Scout Bob Thurman Died – October 31, 1998
During the decades of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Bob Thurman worked as a scout for the Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals and the Major League Scouting Bureau. Prior to working as a scout, Thurman was an outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds. After serving with the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Thurman signed to play for the Homestead Grays in the Negro National League, where he drew raves for both his power and his speed. Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier once wrote, “Thurman’s tootsies are lined with mercury.” In 1955, at the age of 38, Thurman made it to the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds. He quickly became one of the most popular players on the Reds and the team’s most productive pinch hitter. In 1957, Thurman became the first player in major league history to hit a home run on his 40th birthday. During his scouting career, Thurman was instrumental in signing pitchers Rudy May, Wayne Simpson and Gary Nolan. Additionally, though Tony Robello was the Cincinnati scout who signed future Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, Reds executive Herk Robinson gave much of the credit to Thurman. According to Robinson, “Cincinnati wouldn’t have signed Johnny Bench without Bob Thurman.”
Ben Cherington, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, got his start in baseball as a summer intern with the Boston Red Sox in 1995. Cherington’s job was to file scouting reports, arrange lunches for scouts, and make sure there was water on the field when prospects came in for workouts. On one occasion, three or four days before the 1995 draft, Cherington was on the field to watch the pre-draft workout of a highly touted hitter from Puerto Rico. Cherington distinctly remembers that the player struggled during his workout and had trouble getting the ball out of the infield. After the workout, Cherington noticed that the player’s magnet had been moved down quite a bit on Boston’s draft board. Unlike the Red Sox, the Kansas City Royals saw a lot to like in the player. The Royals drafted him in the second round of 1995 with the 49th overall pick. The player would go on to play 20 years in the major leagues and finish his career with 435 home runs and a batting average of .279.
Feeling a Draft Excerpt
Baseball scouts are storytellers. Perhaps this trait comes from sitting in ballparks for extended periods—something to do in between taking radar gun readings. Greg Smith, Special Assistant to the Texas Rangers, is a ready example. Smith tells of the time that a veteran scout sent him to check out a prospect who was pitching for Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix. The veteran instructed Smith to see if the kid “could live up to his name.”
The kid’s name was Maverick Lasker. Smith thought to himself, “Top Gun? Really?” Smith went to see Lasker pitch. And the kid threw 94 mph, with a decent curveball. Smith reported back, “Yes, the kid can live up to his name.”
Lasker played professionally for four years in the Brewers organization, but never advanced beyond the lower levels of the pro ranks. He was out of baseball at the age of 22. Today, he lives on in the stories that Greg Smith tells.
Our purpose in writing this book is threefold. First, we wanted to analyze the results of baseball’s amateur draft during the first 50 years of its existence, 1965 to 2014. Second, we wanted to report on and assess, in the era of the amateur draft, the role of the scouts who go to investigate high school and collegiate prospects such as Maverick Lasker. Third, we wanted to relate the vibrant experiences and anecdotes of the scouting community. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and anecdotes attributed to scouts and others whom we have interviewed are derived directly from the interviews.
We have divided the book into nine sections—nine innings, so to speak. The “first inning” introduces the book. Innings 2 through 4 provide an account of each year of the draft and highlight some of the significant players selected in a given year. Innings 5 through 8 focus on the unique role that scouts play―and the unique difficulties that they face―in attempting to identify legitimate prospects from among all the ballplayers at the high school and collegiate levels. The ninth inning attempts to take a look into the future and discern the role of scouts in the age of baseball analytics.
We have felt both a need and an obligation to record on paper the very compelling stories spun by the scouts with whom we talked. In satisfaction of this mission, we have inserted, throughout the book, brief accounts in the form of sidebars. These sidebars relate the stories of the unique individuals who search the back roads, school yards and college campuses in the hope of finding that one ballplayer who can fill out a major league uniform.
San Francisco Giants assistant general manager John Barr says that baseball scouting is all about keeping an eye on the future. The hope is that good decisions at the scouting level will translate, some day, into victories at the major league level. In Barr’s view, “that is what gets a scout in his car every day or getting on an airplane every day to see a game in a distant city.” The scout’s mentality, Barr says, must be, “Today I have got to make a difference.” We hope that this book, in at least a small way, will make a difference as well.
“There is no department in baseball that is more important than the scouting department. I say that for this reason: if you don’t identify and sign the players—no matter how great your player development program is and how great your major league staff is—a team is only going to go as far as the talent will take it. People who know me know that I believe one of the most overlooked parts in scouting is understanding the ability to know the makeup of a player, what is his character.
To succeed in this game, you better be passionate about it, you better be determined, and you better be driven to be the best you can be, because somebody is passing you by.”
— Fred Claire, Former General Manager
Royals Scouting Discussion (Video)
The following video depicts three legendary baseball scouts, Art Stewart, Donnie Williams and Mike “Tooms” Toomey discussing their lifetime of scouting, the critical role scouting plays in baseball, techniques, advice, how scouting has changed over the decades, and inspiring and entertaining stories about discovering some of the greatest athletes to ever play the game. It tells the story we are trying to tell with “Feeling a Draft.”
“As a scout, the toughest thing to judge is hitting. Without a doubt, we can see how fast a guy throws — how fast he runs. What it comes down to is hand-eye coordination.” — Art Stewart, scout
“I’ve been scouting since I was about 5 or 6 [years old]. He [father, Frank Toomey] drug me with him everywhere he went. And I was very fortunate to watch some great athletes back then. I saw Roger Staubach. I saw Ernie Davis.” — Mike Toomey, scout
“When I signed that contract, I’d wake up every morning and look myself in the mirror and say I’m gonna give it all I’ve got. Same thing I do with scouting. I give it all I’ve got.” — Donnie Williams, scout
“The best player I ever signed? That’s easy. Bo Jackson. Bo had it all. He was an exciting player and he could fill stadiums. He was the best player in the last century.” — Art Stewart, scout
Phil “Butch” Rizzo — November 24, 1929 – February 1, 2020
Phil was a legendary scout whose career spanned over fifty years in baseball; he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Professional Baseball Scouts’ Hall of Fame. Among some of the most prominent players scouted or signed by Phil were 2006 Cy Young Award Winner, Brandon Webb, former major league catcher and current Kansas City Royals manager, Mike Matheny, and former MLB player and coach, Mark Loretta. Phil’s son, Mike, is General Manager of the 2019 World Champion Washington Nationals and Mike credits all of his success to his dad Phil.