October 25, 2013
Dollar Sign on the Muscle Excerpt
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 is one of many colorful scouting stories you'll come across inside.
Dollar Sign on the Muscle is available for preorder now. Find out more about the reprint here.
A toothpick in Ellis Clary's mouth moves around like a conductor's baton, as if directing the subtle sequence of facial expressions. He does the prospects in different voices. And his own voice modulates a southern Georgia accent for dramatic effect—lowering into deadpan confidentiality on "trouser snake," rising into animated wonder on "prime beef"—with an energy that recreates a scout's original flash of discovery.
Paul Florence called me up one time and says, "Why don't we drive to Live Oak, Florida"—little old town there—"and work this boy out? I hear he can play."
So Paul and I drove to Live Oak, but we didn't have anyone to throw battin' practice. Says, "Don't you know somebody in town that could come and pitch to you so we could see you hit?" "No." He was an outfielder, so I took him out there in center field and Paul stood at the plate, and we had him throw and run, and he was pretty good. Then we just sit in the dugout with him. Says, "Don't you know anybody who could… ?" "No," he says, "I don't know of anyone."
And a kid walked in—he just happened to pass by—and he says, "I'll pitch to him." This kid was in the tenth grade, and we were afraid the other guy might hit one back to the mound and kill him. But we took a chance, and he had a good delivery—easy, nice control—so we got to see the hitter hit. When we finished up, I talked to the tenth-grader and found out he didn't even play high-school ball. But I wrote his name down in my little book, 'cause I liked him better'n I did the hitter.
A couple of years later Atley Donald, the Yankee scout, was with me when I stopped near Live Oak to get some gas. I went to a phone booth to call this boy. Turned out he was in Lake City at a junior college. See, his family had got him outa town, because a trouser snake had bit his girlfriend in high school. He hadn't played a game of baseball since he pitched battin' practice that day. I says, "Next Wednesday I'll meet you at three o'clock on that same field." I didn't name it, 'cause Atley was hearin' me talk to him. I says, "Get somebody who can warm you up and bring him with you." He says, "I'll get this big boy on the high school team." I says, "What big boy?" He says, "Benny Proulx." I says, "I've never heard of him, but bring him out to the field."
This was in June; the draft was already over. Well, I got out to the field and brought some balls and a mitt, and I put Benny Proulx to catch and the other one on the mound. But Benny couldn't hold him. After a while I says, "All right, you catch him." Turned out neither one could catch the other: they both had too much good stuff. Goddamn if I didn't sign both of 'em! They were prime beef—17 years old, six-foot-three, and 195 pounds. Both of 'em. That wouldn't happen again in nine million years.
Benny Proulx was a better prospect, but he was a jack-off guy and he jumped the club twice, and the Twins got tired of foolin' with him. But the other one, the one who pitched battin' practice when he was in the tenth grade, was Ray Corbin, and he pitched in the big leagues for six years. He'd still be there but he hurt his arm. Good ballplayer. But if he'da been a guy like Sandy Koufax, that'd be a hell of a story, wouldn't it?
I think it's a hell of a story anyway. The only problem is that a transcription on the page can't begin to do justice to Ellis Clary's way of telling it. Clary himself had wrestled with the problem of putting his stories into print. In the offseason he was writing a column for the Sunday newspaper in Valdosta. In 1981 the Peachtree Press in Atlanta wanted to publish a collection of these pieces, but Clary remained resolutely modest about his work: "A lot of people can't write and don't know it. I can't write and I know it. My favorite sportswriter is Blackie Sherrod from the paper in Dallas, but I could never be in his league. Sometimes I write up my picks in football games; other times I just put in some bullshit." Since Clary seemed shy about showing me some of his columns, I asked him to tell me one.
"Like the University of Georgia last year—we had something to write about. And I wrote in there about the Sugar Bowl game. They were leadin' Notre Dame, and everybody has got signs and banners, and you get sick a lookin' at 'How Bout Them Dawgs!' D-a-w-g-s. I don't go for that. But 'How Bout Them Dawgs!' is on cars, water tanks, and everything else. 'How Bout Them Dawgs!'—talkin' about the Georgia Bulldogs, see. So at the Sugar Bowl game Notre Dame was behind at the half, and this South Bend fanatic called the Pope in Rome and says: 'Pope, I'm callin' from New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl, and Notre Dame is behind, and we need help and advice.' And the Pope says, 'Who is Notre Dame playin'?' Guy says, 'The Georgia Bulldogs.' The Pope says, 'How bout them Dawgs!'"