'Today’s money is a whole lot better': Galesburg MLB Draft picks reflect on first contracts

Matthew Wheaton
Galesburg Register-Mail
Chad Johnson (top), Mark Thiel, Bobby Jackson, Jim Sundberg and Jeremy Pickrel are among the baseball players from or born in Galesburg who have experienced Major League Baseball's draft.

Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft wrapped up Tuesday.

And no Galesburg High School graduate has been taken in it since 2018 when Cody Hawthorne, a left-handed pitcher, was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 21st round of the draft out of Parkland College.

At least 17 others who played for GHS or were born in Galesburg have been drafted in the past 60 years, according to baseball-almanac.com and baseball-reference.com

Players who were picked in the first round of the 2022 edition of the draft might be part of contract negotiations but in all likelihood an agent — Scott Boras is probably the most famous among the bunch — handles the specifics these days, and there's probably more than one discussion with whichever one of the 30 MLB organizations who chose their client, and he'll sign for millions. 

The contract negotiating likely began before the draft even did for those who were taken in the first round and even some of those who were drafted in the later rounds, as teams don't want to waste a pick. They only have so many, after all.

A player doesn't want to give up his amateur status, if he has any left, and he might not get drafted. Hiring an agent means one is a "pro."

Chad Johnson, a catcher, was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the fifth round and was the 163rd overall pick in 2012. 

Johnson, a 2012 GHS grad, handled his negotiations with the Royals, as he was committed to continue his collegiate career for Illinois State University. He didn't like Kansas City's first offer, and Johnson rejected it. However, the Royals found a bit more cash for him.

Johnson, who played five seasons of minor league ball, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of his contract. However, under baseball's collective bargaining agreement the year he was drafted teams had a pool of bonus money from which to sign players who were drafted. Kansas City had $259,500 allotted to them for their fifth round pick, according to Baseball America.  

MLB teams faced a punitive tax and the possibility of losing draft picks if they strayed from the allotted bonuses. If a player didn't sign, the team lost the amount for that slot. If a player signed for less than the slot, teams could shift that money to other picks.

'Today’s money is a whole lot better'

Back in the day, MLB draftees didn't put ink to paper for that much money. Jim Sundberg was drafted three times, and the 1969 GHS grad handled his own contract negotiations on each occasion.

Sundberg was chosen by the Oakland Athletics in the sixth round in the 1969 June draft but didn't sign as he had already committed to play for the University of Iowa. 

Along with being selected by the A's, Sundberg was drafted in June 1972 by the Texas Rangers in the eighth round, pick No. 172. In the 1973 January "winter" draft, the catcher was taken by the Rangers again. Sundberg was the No. 2 pick in the first round. 

"The first time I was drafted I was offered about 18 grand, and the last time I got 10 grand, an incentive bonus which was $7,500, and the rest of my college was paid for. It wasn’t a lot of money for back then," Sundberg said. “There is a lot of difference in the money. Today’s money is a whole lot better."

Sundberg, 71, retired as a player at the end of the 1989 season after a 16-year MLB career with the Rangers, Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Chicago Cubs. The former backstop is a member of the Rangers' Hall of Fame, has a World Series ring with the 1985 Royals and won six Gold Glove awards in his playing career. 

Like Sundberg, Mark Thiel is a former GHS and college catcher. He graduated from high school in 1973, and Thiel went on to play baseball for the University of Missouri. He was selected honorable mention All-America twice (1974, 1976). Thiel was also named to the All-District V and Big 8 All-Conference team on two occasions (1974, 1976), as a member of the Tigers. Thiel's .595 career slugging percentage ranks third in Mizzou's record book. 

After his junior season repping the Tigers, Thiel was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 10th round of the June draft in 1976. 

"I did my own negotiating. There was no money back then. Our No. 1 pick got $30,000, and I ended up with 15, which was good for then," said Thiel, 67, who now lives in Clearwater, Florida. "The money wasn’t that good especially in the minors. Today, I would have been a millionaire by the time I was 21. 

"We just played for the love of the game really. That was it," added Thiel, who was a member of the Yankees organization four and a half years.

In his second season in MiLB in 1977, Thiel found himself in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and playing in the Florida State League. Thiel's name was briefly on the Yankees' MLB roster two seasons later. 

“The Florida State League was one of the best leagues going at that time because you played at all the Major League spring training facilities," Thiel said. "I was on the Major League Roster in 1979 in spring training with the Yankees and what a team that was.

