SI Vault
Robert Shaplen
May 14, 1956
Al's discoverer, Ed Katalinas, is one of 350-odd big league talent scouts who comb the country year round in search for more young players
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May 14, 1956

On The Lookout For A Kaline

Al's discoverer, Ed Katalinas, is one of 350-odd big league talent scouts who comb the country year round in search for more young players

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Between the mid-'30s and the mid-'40s, when the Tigers won four pennants and finished second four times, they had an oldtime scouting staff led by Ed Goosetree, a bush-flusher par excellence, who uncovered such stars as Tommy Bridges, Pete Fox and Gerry Walker. Wish Egan, who was chief scout and a front-office policy maker as well until his death in 1951 and who was regarded as one of the wisest of baseball men, used to say that there were never more than five first-rate scouts in the business. Those were the days of widespread semipro and rural baseball, when a scout could move around all summer and not hit a town of 50,000 population.

During the war, when the Tiger farm system was allowed to fall apart, the scouting staff dropped from 12 to four, but in the postwar period, McHale, who learned a lot from Egan, has resuscitated the scouting program to meet the demands of the day. With the exception of two or three oldtimers such as George Moriarity, the former player, manager and umpire who has been able to make the transition from old-type bush-flushing to the new-type scientific scouting, the current Tiger scouts are mostly young men McHale selected and trained. They include such retired stars as Pitchers Willis (Ace) Hudlin and Lynwood (Schoolboy) Rowe, but the majority were chosen for their all-round intelligence and baseball judgment rather than for their professional playing experience.

Katalinas, though he has become thoroughly McHale-indoctrinated, got into scouting almost accidentally, through the Tiger front office. He was born in Shenandoah, Pa., where his father, John, a coal miner, was a baseball bug who fervently hoped one of his four sons would become a big leaguer. They all turned out to be football partisans. Ed starred at Shenandoah High School and then was a tackle at Georgetown University, where he became acquainted with Walter O. (Spike) Briggs, now president of the Tigers. After graduation, Katalinas taught educational guidance and also coached football at Shenandoah High, played some semipro football and later semipro baseball.

In 1940, having had one experience scouting, Katalinas wrote to his friend Briggs and asked for a summer scouting job. Briggs offered him a few hundred dollars and expenses, and Katalinas started wandering around the northeastern part of Pennsylvania. At Reading High School he spotted a husky, 15-year-old sophomore named Victor Wertz who carried a big bat.

At that time a high school boy could be offered a contract at any point, and Katalinas eagerly followed Wertz around in summer recreation and American Legion Junior Baseball games.

At one point Katalinas thought he had lost Wertz to Brooklyn, but the Dodgers passed him up, and in 1942 Wertz told Katalinas he would sign with Detroit for a $5,000 bonus. The Tiger front office said no, but Wertz wanted to play so badly he finally asked Katalinas to arrange the best deal he could get. The Tigers thereupon signed him to a Winston-Salem (Class B) contract, with the promise of a retroactive bonus. When Wertz eventually reached Detroit, he got $3,500.

Katalinas did not become a full-time scout until 1945—he was still more interested in coaching football until then—but, as he looks back, he regards the Wertz find as in many ways his most significant. "It gave me confidence in my own judgment," he says. "I never even had minor league experience, but when Vic started to develop I knew I could spot a good ballplayer when I saw one. The big Dutchman always had a great desire to play, and I quickly realized how important that was."

Katalinas figures there are three kinds of boys a scout runs across. "First, there's the truly outstanding kid, blessed with all the tools, the arm, the legs, the bat, and with heart," he says. "You know right off you'll do everything to sign him. The second type will have pretty good tools. You know he'll get his foot in the door, but you've got to be tough with yourself and visualize him several years ahead, figure how big and strong he'll be and what the need for his kind of player will be. The third type of boy you look at will be the real green pea, in his early teens, and with him you've got to look 10 years ahead. If he shows you a good arm and a good spirit, maybe you'll go visit his parents and see who he looks like, which member of the family he's apt to take after in size and strength. It's like being an insurance inspector."

A case in point is another budding Tiger star and Katalinas product named Steve Demeter, a husky young third baseman who hit .285 at Buffalo last year and made the International League All-Star team. He is being further seasoned at Charleston in the American Association this year in view of Ray Boone's preeminence at third for the Tigers. Demeter is a husky but short boy, and Katalinas carefully studied not only him but his family before deciding that, in this case, determination and strength would make up for lack of height. The Demeters live in Homer City, Pa., where Katalinas first saw Steve play high school ball in 1952 and was impressed with the young man's arm. Next to his home, on the far side of town, Steve had hacked out a rough diamond for himself in an adjacent field with a bulldozer, built a crude backstop, and practiced batting for hours with two neighborhood chums. Katalinas cultivated the Demeters assiduously. Eventually, Detroit recommended Steve for a scholarship to Notre Dame, but, despite his being a good student, he decided to go right into professional baseball, and, though the Red Sox and the Pirates had originally had the inside track, Steve Demeter signed with Katalinas. "Ed's one of those fellows who gets right into the home," he says. "My mother liked him right away."

Other Katalinas products of promise include Paul Foytack, a young fastball pitcher now on the Tiger staff, picked out of a Sunday league in Pennsylvania; Tom Yewcik, a former Michigan State star quarterback, now in the Army, who was spied by Katalinas as a 15-year-old catcher in an amateur tournament in Johnstown, Pa.; Bill Hoffer, a heavy-hitting outfielder at Charleston, first seen by Katalinas at the Army barracks in Carlisle, Pa.; Joe Lewis, a former Duke University pitching star; Al Pehanick, a 6-foot 4-inch side-wheeling pitcher spotted by Katalinas at Scranton's West Side High; Jack Fickinger, a southpaw almost as tall from Ashland, Pa.; and Paul Franks, another left-hander, who caught Katalinas' eye right in his home town of Shenandoah.

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