Twenty-eight years ago Arizona Diamondbacks Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo found himself in a similar situation. He was the acting General Manager of the Phoenix Suns basketball team who along with the Milwaukee Bucks were awarded expansion franchises. Prior to the season the Bucks and Suns front office met to carry out an expansion draft to determine what players from other organizations would make up their team. On that fateful day in 1969 Jerry Colangelo called the toss to determine who would receive the first pick. He lost the coin flip to the Milwaukee Bucks who used the number 1 pick to select a lanky center named Lew Alcindor who went on to become a Hall of Fame player. Lew later changed his name; you might have heard of him, he now goes by the name Kareem Abdul Jabar. The Suns with the second pick selected Neal Walk who played for the Suns from 1969 to 1974 but was never able to reach the accomplishments of Abdul Jabar. “The coin did come up heads, and then the commissioner, Walter Kennedy, flipped it over on his wrist, and it was tails,“ Colangelo said in a very serious tone.
Jerry Colangelo was hoping that history would not repeat itself in Phoenix Arizona in 1997. When Frank Robinson, the current chairman of the Arizona Fall League flipped the coin with his right and caught it with his left uncovering the outcome, Colangelo could not have been happier. There in Robinson’s hand was the commemorative 1997 Jackie Robinson dollar showing “heads”. The Arizona Diamondbacks had won the toss and with that were able to select whether they would take the first overall pick in the expansion draft or that would select the 2, 3, and 5 picks before the teams then alternate selections.
“Looking at the board, it was pretty obvious to us it was two, three, five,” Colangelo said. “And it goes beyond that, because you draft first in each subsequent round.” He said the flexibility would provide the Diamondbacks with an opportunity to arrange trades with other clubs. “I think that the mere fact that someone is willing to go two, three, five would indicate that there isn’t that one player out there who would force you to take the first pick,” Colangelo said. Tampa Bay CEO Vince Naimoli would have preferred to have won the toss and be in the Diamondbacks situation rather than having to choose first, but he said the No. 1 pick may be turned to the Devil Rays’ benefit. “I think what the first pick allows us to do is work on a blockbuster trade,” Naimoli said.
With the coin flip out of the way all that is left for fans is to wait for November 18, 1997 when the two expansion teams will begin selecting players that will make up their Major League roster during their inaugural season in 1998.
On November 18, 1997 the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays met in the Phoenix Civic Center to begin selecting players for the Major League Roster. The selection process followed a specific set of rules allowing players to be selected from the existing rosters of the other 28 Major League franchises. This was a slight change from previous expansion drafts where players were select from either National League or American League franchises only. The draft consisted of three rounds and at the end the Devil Rays and the Diamondbacks would each have thirty-five players. Within this section you will find the Expansion Draft rules and the draft results for each team.