"Thurman Munson was on the roster and ahead of me," Thiel added. "I got sent back down, and he died a couple of months later in that plane crash.”

'Wanted to do one thing'

Barry Cheesman also served as his own agent when he was drafted, and like Johnson, Cheesman wouldn't discuss the specifics of his contract, but he didn't care what he was getting paid. 

“There wasn’t much negotiation," said Cheesman, who was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 25th round in June 1977 and played four years of minor league baseball. "If I had to do it all over again, I would do it different. I didn’t know what to expect or how much to ask for.

"I wanted to do one thing," added Cheesman, a 1977 GHS grad, who was a professional golfer for 20 years and lives in Sarasota, Florida. "I wanted to play baseball so that was kind of my thinking going into it.”

Jeremy Pickrel had the same mindset when the Minnesota Twins drafted him in the 10th round of the 2004 draft as an ISU junior. The outfielder was anxious to just live out his childhood dream.

“I was ready to go and start my baseball career. I pretty much just got what the slotted value was," said Pickrel, a 2001 GHS grad. "It wasn’t too long after the draft where they came and gave me the contract and had me sign it and all that. I went to like a mini camp before they sent us off to short season.

“Whenever, I decided to go back to school they agreed to pay I think three semesters," added Pickrel. "It was probably about $75,000 total with school and my contract but there was no negotiating. I was ready to take it and ready to go.”

MLB draftees from Galesburg, IL

1965: Michael Davis, SS: St. Louis Cardinals; Galesburg High School (June draft, 13th round pick No. 253)

1966: Robert Darrah, LHP: New York Yankees; Tulane University (June draft, 25th round, pick No. 490)

1969: Fred "Willie" Mims, OF: Chicago Cubs; Spoon River College (Jan. draft, 5th round, pick No. 103).

1969: Jim Sundberg, C: Oakland Athletics; GHS (June draft, sixth round pick No. 127)

1971: Fred "Willie" Mims, OF: San Diego Padres; University of Iowa (June draft, 13th round, pick No. 288)

1972: Jim Sundberg, C: Texas Rangers; University of Iowa (June draft, 8th round pick No. 172)

1972: Fred "Willie" Mims, OF: Milwaukee Brewers; University of Iowa (Jan. secondary draft, third round pick No. 62)

1973: Jim Sundberg, C: Texas Rangers; University of Iowa (Jan. secondary draft, first round pick No. 2)

1973: Stephen Ballard, 1B: St. Louis Cardinals; University of Arizona (June draft, 48th round pick No. 739)

1975: Gary Purcell, OF: Boston Red Sox; University of New Orleans (June draft, 11th round pick No. 255) 

1975: Richard McCarthy, SS: Baltimore Orioles; University of New Orleans (June draft, 17th round pick No. 407)

1976: Mark Thiel, C: New York Yankees; University of Missouri (June draft, 10th round, pick No. 232)

1977: Barry Cheesman, C: St. Louis Cardinals; GHS (June draft, 25th round pick No. 613)

1983: Paul DeJaynes, P: New York Yankees; GHS (June draft, 11th round pick No. 275)

1985: Robert "Bobby" Jackson, 3B: San Francisco Giants; GHS (June draft, 4th round pick No. 82)

1986: Paul DeJaynes, P: Minnesota Twins; Bradley University (June draft, 12th round pick No. 299)

1993: Jeremy Lee, P: Toronto Blue Jays; GHS (June draft, first round pick No. 40).

2003: Andrew Swanson, P: Tampa Bay Rays; GHS (June draft, 28th round pick No. 818)

2004: Jeremy Pickrel, OF: Minnesota Twins; Illinois State University (June draft, 10th round, pick No. 301)

2008: Kyle Hunter, LHP: Tampa Bay Rays; GHS (June draft, 33rd round, pick No. 983)

2010: Kyle Hunter, LHP: New York Yankees; Kansas State University (June draft, 43 round, pick No. 1,315) 

2011: Kyle Hunter, LHP: Seattle Mariners; Kansas State (June draft, 31 round, pick No. 933)

2011: Tyler Farrell, RHP: New York Yankees; GHS (June draft, 43rd round, pick No. 1,319)

2012: Chad Johnson, C: Kansas City Royals; GHS (June draft, 5th round, pick No. 163)

2018: Cody Hawthorne, LHP: Texas Rangers; Parkland College (June draft, 21st round, pick No. 629)

Matthew Wheaton can be reached at (309) 315-6073 or at mwheaton@register-mail.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewlwheaton