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October 10, 2013
Dollar Sign on the Muscle Excerpt
The Monte Carlo
Baseball Prospectus is proud to be republishing an updated version of Kevin Kerrane's classic, in-depth look at the world of scouting, Dollar Sign on the Muscle, later this month. Before the reprint's release, we'll be running a few excerpts to give you a feel for the book. The passage below covers a candid bar discussion between scouts.
At the Monte Carlo tavern Bob Engle of the Blue Jays walked over to the scouts sitting at the big roundtable. "I just heard," he announced, "that the Scouting Bureau's gonna send in a report on the San Diego Chicken. They say he's a legitimate prospect."
"Could be true," one scout said. "Those guys have turned in worse than him. Maybe they think he's got the good comb."
"Sit down and get some of this pizza," an older scout said, "and tell me how good you think Romagna is. Don't forget to subtract the crowd."
"How good do you think he is?" Engle asked.
"I think he's too small for a right-hand pitcher," the older scout said. "If he was a lefty, I'd like him about fifty thousand dollars."
"The Reds will never give him that—will they, Gene?" Engle said. "They'll just keep draftin' him."
"I'll tell you who I'd like to draft," Gene Bennett said. "Sabo, the boy that got injured today. He's got 6.6 speed, good power, good hands for infield, a good arm."
"Enough power for a third baseman?"
"I say so."
"I say he ends up a second baseman," the older scout said. "Anyway, second basemen gotta come from somewhere; they hardly ever start out there. I've never signed one."
"Me either," Bennett said. "They're shortstops without the arm or third basemen without the power… who go to the minors and learn how to make the double play."
"How bad's Sabo hurt?" I asked.
"Broke his collarbone," Bennett said. "I didn't see it, but that guy Morry told me."
Morry Moorawnick was the Detroit scorekeeper, and the very mention of his name was enough to make Ben McLure laugh. "You ever see Morry's scorebook? He designed it himself so's he can put everything in it. Everything. One time at this tournament I looked over his shoulder to get the lineup before the game, and there was a whole line there for weather conditions. And Morry had put: 'High, steely gray cumulonimbus clouds with soft gusts from the north-northwest at five to ten miles per hour."
"I oughta put stuff like that in my reports," the older scout said. "Drive the scoutin' director up the wall."
"I met a high-school coach one time," McLure said, "who didn't know how to read a scorebook. He had his assistant keep score by writing out the game in sentences."
"I met one worse than that," Frank DeMoss said. "In Sophia, West Virginia—near Beckley. This coach had Joe Goddard on his team. Joe wound up with the Padres, played one season as a backup catcher, and in high school he was the best hitter in the state. But the coach batted him eighth in the lineup! I said, 'Why do you have Joe Goddard batting eighth, good of a hitter as he is?' He said, 'Because he's a catcher, and catchers always bat eighth.'"
"The Cubs had a real nice draft," somebody told DeMoss. "Carter and Lovelace look great."
Gary Nickels was hoisting a beer in tribute to his mentor, Tony Lucadello. "When Tony retires, if he ever does, I hope the Phillies bring him in and hold a press conference, and hand out a list of the players he's signed that went to the big leagues. Schmidt, Hisle, Harrah, Alex Johnson, Fergie Jenkins, two dozen others. If you tried to put a value on his players, it'd be unbelievable. When the Phillies were down and out in the 1960s, Lucadello and Eddie Bockman kept the organization alive."
"Well, Lucadello was born to be an area scout," McLure said.
"That's true," Nickels said, "and I wasn't. I want to get off the road and move up. But Lucadello just covers and covers Ohio and Indiana and Michigan, and he never gets tired of it. He has that whole web of information from all his friends and part-time people, and if the weather's bad he'll work out a kid in a barn or a gym. He has a sixth sense for ballplayers, a feel, that you can't teach. But he showed me how to use grades, to decide in my own mind what a 68 arm is and then to stay consistent within that system. And what I really got from him was—he taught me how to see."
