A must-read for baseball fans far and wide. This book has stories upon stories from seven decades of scouting in MLB. It’s hard to choose a place to start from as I begin reflecting on the book.
Art Stewart not only put in great stories from his experiences, but threw in advice and things he learned along the years that made him a great scout, and great employee. Three pieces of information that he used to point out some of his success as a scout were:
- Never leave a game early
- Always sign a player as soon as possible
- Keep your mouth shut and your ears and eyes open
The last one, he advised, works for many professions. Sometimes if you’re too busy talking, you might miss good information that will help you become better at your profession.
It’s a hard life for baseball scouts. They’re on the road most of the year, watching game after game looking for those diamonds in the rough. Long hours in the car, and quick lunches and dinners in between. He noted it’s not the life for everyone. You really must love the game. A professional player is considered a success if he gets a hit every third at bat, but a good scout has an even lower percentage of signing a player every year, let alone signing an above-average all-star player. A scout watches hundreds of games a year and might sign two or three players to the club if they are lucky.
Stewart shared two stories about signing some of the most controversial players. In the 1950s, Stewart scouted and signed a young pitcher named Jim Bouton. If the name is familiar, you might have heard of his tell-all book “Ball Four” (after reading Stewart’s book this one is now on my list of books to keep an eye out for). The book shook up the baseball world in 1970. Until then, baseball was like a secret fraternity. As Stewart describes it, what happened in the clubhouse, stayed in the clubhouse. Professionals and media didn’t discuss personal matters or drug and alcohol abuse. Bouton changed that with Ball Four. Many people in the baseball world resented him, and some even pointed fingers at Stewart for bringing Bouton into the pro-baseball world. Stewart was always quick to point out that Bouton won 21 games in his second year in the league, he was signed for his ability, anybody would have signed him based on his skills.
Another story Stewart shared was of a young pitcher he signed who shook up the baseball world in the 1970s. A pitcher named Fritz Peterson. Peterson wrote Stewart a letter to ask him to scout him and Stewart followed up and ended up signing the young man. After Stewart left the Yankees, Peterson and his friend, Mike Kekich, traded lives. They swapped wives, children, even family pets. They traded lives. Another story that had flipped the baseball world and made off-field situations gain attention in the public media. Stewart mentioned that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have even showed interest in creating the story into a Hollywood film.
Stewart has been a strong part of the Royals organization since they started in 1969. Upon the Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman’s recommendation, the organization started a revolutionary program called the Royal’s Academy in the 1970s. The team scouted young talents at camps and invited them to join the academy. The academy offered two years of baseball experience with the best future players and coaches in the country, and two years of free college education. It paid off for the Royals as they were able to build strong relationships with the players, and helped make those players better. One of the greatest products the Royals gained from the academy was Frank White, a member of the 1985 championship team, and one of two Royals players inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame. Upon others that came through the program, was Ron Washington, who eventually led the Texas Rangers to the World Series as the team’s manager in 2011.
I grew up a Royals fan for all of my life, so this book was a neat read as far as learning so much about organization from the inside. The stories about the players, scouting, and management of the organization were really insightful on learning about the operations of the club you usually don’t hear about. It was a nice read and if you have any interest in the Royals, or just baseball or sports in general, I recommend finding a copy.