A scout for the Chicago Cubs, Alexander, 71, wears a huge gold ring given to him in honor of his 50th anniversary in scouting. He's a legend; just ask him
I'm recognized as being the No. 1 guy who ever scouted the game of baseball. When I was an area scout for 33 years, signing free agents, I signed something like 63 ballplayers who went to the big leagues. For the last 18 years I've been a big league scout. I scout all the clubs, report on 650 ballplayers a year. You ask me about any ballplayer that played in the big leagues in the last two years and I'll tell you all about him—and I don't have to get out my book.
You have to love the life. You have to go home and have it out with your wife so she'll go along with your being a baseball scout, because there's a lot of divorces in baseball. I've had six wives because I've never had one that really loved the game.
I signed in 1935 with the Cleveland Indians. I played a year and a half in the minor leagues and then I went to the major leagues. I had just turned 18 when I signed, and I'm not trying to brag, but I put some numbers on the board that were out of this world. The first year in the minors I hit .348, hit 39 home runs, drove in 125—things like that. The next year Cleveland sent me to the Springfield Indians in Springfield, Ohio. I played in 81 ball games and hit 31 home runs, hit .344, drove in over 100 runs and went to the big leagues. It was almost unheard of in those days to go to the big leagues in a year and a half. Six or seven was more normal.
Then I went home to Oklahoma in the fall of '37 and caught my sleeve between two big gears in the oil field, and they pulled my left hand down and crushed it off. I had just turned 20. Out of the kindness of the Indians' hearts—and it had to be, because there were only about 20 scouts in all of baseball back then—they gave me a job scouting. I'm sure they just felt sorry for me because of my being that kind of a prospect and then losing my hand real quick.
To show you how fate will play an important part in your life, I'm scouting for Cleveland at age 20, and the first player I signed was Allie Reynolds, the great pitcher. The second player was Dale Mitchell, who played leftfield for the Cleveland ball club for 10 years. So I got off to a lucky start. My area was Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi. I scouted 14 years for Cleveland, then I went to the White Sox for four years, Brooklyn and Los Angeles for 15, the Phillies for 16, and this is my third year for the Cubs.
We didn't make any money back when I started: $3,000 a year scouting. I think the hardest job in baseball is being a scout. It's hard work driving up and down the damn highway 60 to 70 thousand miles in a seven-month period. When I went to the Dodgers in 1956, I became the supervisor of 22 states, mostly in the Midwest. I'd check out players, or if a scout needed help signing a player, I'd fly in and I'd sign 'em. I knew the ins and outs of signing. Some of those ballplayers I helped on—I'm not taking credit for these players, because other guys signed 'em, I just helped—are Frank Howard, Steve Garvey, Billy Russell, Davey Lopes.
Frank Howard was a basketball player at Ohio State, and the Dodgers tried to sign him all the summer of 1957. We must have had 20 or 30 meetings with him. The next spring another Dodger scout, Bert Wells, and I were up in our hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, and the phone rang at two o'clock in the morning. It was Howard. He was all excited.
"Calm down," I said. "What's the matter?"