I asked Nickels about Lucadello's famous theory: that every athletic body has eight sides (front-back times left-right times upper-lower), and that a scout at a game should therefore keep shifting his viewing angle until he's constructed a three-dimensional memory of each player. According to Lucadello, scouting a game well required scurrying all around the field. He claimed that he first positioned himself about ten feet behind home plate on the first-base side, in order to see all the face reactions, the hand reactions, the footwork—all the front sides—of the pitcher, catcher, and right-handed batter. Then he moved almost parallel to first base to see the pitcher's back side, all the infielders' throws, and the catcher's peg to second. Then he moved down the right field line to see the outfielders' movements. Then he switched over to the third-base side of the diamond to check the other fielders' back sides and the left-handed hitters' front sides. "So when I leave a ballgame," Lucadello said, "I have a good picture of everybody on that field, because I saw all their sides."
Was this what Nickels meant by being taught how to see?
"No, I think Tony gets carried away sometimes, kind of spins a yarn. I want to see a hitter's front side, hands and all, but I can get almost everything I need from behind home plate. What Tony showed me was more like checking a player's extension on his swing or his throws. So when I scout a pitcher now, the first thing I look for is whether he has full arm action and whether he lands on a stiff front leg. Tony used to say: 'The pitchers who get faster are the ones who get to the big leagues.' And to get faster you have to be mechanically correct. Like Tom Seaver. When he was in high school and community college, nobody was interested in him. He went to Southern Cal and in one year the scouts were fallin' all over him. He'd gotten faster because he was so mechanically correct."
"Still is," said DeMoss, "but I don't believe any pitcher gets much faster after his nineteenth birthday."
"Who's the fastest you ever saw?" I asked.
"Dalkowski!" was the answer from three sides of the table.
"I doubt if Steve Dalkowski was ever mechanically correct," DeMoss said. "Sometimes he didn't even bring his back leg forward. But that guy, even with no follow-through, could terrify hitters. Terrified his catchers, too—they pictured getting a hand broke inside the mitt and some doctor walking toward them with a pair of shears."
"Sam McDowell," Pidge McCarthy said. "I mean when McDowell was at Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Because by the time he got to the majors, he'd slowed down. In high school the ball just kind of disappeared from Sam's hand and showed up in the catcher's glove."
"Fastest I ever saw was a boy named Kikla," McLure said. "I bet a radar gun would've had him at over a hundred."
Pidge McCarthy, sitting next to me, suddenly leaned over and spoke in a voice as low and confidential as a racetrack tout's. "The best curveball I ever saw," he murmured, "was one I saw this season. Kid named Lloyd, from a high school near here—he got suspended and didn't play senior year, so he didn't get scouted."
"Why did he get suspended?" I asked.
"Keep your voice down. They kicked him off the baseball team after he took a shit on the rug of the school library. He won thirty dollars, had a bet goin'. He still got accepted to college. Anyway, he throws a perfect curveball!"
Startled by the sound of his own voice, McCarthy looked around and sat up straight again, pretending he'd been listening all along to Elmer Gray's story—the one about trying to sign Joe Namath to a baseball contract in 1960. "Joe's knees were okay in high school," Gray said. "He ran the sixty in 7.0. Had a fair bat—I thought it might improve—and an average major-league arm. But when Cy Morgan and I took the contract to his house, we found out he was out of town… on a football recruiting visit to Alabama. We never saw him again except on TV. And then it was another guy. It was 'Broadway Joe.'"
"Have you met Broadway Charlie?" Nickels asked me. "The Red Sox scout? That's him over there. You should get Charlie to talk, because he's like an elder statesman."
Broadway Charlie Wagner didn't look like an elder anything. Trim, tanned, impeccably groomed, he was wearing a blue and white seersucker sportcoat with a dark wine handkerchief in the breast pocket, a light blue button-down Oxford-cloth shirt with a wine and navy rep tie, gray light flannel slacks, and carefully buffed black Italian loafers—all this in a business where being "well-dressed" usually means wearing a golf sweater and polyester pants instead of a baseball jacket and droopy gabardines.
"The only scout I ever knew who dressed that good," Gene Bennett said, "was old Sloppy Thurston. Hollis was his real name. He could impress the shit out of a kid's parents."
"That's not such a big deal anymore," Elmer Gray said.
Pidge McCarthy leaned over and muttered: "If you do get Broadway Charlie to talk, be sure to get his buddy Socko, too. You don't know the one guy unless you know the other. They're night and day. Socko and Charlie are like the Odd Couple."
Judy the waitress brought another pitcher of beer. "You fellas see any players you liked this evening?"
"You're the best-lookin' thing we've seen all night."
Two scouts said this at once, so I figured it must be an old line, maybe even another saying learned from their mentors.