keyboard_arrow_uptop

People ask me all the time how I find late-round gems, the sort of players who ultimately overtake higher-round talent and become the more famous names on my client list. Here’s the secret I’ve learned from people far smarter than I am: Everybody in pro ball has talent to a degree, and most big leaguers played against hundreds of guys more talented than them. It’s makeup that separates the ones who make it from the ones who don’t. I’ve made many mistakes in my career, but I would venture to guess that the best decision I ever made was to change the way I ran my business, to change the way I scouted: From around 2011 onward, I didn’t scout for ability anymore, or at least primarily ability. I scouted for makeup. If I could believe in the person, I could believe in the player.

This isn’t always easy to scout. I’ve been fortunate to have great-makeup clients, including Michael Brantley (and any number of others), against whom I can compare players. But you can make mistakes. You can misread a person. At some point, you can even choose to stop representing a player, which is one of the most painful experiences of the job. Every agent does this at some point, and it sucks: You’ve found a guy with all positive expectations, and for a while it’s roses; but, ultimately, that relationship goes back to makeup. If he makes my life hell, if he’s abusing the people that work for him, if he’s using me, or if—and this is the worst offense at all—he’s not taking care of his own career, then why should I care? And if I don’t, what will motivate me to work long hours and make the extra calls on his behalf? There are enough guys who will give everything they’ve got that I can’t waste time on the ones who won’t.

I’ve shared so many positive stories on this site, but here’s a negative one: Last August, around 4 a.m., a former client called me five times while I was asleep in bed with my wife. I didn’t answer the first few—knowing this guy, I assumed it was a drunk dial. I was going to let it go, until he left a voice mail. He was in serious trouble. This player had been “catfished"; he thought he was talking to a stripper, when in reality he was sending naked pictures to somebody else entirely. The person was, it appeared, mostly interested in embarrassing a professional athlete. He had created an Instagram account, a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, and used the pictures to solicit sex on the player’s behalf. These were hashtagged with the club’s name, so if you were to do a general search for team news you’d see him, naked. I was now very much awake.

I reached out to all three social networks to get the accounts destroyed, and I traced the phone number he had been sending his pictures to a specific part of the country. I had my client file a police report and get a restraining order. And at the end of it, I told my client I was done with him. He was a victim, to sure, but he had also allowed it to happen to himself, despite being on a very short leash with his club. And, by this point in our relationship, I wasn’t surprised.

I fixed it. Then I walked away. Every hour I spent fixing his mistakes was an hour I couldn’t spend on my clients who were completely committed to making their careers mean something.

The club never did find out about the incident—I did my job. But even after posting great numbers that season, he was released, because they’d gotten to know him, too, and they wanted nothing to do with him.

These things happen; it’s hard to project a pitcher’s fastball, it’s hard to project a batter’s hit tool, and it’s hard to project a young man’s character. I’ve had a player curse me out over a shoe order being late. I’ve had players who used me for equipment. These guys, in my experience, don’t make it very far in the game. Their bosses, their teammates, all deal with the same behavior, and it’s hard to succeed when nobody (including yourself) much cares if you do.

Bottom line: I truly believe in hard work and makeup as much as I believe in any actual tool. I also believe elite makeup is harder to find than any tool. Back in 2011, my career had stalled—I was down to 12 clients. I made the decision to change the way I scouted, and the second half of my career has been far better than the first. I’m proud of the job I’ve done, and even prouder of the types of players who have made it while I worked for them. This is a business of relationships. If you can’t love your client, even when he’s down, then why even bother? Res Ipsa Loquitor

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
smitty99
9/09
Great article. We went through a phase in which most everything used to evaluate players was computer numbers. Thankfully, that didn't last too long. The computer numbers are important, no doubt. But makeup and intangibles also are important, but hard to evaluate properly for most of us.
JoshuaKusnick
9/09
makeup and baseball iq are the hardest things to scout imo
scooter060
9/09
I enjoyed your article, especially in light of the fact that my son is a first year player with similar make-up. Nice to hear that character and grit still count!Hopefully his commitment to the game will translate into a career!
JoshuaKusnick
9/09
thats awesome best of luck
JoshuaKusnick
1/01
I know this is late scooter but does your son have an agent? You can email me if you have any questions. Best always J
billgarvine
9/09
Sounds as if you have discovered the secret to a happy and productive life. Surrounding oneself with quality people is a sure way to a rewarding day. I will take inspiration from the article in all of my life's pathways, especially in coaching the 13, 14 and 15 year-old players I do. I'll share your essay with them, I know it'll do them and me good!
JoshuaKusnick
9/09
its still horribly stressful but I think im happy with my job. it can cause a burnout due to nature of job but I do love it
pjbenedict
9/09
Thanks for another enjoyable article.

I'd enjoy another focused on positive makeup... what it looks like in outgoing or introverted players, action vs. talk, etc.

Then again, I'll enjoy whatever you write.
JoshuaKusnick
9/10
Thank you. Id have to say its safe to say i tend to work for extroverts. Introverts and I occasionally mesh but im really vocal so I do not attract a ton of introverts
pjs500
9/10
Dying to know who that player was!
JoshuaKusnick
9/10
Cant for a billion reasons. Ive been accused of being reckless for having this column alone. Naming guys in a negative light would crush me. I wrote an entire story once turned it in about a guy who fired me mentioning every detail and my wise editor saved me from being a moron. Thank god
robustyoungsoul
9/15
Great article as always, easily one of the best features of my BP subscription.