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MORE HOT STOVE REVERIES AS PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT SOON!

I just finished an interesting if somewhat uneven book "Eye For Talent: Interviews with Veteran Baseball Scouts", edited by the Northern California writer and sociologist P. J. Dragseth (McFarland, 2009). Among the wonderful insights from oldtime scouts are Five Questions that veteran Cincinnati scout Julian Mock always asks young players thinking of a career in baseball.

1. Do you love baseball?
2. Are you willing to work?
3. Are you willing to learn?
4. Are you willing to have some fun and laugh every day?
5. Will you never forget where you came from?

Dragseth’s book was inspired by a long interview with veteran West Coast scout Dick Wilson who passed away earlier in 2009 at the age of 89. Wilson worked many years for the San Francisco Giants and he had great praise for his boss Jack Schwarz “who was the best scouting director I ever worked for. He didn’t try to be a scout like so many of them do now.“ Wilson talked openly about his 13-year career as a player-manager in the minor leagues who never quite made the majors. He had a chance to work on Branch Rickey’s staff in Pittsburgh in the early 1950s but he didn’t want to leave the West Coast.

Understandable resentment appears throughout this book from many older scouts who have been displaced or outright fired by the young guns armed with computers and new statistical acronyms who have taken charge without much baseball experience. Yet happily the 19 scouts in this book always exude love of the game and the zest for finding new talent. So Eye for Talent is a definitely welcome contribution to the limited literature on scouting.

Nice to learn too that the Toronto Blue Jays are back in the hands of a scout-friendly new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos. Though hired by the ousted gm J. P. Ricciardi, Anthopoulos, only 32, has a far greater understanding of the essential need for good scouting and development. He has doubled the numbers of scouts on the Blue Jays payroll and reduced the area that each scout must cover ideally to provide better concentration in a given region. Time will tell how the new regime works out. Certainly Anthopoulos was able to succeed in trading Roy Halladay for the prospects that his predecessor Ricciardi could not obtain, particularly potential ace pitcher Kyle Drabek. Once again time will tell and patience is a virtue, a seldom-heard old adage but like most clichés very true.

**Before the holidays I saw one of the last performances of “Juan and John,” a one-man show at the off-Broadway Public Theater. Roger Guenveur Smith’s work was inspired by San Francisco Giant pitcher Juan Marichal’s attack with a baseball bat on Los Angeles Dodger catcher John Roseboro during a crucial game on Sunday August 22, 1965 when only half a game separated the traditional contenders. Marichal was suspended for 8 games and fined nearly $1750 by National League president Warren Giles. The incident marred Marichal’s reputation and no doubt delayed his induction into the Hall of Fame for several years.

Unfortunately, Roger G. Smith, whose prior work included a one-man show on Black Panther Huey Newton, shedded little light on what prompted the attack other than suggesting that the Watts riots 10 days earlier in LA may have been a factor. Also he mentioned that Marichal’s concern for his family during the April 1965 invasion of his Dominican Republic homeland may have led to the pitcher’s stress. Given that athletes even in times of political upheaval usually live in an oblivious bubble, these details alone were much too sketchy. That the attack took place in San Francisco not near Watts at Dodger Stadium also diluted the comparison.

Too much of the 90-minute one act show was a more-than-the-usual self-indulgent exercise into the author’s personal life and marital strife. Smith did offer a tantalizing hint that Sandy Koufax, who was pitching to Roseboro that fateful Sunday, told him that only three people knew the real reason, Marichal, Roseboro and the late plate umpire [Shag Crawford, I discovered from looking up the box score – recent inductee Doug Harvey was umpiring third that day]. Koufax said that two of them are dead and he did not tell Smith anything more. Neither did Smith’s play suggest anything more as far as motivation.

It is touching that Roseboro and Marichal reconciled some years after the incident once Roseboro settled a civil suit against Marichal. And the pitcher and the catcher’s daughter did come to see the play. However as an evening out for the lover of both baseball and the theatre, my rating would have to be a disappointing foul ball.

**Happy 2010 to all – it has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? 2010 - almost like Ted Williams’ reputed eyesight. And back with more tales of the hot stove league and more interviews with baseball scouts later in the month. Ciao for now!
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