Birthday of Baseball Scout Billy Blitzer — August 14
Billy Blitzer was a standout ballplayer at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York, where he was a teammate of future New York Mets star, Lee Mazzilli. An outfielder, Blitzer went on to play for Hunter College in Manhattan. By his own admission, he was “good hit, can’t run.” While still a student at Hunter College, he coached Youth Service League sandlot teams in Brooklyn.
Blitzer got his start in scouting in 1975, when veteran scout Ralph DiLullo recruited him to work for the Major League Scouting Bureau. Shortly thereafter, he took a position as an amateur scout for the Chicago Cubs. He has worked for the Cubs for the past 40 years.
Blitzer’s most notable signings are shortstop Shawon Dunston, who was the first overall draft choice in 1982, and pitcher Jamie Moyer, winner of 269 major league games. Since 2011, Blitzer has been a pro scout for the Cubs, evaluating the minor league talents playing for other organizations. Blitzer is one of only a handful of major league scouts to be honored with his own baseball trading card.
Drafted by the Washington Senators in 1969, this player began his professional career amid much fanfare. The Senators’ chief scout, Jack Sheehan, gushed that the player had the best power of any 18-year-old he had ever seen. Washington’s manager at the time, Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams, was even more effusive, calling the player “the best 18-year-old hitter I’ve ever seen.” The player made his major league debut with the Senators on July 20, 1970 but was sent back to the minors after hitting only .167 in six games. At the time of the demotion, Williams said the Senators were sending the player back to the Triple-A Denver Bears “to heat his bat and cool his head.”
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.