SI Vault
 
You Can't Beat The Draft
Pat Jordan
July 27, 1970
The bird dogs spot the bright young players first. Then come the scouts, the evaluators of baseball talent. The scouts used to be salesmen, wheedlers, con men, but the free-agent draft changed all that
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 27, 1970

You Can't Beat The Draft

The bird dogs spot the bright young players first. Then come the scouts, the evaluators of baseball talent. The scouts used to be salesmen, wheedlers, con men, but the free-agent draft changed all that

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Unlike the bird dogs, whose virtues were intrinsic to their natures, the scouts were men who embellished their natures. It wasn't that they created virtues they did not possess; it was just that they overaccentuated the virtues they had until they became caricatures of themselves.

Jeff Jones, for example, was "sincere." He was a large, egg-shaped New Englander with shrubs for eyebrows and an endearing stutter that could melt the hardest of hearts. Jeff did not toss his sincerity about like bruised fruit either; he deposited it where he knew it would do the most good—with the mother of a prospect.

"Why, Miz Jordan," he would say, "dddon't you worry about your bbboy! When he gggoes away to the minor leagues I'll watch over him as if he were mmmy own son."

And when Jeff did not look after you as well as he should have, it was understandable. Jeff Jones signed 15 sons a year and, after all, a father can only do so much.

Ray Garland was "flamboyant." He was a sharp, dapper little man who had long ago become a master of the grand gesture. To this day I can remember Ray in only one pose. He is standing, unprotected, in a heavy drizzle that has drenched his camel's hair overcoat the color of Gulden's Mustard. His left arm is extended away from his body, his hand clutching an umbrella that is over the head of my mother, who is sitting dryly in her wicker chair, watching me pitch.

John Pollodoro was "enthusiastic." He was a little Italian with poorly fitted false teeth. When John got excited his teeth started clicking faster than the words could escape from his mouth and he looked like a poorly dubbed foreign movie whose image was out of joint with its sound. One day in my junior year I saw him sit next to my girl friend (now my wife) in the deserted stands of a West Haven ball park. He was jabbering away like a machine gun, but my girl was just nodding primly and moving down the bench away from him until finally she and he were wedged into the far corner of the stands. After the game she told me she had been frightened of him. "When he found out I was your girl friend he even offered me a job," she said. "I know what kind of job he was offering. My mother told me about such things."

I told her she was mistaken, that Johnny was just trying to find some way he could get to me through her. "Be nice," I said. "He could be buying our house someday."

And finally there was the scout I'll call Jack Brown. Jack had no essentially admirable qualities that he could exaggerate like the other scouts. He was just a likable, harmless old fellow whose face was so red it seemed always on the verge of spontaneous combustion. Jack was a drinker and often was in no condition to match wits with the sharper scouts, although maybe this worked to his advantage. Everyone felt sorry for him, and I'm not so sure he didn't sign more than a few players because of sympathy.

One day in my senior year Jack drove me to a tryout camp outside of Boston. We arrived the night before and took a motel room on the outskirts of town. I went to bed immediately, but he said he would sit up a few minutes. He sat nervously in a chair by the window, every so often glancing over at me to see if I was asleep. When he thought I was, he withdrew a paper bag from his coat pocket and began taking long swigs from it. I watched him through half-closed eyes until I fell asleep.

When all the scouting is done, when all the dinners, half-kindnesses, half-truths are in the past, the hard bargaining begins. The fight for the cash. The scouts are brushed aside now, just as the bird dogs were a few years before. The farm directors, general managers and vice-presidents take over. They are younger, colder, bread-faced businessmen who were once accountants or timekeepers. They seem unable to speak to you directly, even when you're in the same room with them. They always talk around you, to your parents, as if you were off on a long trip, maybe, or as if you did not really exist except as a talent somehow abstracted from the human being who possessed it.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7