May 28, 2002 — Scout Wes Westrum Dies
Wes Westrum was a stellar defensive catcher and two-time all-star for the New York Giants from 1947 to 1957. In his eleven major league seasons, Westrum hit only .217 but nonetheless was called “the most underrated player on the team” by teammate Eddie Stanky. In July 1965, Westrum became the second manager in the history of the New York Mets when Casey Stengel stepped down after suffering a fractured hip. Westrum served as the Mets’ manager from July 1965 to September 1967. He later managed the San Francisco Giants for part of the 1974 season and all of 1975. From 1977 to 1994, Westrum served as a part-time scout for the Atlanta Braves.
One of three brothers to play in the major leagues, this player hit 351 home runs and batted .292 during his 15-year career. Like his two brothers, the player was signed by veteran scout John Ogden. A former major league pitcher, Ogden had cultivated a strong friendship with the player’s mother. During his playing days, Ogden had pitched to Babe Ruth. According to Ogden, this player was the only batter he ever saw who hit a ball as hard as Ruth did. The player was once asked to compare playing on artificial turf with playing on real grass. An avowed horse enthusiast, the player replied, “If a horse can’t eat it, I don’t like it.”
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.”
“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
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.