NOT REALLY A BOOK REVIEW: Some Favorite Lines from “Dollar Sign on the Muscle”

This out-of-print classic was easily one of the greatest baseball books I’ve ever read. A treasure, in the fullest sense of the word. Author Kevin Kerrane spent a year, 1981, hanging around with a wide spectrum of old-time baseball scouts, a dying breed once called bird dogs and ivory hunters. Kerrane could really write, and those scouts could really talk. There were gems on every page.

The book is hard to find these days, and expensive if you do, so my advice is to scour used book stores. As a public service, I thought I’d share some of it with the “2 Guys” Nation of Readers.

Here’s the book’s opening paragraph:

When scouts refer to themselves as “baseball men,” they might as well be naming a distinct class of primates. Just before Jocko Collins retired in 1982, in his forty-third year as a scout, he defined a baseball man as “a guy who played the game as far as his talent took him, even if that was just to the low minors, and then kept hanging around ball diamonds after that, because there’s no line anymore between him and the game, no point where baseball leaves off and he begins.

This book, which leaves off with an epilogue from 1988, could serve as a perfect companion to Moneyball, which pushes into the present day the basic pursuit of finding the game’s best players. In no particular order, here’s a long list of favorite lines or moments, mostly from the mouths of scouts, who sure do speak colorful:

* “Scout the player, not the game.” — Various.

* “Hubbell has it.” — Sinister Dick Kinsella.

Sinister Dick Kinsella earned fame as a scout for John McGraw‘s New York Giants. He signed Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott.

* With the advent of farm systems scouts had begun to look more for amateur than minor-league talent. They explored the deep interior of American baseball — sandlot teams and town teams and mill teams — searching, as the saying went, for “an arm behind the barn.” — Kevin Kerrane.

* For the Cardinals the most important tool, even in the new age of home runs, was running speed: Rickey called it the only common denominator of offense and defense, and he believed it was the best single indicator of major-league potential.” — Kerrane.

* “We can teach them to field.” — Charlie Barrett.

* “I knew then that I’d never have another moment like it the rest of my life.” — Paul Krichell, upon first spotting Lou Gehrig, “the new Babe Ruth,” in a college game.

Lou Gehrig, at bat, for Columbia University, where he impressed scout Paul Krichell. The scout signed Gehrig for $2,000 and convinced the young player to give up pitching and concentrate on hitting.

* “Usually I pass up the moron player. He’s outdated.” — Joe Devine.

* “I saw Gomez undressed in the clubhouse, and anybody who’s got a prick as big as he’s got can’t pitch winning ball in the major leagues.” — Cy Slapnicka, explaining why he passed on Lefty Gomez.

* I saw him in two games, but I didn’t really see him . . . Finally I could see that seventeen-year-old body, how it worked like a damn baseball machine, and how it was gonna fill out. I understood how he’d been blessed. And I was blessed too.” — Tom Greenwade, upon the visionary moment when, the third time he was him, the scout recognized the talent in Mickey Mantle.

Notes from Hugh Alexander‘s scouting report on 18-year-old Crenshaw high school player, Darryl Strawberry.

* “For me, the job still comes down to hard work and good judgment. It’s still a human science. So I don’t rely on mechanical aids, like stopwatches and radar guns. I can be accurate on my own. The gun registers the low pitch faster than the high pitch, and it fixes your mind on speed. But I want to see movement on the fastball — not just speed. I want to see, period.” — Hugh Alexander.

* “The big stride is usually a tip-off that a guy’s whole system of hitting is wrong.” — Hugh Alexander.

* “He had tools running out of his ass.” — Lou Kahn, on Richie Allen.

Dick Allen, with “tools running out of his ass,” was the most controversial player of his time.

* “Little righties are no prospects.” — Various.

* “There aren’t many milkshake drinkers in the Hall of Fame.” — Ruly Carpenter.

* “He was what Rickey used to call an anesthesia ballplayer — the kind of guy who looks like he might do it but never does.” — Ruly Carpenter on a failed, 6′-7″ prospect named Steeple Schultz.

* “I look for a live arm and the good fastball. I stay away from wrist-wrappers, the guys who hook the ball in toward their wrist when they start their delivery. Hookers — that’s what I call ‘em — usually they don’t have control, or they’ll have it one day and three days later they won’t have it.” — Howie Haak.

* “Clemente’s the reason I started in to scout in Latin America.” — Howie Haak.

Howie Haak, a baseball lifer, famed as the scout who opened up Latin America to major-league baseball. Said Manny Sanguillen, “We thank God for him. He opened the door for us.”

* “Page could run like a son of a bitch — did the sixty in 6.4, and that’s really pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down.” — Howie Haak.

* “He couldn’t catch a two-hopper eye-high.” — Various.

* “Looks like Tarzan. Runs like Jane.” — Uncredited.

* “This boy runs like he’s waiting for his blockers.” — Uncredited.

* “‘He’s got smoke,’ we used that expression. The eyes sees it; the brain tells you. Ability is naked to the eye.” — Ed Katalinas.

* “Darling has it.” — Regie Otero, echoing Sinister Dick Kinsella’s 1928 report on Carl Hubbell.

