The 1973 Major League draft was one of the richest in history. The number five pick, right after Dave Winfield, was a 17-year-old kid from Bridgewater: Glenn Tufts.
It was a picture-perfect New England summer day.
The 17-year-old kid, just two weeks after graduating from high school, stepped into the cage at Fenway Park to take his turn during batting practice with his new team, the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland veterans watched in awe as the kid knocked pitch after pitch up, off and over the fabled Green Monster in left field.
The boy’s proud parents sat in the stands. Another blast settled in the net.
“Unless a piano falls on this kid,” a Cleveland player said, “he’s going to be a star.”
The 1973 Major League draft was one of the richest in history. Texas high school phenom David Clyde was the No. 1 pick. Catcher John Stearns went No. 2. Future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Dave Winfield went three and four.
The fifth pick was the young teen from Bridgewater, Glenn Tufts.
Ten future all-stars, including Fred Lynn and Jack Clark, Cy Young Award winners Lamar Hoyt and Mike Flanagan and another Hall of Famer, Eddie Murray, were selected after Tufts.
The draft had enough gas in the tank near the end to produce future Rolaids Relief Pitcher of The Year Jeff Reardon in the 23rd round with the 527th pick.
In November 1973, five months after being selected by Cleveland, Tufts was driving home from a Thanksgiving eve bonfire in Bridgewater.
“It had been raining most of that day,” Tufts remembered. “The roads were pretty wet. Maybe I was driving too fast ”
Tufts lost control of his car and crashed, shattering his left leg.
“It was broken in four places,” Tufts said. “The piano fell.”
Tufts had established himself as a legend long before the exhibition in Fenway.
“I could always hit,” he said.
Two years out of Little League, the then 14-year old Glenn Tufts was starting at third base for the Easton Huskies, a semi-pro team made up mainly of college players and minor leaguers.
“My Legion team was playing Rockland,” Tufts said. “Huskies head coach Connie Spillane came over to see a pitcher from Rockland. I ended up hitting two home runs off the kid and Connie asked me to come and play for him instead.”
The cocky young slugger was not intimidated by his new surroundings.
“The older guys weren’t resentful,” Tufts said. “They were helpful. It was the best thing that could have happened for me. I was able to learn a lot from the older, more experienced players.”
Tufts went on to Bridgewater-Raynham High School where he made his mark as one of the greatest schoolboy hitters ever.
“I was all-state as a sophomore, junior and senior,” Tufts said. “I was the first to accomplish that since (Red Sox great) Tony Conigliaro.”
Tufts wrapped up his high school career with a .488 average, including a .565 mark in his sophomore season.
Here’s what baseball people were saying about Tufts in 1973, as quoted in the Brockton Enterprise:
“He’s so natural with the bat,” said Hank Pearson, Tufts’ head coach at B-R at the time. “He’s a threat to hit a long home run every time up. His power is amazing and he handles the bat like a whip.”
“I saw him hit a baseball as a freshman that cleared a fence and hit a school building,” said long-time New York Met scout Hal Goodenough. “The ball was still rising when it struck the school. It would have been out of any big league park.”
“I’ve had 40 boys who played with me sign pro contracts,” said the late Spillane, who by that point had been involved with the Easton Huskies for 42 years. “He’s the best high school hitter I’ve ever seen.”
Tufts led B-R to the Class B championship in his junior year, belting a long home run at in the title game against Methuen at Adams field in Quincy that people are still talking about.
“They figure the tree is about ten feet in back of the fence,” the Boston Globe’s Peter Gammons wrote of Tuft’s blast. “And the fence is about 400 feet from home plate. Somewhere up on the top of that tree landed a baseball.”
The numbers are amazing considering that Tufts did all that damage with a wooden bat.
“I never saw an aluminum bat,” Tufts said.
Pro scouts began showing up in droves during his senior year and Tufts signed with the Indians in June 1973.
“They flew us out to Cleveland to sign the contract,” Tufts said. “No agent. It was just me and my parents sitting across the desk from the Cleveland general manger.”
Tufts had also been considering scholarship offers from USC and North Carolina. Under the rules of that time though, Tufts would have lost his college eligibility if he had secured the services of an agent.
“I signed for a $50,000 bonus and a $7,500 incentive bonus,” Tufts said. “Today, the fifth pick would get $2.5 million. Those were different times.”
After signing, Tufts took batting practice that weekend at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium.
“The guy throwing b-p that day was (Hall of Fame lefty) Warren Spahn,” Tufts said. “He was my mother’s favorite. She was in her glory.”
But that was all before that rainy night in Bridgewater in 1973.
Tufts spent 26 weeks in a cast after the accident, missing the entire 1974 season. But he came to camp in 1975 ready to prove himself.
“I had lost a year,” Tufts said. “But I was having a good camp, getting some hits off Major League pitchers. Things were on the upswing.”
Tufts had a good year in 1975, hitting .270 with 15 home runs for Single A San Jose. He was promoted to Double A in 1976, when he was sidelined by another injury.
“I tore cartilage in my left knee in 1976,” Tufts said. “I missed three months. I came back as a designated hitter but my mobility was gone. I couldn’t run.”
Tufts was released in 1977 after four up and down minor league seasons.
He was 22.
“It was time to move on, Tufts said. “It was over. In reality, it had been over for awhile.”
The story could end here. Tufts could have become a tragic figure, haunted by what might have been.
“I was disillusioned,” Tufts said. “Nothing prepares you for something like this.”
A call from Enterprise writer Bob Richards pulled Tufts from the depths.
“Bob Richards called me and said there was an opening for the Oliver Ames freshman coaching job,” Tufts said. “First I said no. Then I thought about it and said, `OK.’ ”
Tufts has been in baseball ever since.
“I owe a lot to Bob Richards,” Tufts said.
Tufts coached at several high schools before taking over the reigns at Bridgewater State where he led the Bears to six conference championships in eight years.
After that, Major League teams started calling again, this time expressing interest in Tufts as a coach.
“Several teams contacted me about coaching,” Tufts said. “I finally agreed to work for the San Francisco Giants.”
Tufts managed in the Giants’ system for three years, winning Northwest League Manger of the Year while leading the Single A Bellingham Giants in1995.
Tufts retired from managing in 1997 when his wife, Margie, gave birth to their daughter, Julianne.
“Julianne was born with pulmonary hypertension,” Tufts said. “She was very sick. I needed to be home.”
The Giants created a scouting position for Tufts, allowing him the flexibility to be home more often.
For years Tufts scouted central and northern Florida for the Giants. Now he’s closer to home, covering the Eastern League and International League in New York and New England.
“I’m not staying in hotel rooms anymore,” Tufts said
Once known as the kid drafted after Dave Winfield, Tufts may be more famous now for his “Play Ball Baseball Camp,” which he runs out of Legion Field in Bridgewater. Hundreds of local kids gather each year at Tufts’ camp, which has just celebrated its 30th year, to learn the game, and more importantly, have fun.
“I sit in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium dozens of times a year,” Tufts said. “But Legion Field is still my favorite place to see baseball. This is where I grew up. I still get the most joy coming to the camp watching these kids play ball.”
Maybe the piano didn’t fall after all. Perhaps, 36 years later, it’s just playing a different tune.
Glenn and Margie have been married for 20 years. They have two beautiful kids, Ryan, 14 and Julianne, “doing great,” Tufts said, at 13.
“When my daughter got sick, it put things in perspective,” Tufts said. “We get caught up in our jobs and problems and we don’t realize what’s really important.
“I can’t complain. I’m 55 years old and I’m still on a baseball field every day.”Raynham Call