|Book Review: Eye for Talent|
Written by Richard Coreno (Contact & Archive) on January 01, 2010
Before slick software and statistical analysts who crunch numbers to determine the next five-tool star, the science of discovering talented baseball players was solely based on reports from eyewitness accounts of scouts. And they worked their territories with meticulous care, since any field with a game or practice could have that pitcher with a live arm, a batter who is looking dead red no matter the count or the fielder who can get on one's horse like a champion Thoroughbred.
Journalist P.J. Dragseth explores the careers of 17 scouts in Eye for Talent: Interviews with Veteran Baseball Scouts. As the editor of this recent release by McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Dragseth steps back after brief introductions for each chapter and allows the scouts to tell their rich stories contained in the 234 pages of text and photographs.
"They're among the most respected men in the business for all their contributions to the game," Dragseth writes. "Most have a minimum of forty years in scouting; some have even more. Two others, now retired, are younger but have more than twenty-five years under their belts."
The foundation for the book is found in 1953, when Dragseth -- then 8 -- attended his first Pacific Coast League game at (San Francisco) Seals Stadium to see the Seals face the Hollywood Stars. Change for the young fan came at the end of the 1957 season when the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers headed west.
"My young mind saw the whole thing as a disaster while everyone around me called it progress," writes Dragseth. "To me the final insult happened when the Giants occupied Seals Stadium during their first season while Candlestick Park was under construction."
His first baseball hero -- who later became a friend -- was Sal Taormina of the Seals, who later coached for the San Francisco Giants and was a nationally-respected college head coach from 1965 to 1979 for the Santa Clara University Broncos. Fast forward years later and the death of Taormina spurred Dragseth on a nearly 10-year research project to produce a book to help young players, which culminated in 1999 with the publication of Go Pro Baseball Wise.
"That adventure also included my first encounters with the scouts. They heard about my project and approached me during batting practice one night offering their help," Dragseth writes. "I didn't know much about them or what they did other than they wore interesting hats and carried clipboards and stop watches. They told lots of stories about this player and that, encouraged my questions, educated me with copies of scouting reports, and referred me to others in the game."
He decided to focus on scouting by penning an article and one veteran of the game -- Dick Wilson -- sent Dragseth his unpublished autobiography, which was handwritten. That wealth of information became the early innings for this book. Wilson, who passed away at age 89 in 2009, was also a player and player-manager with stops in the PCL, Sunset League, California League and Western International League.
A scouting report by Wilson on Dave Kingman of the University of Southern California Trojans was recognized in a May 1970 letter of appreciation from the Farm System and Scouting Department of the Giants "Sky King" -- who was drafted by the club -- smacked 442 home runs in a pro career with seven teams from 1971 to 1986.
While scouting for the Detroit Tigers, Wilson contacted Ted Williams to express his concerns about the "new" art of hitting that was being taught. In a February 1992 response, Williams writes: "You hit it right on the head when you said that some of the new theories on hitting are absolutely bull----. They have set back the right way of hitting a baseball 35 years."
A collegiate injury in wrestling derailed any hope for George Digby to pursue a baseball career on the field. But another door to the pro dugout soon opened and was based on a coaching stint at a high school.
"I coached three championship teams at Holy Cross. I had a ballplayer there that the Detroit Tigers wanted me to bring to Detroit. This was 1944. So I took him up there and they were going to try to sign him," Digby said. "But the Red Sox happened to be in town and asked me if I'd arrange for them to see the boy pitch. They finally signed the kid and asked me if I'd be interested in going to work for them.
"When I was twenty-six I began scouting in New Orleans. My territory consisted of six states. I was the first scout the Red Sox hired in the South. There weren't many scouts back in those days, 1944, during the war. Things were rationed and I couldn't get enough gasoline for my car so I had five different train routes that I used to get around my territory. It was a lot of travel and schedule organizing, but as I think back, I remember those times as the good old days."
AHP Rating: 4 Balls
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