* “You ever hear of the ‘the good face’? Well, I never used to sign a boy unless I could look in his face and see what I wanted to see: drive, determination, maturity, whatever. And when I was the Dodgers’ scouting director, we used to have a real thing about that. Some scout would give me a report on a boy, and I’d say ‘Tell me about his face,’ or ‘Does he have the good face?’” — Al Campanis.

Former scout and proponent of the “good face” theory, Al Campanis, got fired in 1978 after making racially charged comments on Nightline.

* “A guy can either play or he can’t play. There ain’t no in-between.” — Leon Hamilton.

* “I couldn’t scout football, because I know you could take the dumbest son of a bitch in the world and put a helmet on him and he could be a good football player.” — Leon Hamilton.

* “He made the big leagues quick — I mean right now!” — Leon Hamilton.

* “It’s a wonder I’m still alive, what with all the shit ballpark food I’ve eaten — nine thousand hot dogs and then still hungry.” — Leon Hamilton.

* “But I know this. I know a baseball game is like a train or a plane or a bus. That thing is gonna leave at a certain time, and if you’re not there, you’ve missed it — and you might sit there ten more times and never see what you would have seen. So any time I miss a game, I’m hurt. And sometimes, like at the Wichita tournament, I’ve watched eight games in one day. And if jackasses played baseball, I’d be out watchin’ them, too.” — Leon Hamilton.

* “I used to hear those ‘good face’ stories and they’d drive me up the wall. Scouts can be so damn unscientific.” — Jim McLaughlin.

* “I got to the point of not taking anyone seriously as a starting pitcher unless he had high scores in aggressiveness and emotional control. I didn’t go looking for this: it was empirical.” — Dave Ritterpusch.

* “Sometimes I think scouts are last real Americans.” — Jack Pastore.

* What do two and two make to Lou Gorman? The same thing they make to most baseball men: something between three and five. — Kerrane.

* “But ‘good face’ is objective; it means he impresses you as an athlete — not a pretty boy. He’s not withdrawn. He projects strength, virility, maturity. Sometimes you see that in the face, the same way you hear in the voice that he has presence or competitiveness. Out of baseball, in real life, we all do these kinds of readings all the time when we first meet someone.” — Brandy Davis.

* “Big, thick body. Bulk as in hulk. Lower body somewhat dead.” — Brandy Davis, reporting on prospect.

* “Once a puss, always a puss.” — Tony Roig.

Scout Tony Roig passed away in 2010 — one of a dying breed that’s sorely missed.

* “A wicky fastball.” — Various, a fastball that sinks and tails.

* “He was a tough guy. He’d fight a buzz saw.” — Tony Roig.

* “I played for Rogers Hornsby, and he wouldn’t fool with anybody that didn’t know how to play. That wasn’t part of the game then. It shouldn’t be part of it today.” — Ellis Clary.

* “I believe Ellis Clary could make a dog laugh.” — Spud Chandler.

* “Ballplayers are born. I keep sayin’ this and sayin’ it. All these scouts and coaches and executives: ‘We’ll do this, we’ll teach you.’ Shit.” — Joe Reilly.

* “Jerry Holtz can play . . . ’cause God said so.” — Joe Reilly.

* “Have you ever thought how much Americana the old scouts have seen?” —  Gary Nichels.

* “A scout has to be open to the great unorthodox hitter.” — Jocko Collins.

* “I still haven’t figured it out, after all these years, about little lefties.” — Jocko Collins.

* “These younger scouts like numbers, but they wind up splittin’ hairs: 47 or 48, what the hell’s the difference? And they can write an essay about a ballplayer, with all the new words — velocity, location, rotation on the curveball. Hey. Can he throw hard? Does his ball move? Is it heavy? Does he have the good sharp curve? Can he get the ball over the plate? These have been the baseball questions for over a century. Why would you want to change ‘em around today? All this other stuff, this terminology, it’s good for the newspapers, but it sounds like we’re talking about robots, not flesh-and-blood players.” — Jocko Collins.

* Meek and puss are the most damning words in his reports. — Kerrane, on scout Jim Baumer.

* The saddest change in scouting during the 1980s was simply the disappearance of so many great individual baseball men. — Kerrane.

* “There is no starting point in your job as a scout, nor is there an end. The season is always. You just dive in and no matter where or when you enter, you just keep going. Somewhere out there is a player you will seek and find and sign and he’ll make it all worthwhile.” — Dale McReynolds, author of The Baseball Scout’s Handbook.

And lastly, here’s a bit from Kerrane, early in the book:

Scouting is professional baseball’s personalized way of renewing itself, from year to year and generation to generation. It reaches to the social roots of the game, to small towns and skinned infields, and to the psychological roots of the game, to seasonal optimism and persistent dreaming. The players’ dreams of glory are no more compelling than the scouts’ dreams of discovery, of seeing the crystal through the carbon, the future shining through the present.

READ THE BOOK, YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Sorry about the ORANGE, folks. We haven’t lost our minds — it’s a technical issue.

  2. [...] read. It’s not a classic of the order of The Glory of Their Times, The Boys of Summer, or The Dollar Sign on the Muscle. But this is a slender volume that makes a meaningful contribution to the game and deserves a place [...]

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