Saturday, May 30, 2015

White Sox Bonus Baby, Jim Derrington

Recently, I've been looking at some of my cards from the Topps 1958 set. I came across this card for White Sox hurler, Jim Derrington.  I had never heard of him and noted that his birthday was on November 29, 1939, which would have made him an eighteen year-old during the 1958 season.  The card showed that Derrington had appeared in 21 games.

Topps 1958 Jim Derrington Card #129
I did research on Derrington and found that on September 12, 1956 he was signed as a 16 year-old bonus baby from South Gate, California.  His contract with the White Sox included a bonus of $65,000 (a contract today that would be worth over $550,000). 
The Bonus Baby
The term “bonus baby” was used to describe a player who received a large signing bonus upon signing a professional baseball contract. They were called “babies” because of their youth, as many were signed as teenagers, directly out of high school or early college.
The bonus baby era began in 1947, and ended in 1965. The bonus rule was conceived in reaction to bidding wars between major league teams over highly touted young prospects in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Prior to the adaption of the rule, the competition for top amateur talent created large signing bonus. The rule forestalled the ability for teams, primarily the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cardinals, to sign the best young talent and keep it in their farm systems.
At the time that the White Sox signed Derrington, the rule stipulated that when a Major league team signed a player to a contract in excess of $4,000, that team was required to keep the player on their 25-man Major league roster for two full seasons. If the team failed to comply with this rule they could lose that player's rights as the player was then to be exposed to the waiver wire.
Bonus babies were signed as a result of their potential, and many of these players did not succeed.   However, four of the 1947–1965 bonus babies had Hall of Fame careers.  Al Kaline, signed with the Tigers in 1953, Harmon Killebrew signed with the Senators in 1954, Sandy Koufax was a Dodger signee in 1954, and Jim "Catfish" Hunter signed with the A's in 1964.  In June of 1965, the amateur free agent draft was introduced, which limited drafted prospects to negotiate with a single team.  The purpose of the draft was to reduce signing bonus amounts, and the bonus rule was eliminated.
Jim Derrington
When Jim Derrington signed in September 1956, he was immediately added to the White Sox roster.  The 6' 3" left hander pitched in one game that season, against the A's.  He was the starting pitcher in the White Sox's final game of the year.  The 16 year-old took the loss in the A's 7 - 6 victory.  He pitched six innings, giving up nine hits and six runs, five which were earned, while issuing six walks, with a balk, and striking out three.  Derrington still holds the record as the youngest pitcher to start a Major league game.  In addition, he singled in the fourth inning, making him the youngest player in American League history to get a base hit.  
The following season, Derrington appeared in 20 games, with five starts and 15 relief appearances.  He pitched 37 innings, with no wins and one defeat and a 4.86 earned run average. Derrington struck out 14 batters and walked 29.  On August 10 of that year, Derrington was the starting pitcher against the Tigers. For seven innings, the Tigers were shutout and they didn't get a base hit until Bill Tuttle's one-out sixth inning double.  In the eighth inning, Reno Bertoia, another bonus baby, hit a two-run homer off Derrington.  After that home run, the White Sox summoned Billy Pierce from the bullpen. Pierce yielded four runs to the Tigers, and the White Sox lost 6-4. That was as close as Derrington ever got to winning a Major league game.  He made his final his big league appearance on September 29 against the Indians, at age 17 and 10 months.
Following spring training in 1958, Derrington was sent to the White Sox's triple-A team, the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.  After pitching a couple of seasons in minors and as spring training of 1960 was ending, Derrington was scheduled to make the White Sox's Major league roster.  In an exhibition against the Pacific Coast League's Sacramento Solons, he threw a couple of fastballs that bounced off the plate. The next morning, he was unable to straighten his left arm. So as spring training ended, instead of going to Chicago, Derrington was sent to San Diego to see the team doctor, who gave him two cortisone injections in his left elbow.
Derrington was told that he had ripped all the ligaments and tendons in his left elbow, and that he would never be able to throw again like he did.  So he opened the 1960 season with the Pacific Coast League San Diego Padres, as their starting right fielder.  At the conclusion of the following season, after he had spent four years in the minors, Derrington's playing career ended.  He was only 22.
Upon his retirement, Derrington returned to southern California, and his hometown of South Gate, and went to work in his father's TV and appliance store.  In 1968, he took over the business and later expanded it to five stores.  Derrington sold the business in 1979, and then a friend got him a job managing a produce company in Anaheim, where he worked until 1989.

At that time, Derrington wanted to get back into baseball, as a coach.  Beginning in 1991, he spent his free time working as an unpaid assistant coach at Fullerton High School.  Then from 1995 through 1998, he coached and managed an independent league team, the Mission Viejo Vigilantes.

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