligible for selection starting with the fourth Rule 5 Draft after his first "qualified season," which depended on whether the player signed his first contract prior to or on/after August 1st), and once on the 40 post-1957, Clemente could be optioned to the minors in 1958, 1959, and 1960, and after all that, he would not be out of minor league options until Spring Training 1961 (presuming he had not established himself as a "big leaguer" by then).
And because he was obviously so raw and clearly nowhere near MLB-ready, the Dodgers were probably fairly certain that even if he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft, that they would be able to re-claim him later, or else maybe re-acquire him in a trade by sending two or three of their lesser (but still decent) prospects in a "CARE Package" to whichever loser drafted him, or else perhaps extract a useful MLB player from the other club if the Dodgers declined to re-claim.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the team with the #1 priority in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft turned out to be the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates (see the original version of Angels in the Outfield to see just how hapless the 1950's Pirates were), and the GM of the Bucs was none other than former Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. And while the Mahatma was on good terms with Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi, Rickey hated owner Walter O'Malley (who essentially ran Rickey out of Brooklyn).
Rickey's approach in Pittsburgh was very unusual for the time (it's actually more like MLB is now), because he was not even pretending to be competitive. Instead, he stockpiled young players (including several bonus players) on the Bucs 25-man roster, and so adding one more (Roberto Clemente) was no big deal. (This actually worked, as the Pirates won the World Series in 1960 with players acquired, signed, and/or developed by Rickey in the 1950's).
So the Dodgers really took a big chance by signing Clemente to a minor league contract if they did so with the (false) assumption that he would not get selected in the Rule 5 Draft, or if he did get selected, that they would be able to get him back. In any case, they obviously believed that they could not afford to carry Clemente on their MLB 25-man active list roster for two full seasons while chasing the pennant (the Dodgers finished third in 1954, but they did win the pennant in both 1955 and 1956, and they won their one & only World Series while in Brooklyn in 1955).
There is a theory that the Dodgers tried to hide Clemente at Montreal, but he was already very well known by scouts throughout baseball. Pirates bird-dog Clyde Sukeforth -- the guy who scouted Jackie Robinsion for Branch Rickey in 1945 -- was all over the Montreal Royals that season, and so there should have been little doubt that the Pirates would probably make him their #1 pick in the Rule 5 Draft if they finished with the worst record in MLB (which they did), and if the Pirates did draft Clemente, that the Dodgers wouldn't get him back. The main problem with Clemente in Montreal was that not only was he not ready for MLB, he wasn't ready for AAA, either. He had a lot of difficulty hitting breaking balls from veteran AAA RHPs, and so he was platooned and otherwise used as a PH and late-inning defensive replacement (and even with the protection of platooning, he still hit a middling 257/286/372 in 86 AAA games).
It probably would make more sense that the veteran Dodgers players didn't want a "bonus baby" (not just Clemente, but any "bonus baby") on the team if he wasn't ready to help them win. (Cuban OF Sandy Amoros was on the Dodgers in 1954-55, so Clemente would have had at least one teammate whose first language was Spanish, if that was a concern).
So could the Dodgers have kept Clemente on their MLB 25-man roster in 1954 and 1955?
Did they even care?
You be the judge:
BROOKLYN DODGERS TOP 15 PROSPECTS SPRING TRAINING 1954:
1. Karl Spooner, LHP (added to 40 September 1954)
2. Don Drysdale, RHP (not yet eligible for Rule 5 Draft)
3. Chico Fernandez, SS (added to 40 post-1954)
4. Roberto Clemente, OF (Bonus Player signed 2/54)
5. John Roseboro, C (not yet eligible for Rule 5 Draft)
6. Ed Roebuck, RHP (already on the 40)
7. Don Zimmer, SS (already on the 40)
8. Don Hoak, 3B (already on the 40)
9. Norm Larker, 1B (added to 40 post-1954)
10. Don Bessent, RHP (already on the 40)
11. Gino Cimoli, OF (already on the 40)
12. Don Demeter, OF (not yet eligible for Rule 5 Draft)
13. Jim Gentile, 1B (not yet eligible for Rule 5 Draft)
14. Charlie Neal, 2B (added to 40 post-1954)
15. Maury Wills, SS (not yet eligible for Rule 5 Draft)
NOTE: LHP Sandy Koufax was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a Bonus Player ($24,000 bonus) out of U. of Cincinnati in December 1954 and -- unlike Roberto Clemente -- Koufax - WAS - signed to a major league contract and the Dodgers - DID - carry him on their 25-man roster.
