There's a lot of tricks in signing. When you go in the boy's house to do your preliminary work, you must find out who is going to have the final say in that family. About 75% of the time it's the mother, and you'd better figure it out. But I've been in the situation a number of times when I thought the mother was going to be the deciding factor, and it turns out she wasn't. Could be the boy himself, could be the father. Sometimes I'd sit there and talk and talk and listen and the mother wouldn't say a word, so I'd think, She's not going to have any say in this, but the last day, that's when she came forward. This happened 50 times.
I've seen 20 scouts hanging around a house. What I used to do—and a lot of people thought I was wrong in doing this—I'd go in the house early, during the winter, and say to you and your family that you're a bona fide good prospect, and you're gonna have a lot of clubs in here after school's out, trying to sign you.
"Here's what I'm gonna do," I'd say, and it wasn't against the rules. "I'm gonna keep out those ribbon clerks, those guys who are only going to muddy the water, who will come out here and spend five hours of your time and talk, talk, talk, and when all the talking's over offer five, six thousand dollars. I'm going to start your money at 40 thousand in bonus. Right now you've got that offer. It's my first offer, not my last. So when those scouts call you on the phone, you tell them real quick that you have an offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers for 40 thousand, and unless they want to go that high or higher, you'd rather they didn't even come out to the house."
Immediately that would get it down to six or eight clubs. Then we'd fight like hell over a player. I signed more than half of my top prospects. I was working for the clubs that had the money!
Most scouts in the winter would take an off-season job, be a substitute teacher, carpenter's helper, sell automobiles. But I never did. Then in the spring the other scouts would come and say, "You signed that so-and-so kid!" and I'd say, "I damned sure did. While you guys were out working, I was working baseball."
If you're a prospect and I look at you and then I get in a car for 200 miles, I'm going to break you down right in my mind, going at 70 miles an hour—your arm, your speed, fielding, hitting, power—five things for a regular player. About one out of 10 players signed makes it to the majors. The way I figured it out mathematically—and without a computer—the good scout has got to be right seven out of 10. I always was. The prospect who just goes to Double or Triple A, hell, he's a liability. He's costing you money.
But you're dealing with human beings. Always remember that. You're not dealing with animals you can train. Lots of fathers have asked me to go see their sons. "This boy really wants to play," he'd say. And I've gone to watch him play and then gone back to the father and said, "Your boy is a gung-ho player and he loves to play, but he just does not have enough ability to play professional baseball. It's that simple."
I've had to tell a lot of fathers that, and it's hard to do, because the father loves the boy.
Until recently, Vardavas was a lawyer in the commissioner's office. Originally from Baltimore, she has been a baseball fan all her life