In baseball, holding the top pick in the draft has proven to be more of a curse than a blessing.

Matt Bush‘s path from high school baseball star to MLB No. 1 overall pick by the San Diego Padres in 2004 to his current legal predicament is hurtful. Per ESPN, Bush is slated to serve a three-year sentence—in addition to time already served—for a DUI hit-and-run in March.

The incident likely cost Bush his baseball career, nearly cost the victim his life and will undoubtedly change Bush’s life forever. We can only hope the change is for the better.

This case is not the only sad story about a former No. 1 overall pick. We’ve seen teams hit home runs with the selections of Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Joe Mauer. However, we’ve seen far more failures than successes from the top picks.

Bush’s story bears some resemblance to that of Brien Taylor or even Josh Hamilton. Taylor’s career fizzled out after he suffered a catastrophic arm injury while in the minors, per the Fay Observer. He was the top pick in the 1991 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees.

His career and life spiraled out of control after the injury. Today he is also serving a prison sentence, per ESPN.

Hamilton has recovered from his early personal issues that also included alcohol abuse, per the New York Times. He recently signed a huge free agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and he is one of the game’s best players. However the Tampa Bay Rays—the team that drafted him in 1999—never got an opportunity to see him shine in a Rays uniform.

Hamilton was losing the wrestling match with his demons at that point. Even as recent as this year, he admitted to having a relapse, per ABC News.

This is not a knock on Hamilton as no one is perfect. Godspeed to him and every other recovering alcoholic and addict struggling to overcome addiction.

It’s not just personal problems that have impeded many of baseball’s top picks, though.

Since the MLB Draft began in 1965 (not counting the top selections in 2011 and 2012, who haven’t had ample time to reach the majors), only two players taken No. 1 have won the Rookie of the Year award.

Only 22 of the 45 applicable players have made an All-Star team. Only 14 of them were named All-Stars while with the team that drafted them. Counting Bush, three of the players taken with the first pick never played in a regular season major league game.

According to those numbers, teams that hold the top pick in the draft have just over a 31 percent chance to see their selection represent their club as an All-Star. Darryl Strawberry and Chipper Jones are the only former No. 1 picks to be a part of a World Series champion with their original clubs.

As of now—though Griffey Jr. and Jones are likely to change this—no former No. 1 pick has reached the Hall of Fame. These are staggering facts when you consider we’re talking about 47 years of history.

At least 13 of the players taken with the top pick could be considered complete busts (Bush, Steve Chilcott, Taylor, Danny Goodwin and more). And while the NFL and NBA have also had their share of top draft choice busts, both leagues have seen more successful top picks than MLB.

Though the NBA has had a longer draft history, 14 former No. 1 picks have already been elected to the Hall of Fame, and there are more on the way with Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Dwight Howard either not yet eligible or still active.

The NFL is the closest in bust-potential, but even they have sent 12 former No. 1 picks to the Hall of Fame. It’s a low number considering the draft began in 1936, but the NFL’s top yearly pick has still, on average, been able to accomplish more than MLB’s top pick.

Obviously, the differences in the sports play a role. NBA and NFL rookies aren’t sent directly to the minors, so they are almost assured of some action with the professional team, but it doesn’t account for every aspect.

Success in baseball is about physical talent, yes. But maybe more than any other sport, a player’s development and success in baseball is based on his mental state. Many of the young men I’ve discussed haven’t had that aspect of their being intact.

Beyond the sad stories of legal problems and substance abuse, the returns of on-field success for MLB’s former No. 1 draft picks have been the lowest in the history of team sports.


(stat references from Baseball-Reference, Pro-Football-Reference and Basketball-Reference)


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