OTHER NOTABLE BROOKLYN DODGER PROSPECTS 1954 (listed alphabetically):
Glenn Cox, RHP (added to the 40 post-1954)
Roger Craig, RHP
Ray Daviault, RHP
Willard Davis, SS
Clyde DeWitt, RHP
Lester Fessette, RHP
Glen Gorbous, OF (selected by PHI in November 1954 Rule 5 Draft)
Bert Hamric, OF (added to the 40 post-1954)
Bud Hutson, OF
Fred Kipp, LHP
Bob Lillis, SS
Ralph Mauriello, RHP
Ray Mitchell, 3B
Donald Musto, OF
Jonathan Parris, 3B
Joe Pignatano, C (added to the 40 post-1954)
Charles, Ready, RHP
Allen Shinn, 1B
Jack Spears, SS
Larry Stankey, 1B
Chuck Templeton, LHP (added to the 40 post-1954)
Ronald Wells, RHP
Stan Williams, RHP
Jerry Wright, RHP
Oscar Young, OF
1954 BROOKLYN DODGERS SPRING TRAINING MLB RESERVE LIST
* Bats or throws left
# bats both
NOTE: Players on "National Defense Service List" did not count against 40-man roster until reinstated and players with "Returning Serviceman Status" did not count against 40-man roster until Opening Day.
Players who were on Brooklyn Dodgers 1954 Opening Day roster are capitalized and underlined in BOLD
Don Bessent (Top 10 prospect - Returning Serviceman Status - optioned to AAA after Spring Training)
Joe Black (optioned to AAA after Spring Training - recalled briefly in April-May)
Hamp Coleman (out of minor league options Opening Day 1954 - outrighted to minors)
Joe Landrum (National Defense Service List – outrighted to minors post-1954)
* Tom Lasorda (optioned to AAA after Spring Training - recalled August 1954 replacing Wade on roster)
* Ken Lehman (optioned to AAA after Spring Training)
Glenn Mickens (Returning Serviceman Status – optioned to minors after Spring Training - outrighted post-1954)
BOB MILLIKEN (missed second half of 1954 season on DL - outrighted to minors Spring Training 1955)
Ray Moore (out of minor league options Opening Day 1954 - outrighted to AAA then traded to BAL 10-8-1954)
Ron Negray (optioned to AAA after Spring Training)
ERV PALICA (traded to BAL for Frank Kellert 3-17-1955)
* JOHNNY PODRES
* PREACHER ROE (traded to BAL with Billy Cox 12-13-1954)
Ed Roebuck (Top 10 prospect - optioned to AAA after Spring Training)
BEN WADE (claimed off waivers by STL 8-8-1954)
Pete Wojey (optioned to AAA after Spring Training - recalled July 1954 replacing Milliken on roster)
* Ben Staples (Returning Serviceman Status – out of minor league options Opening Day 1954 - outrighted to minors)
* TIM THOMPSON (optioned to AAA in May)
* AL “Rube” WALKER (long-time Dodgers back-up catcher - started 1954 season on DL - reinstated 5/1)
Jim Baxes (Returning Serviceman Status – optioned to AAA after Spring Training - outrighted post-1954)
* WAYNE BELARDI (Returning Serviceman Status - traded to DET for Chuck Kress 6-9-1954)
BILLY COX (traded to BAL with Preacher Roe 12-13-1954)
# JIM GILLIAM
DON HOAK (Top 10 prospect)
* Chuck Kress (acquired from DET 6-9-1954 for Wayne Belardi - sold to TOR IL 7-12-1954)
Bobby Morgan (traded to PHI 3-28-1954 during Spring Training)
PEE WEE REESE
Don Zimmer (Top 10 prospect - optioned to AAA after Spring Training - recalled July 1954 replacing Kress on roster)
NOTE: Jackie Robinson played mostly 3B and LF in 1954-55.
* SANDY AMOROS (optioned to AAA 5/13 - 7/13 then recalled to stay)
Bill Antonello (out of minor league options Opening Day 1954 - outrighted to minors)
Ted Bartz (Returning Serviceman Status – out of minor league options Opening Day 1954 - outrighted to minors)
Gino Cimoli (Top 10 prospect - optioned to AAA after Spring Training)
Vic Marrasco (Returning Serviceman Status - optioned to AAA after Spring Training - sold to OAK PCL June 1954)
* Walt "Moose" Moryn (optioned to AAA after Spring Training - recalled July 1954 replacing D. Thompson on roster)
* GEORGE SHUBA
* DUKE SNIDER
* DON THOMPSON (outrighted July 1954)
Dick Williams (optioned to AAA after Spring Training - recalled in May - outrighted July 1954)