Sam Hughes, an area scout for the Chicago Cubs, liked outfielder Buck Coats from the start. He was not a known commodity; only Hughes had shown any interest. When Hughes visited Coats and his mother he could see that they did not have an easy life…
“Dick Young, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, once encountered an irate Yogi in the Yankee clubhouse. Berra was looking at the boxscore printed in the Daily News for the game played the previous day…”
I was in my third year with the Tigers. John Young [scouting director for the Detroit Tigers] said to me, “I want you to go to McAdory High School, right outside of Birmingham, and go see this kid Bo Jackson. I don’t know what he can do, but I know he’s a great athlete…”
Birthday of scout Jeff Bittiger — April 13
A former pitcher, Jeff Bittiger spent parts of four seasons in the major leagues, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox. On September 2, 1986, he started for the Phillies against the Pirates, hit his first and only major league home run, and got his first victory in the big leagues. Bittiger’s best season came in 1988, when he appeared in 25 games for the White Sox, including seven starts.
Bittiger spent the last eight years of his playing career as a pitcher in the independent Northern League. He retired at the age of 40 when his former minor league roommate, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, prevailed upon him to accept a scouting position with the Athletics. As an amateur scout, Bittiger signed two-time major league all-star Andrew Bailey, catcher Anthony Recker, and pitcher Vin Mazzaro. Since 2008, Bittiger has scouted the minor leagues for the Athletics.
Since the introduction of the amateur player draft in 1965, there have been 56 players honored as the American League Rookie of the Year. A total of 18 of these players were drafted in the first round of the June draft. However, in the years since 1965, only one player who was named as American League Rookie of the Year has been the first overall pick in the June draft. Who was that player?
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