1993 Finest: When the Orioles Selected Big Ben First in the Draft

Ben McDonald was a multisport standout throughout school. The Atlanta Braves thought enough of his pitching talent to select him in the 27th round of the 1986 MLB draft, though he did not sign. Instead, he attended LSU on a basketball scholarship. He did very well, advancing to the later rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, pitching in two trips to the College World Series, and earning a gold medal for the United States in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

The Baltimore Orioles had their first ever #1 overall pick in the MLB draft in 1989 and used it to select the LSU standout. He signed and found himself pitching at the major league level by the end of the season. His first start was seen as a good omen as he shut out the Chicago White Sox on four hits. His later outings were generally positive, with his pitching style becoming more of a rotation workhorse that could chew through innings rather than a power pitcher that would dominate opposing teams. He posted several seasons of 200+ innings before a rotator cuff tear ended his career at age 30.

“Big” Ben

Accounts of McDonald’s pitching performances almost universally mention the fact that he stands 6’7″ tall. Many people attribute his pitching success to his height, though this is a bit suspect upon deeper reflection. Taller players literally “stand out” with height as a differentiating feature. When searching for a rationale for better performance, it is easy to key in on height rather than less visible mechanical movements in the delivery or time devoted to learning an aspect of control. Glenn Greenberg wrote an article for SABR that is well worth reading about the effect pitcher height has on performance. The conclusion was height has very little to do with actual skill. Ben McDonald’s height gave him a punny nickname, but it was pitching talent that got him to the big leagues.

Additional Ben McDonald Facts:

  • He is now a broadcaster for ESPN’s coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament and a radio announcer for the Orioles on MASN.
  • McDonald was offered $2 million to skip Major League Baseball and join a proposed alternative baseball league. He declined and the league quickly disappeared.
  • Ben’s nephew Mac Sceroler made his MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles in April 2021.
  • He played basketball on a scholarship for two years at LSU, eventually choosing baseball as he felt he had the best chance of turning pro in that sport.