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

Someone brought Mr. DeFilippis the latest Sporting News with the story about his son. He read the article carefully, nodding, and then he showed it to his friends. He slapped the paper with the back of his hand and said, "See, what'd I tell ya?" The friends nodded solemnly.

It was only the scouts who did not come over and whisper in Mr. DeFilippis' ear. They sat in deck chairs or stood in small clusters. Although many of them were strangers to me, they did not look so different from the old men I had known 10 years ago. They were still tanned and weatherbeaten from their long Florida springs, while we in New England were just beginning to turn red on these first few warm days, and they still dressed a little flamboyantly for older men, in bright alpaca sweaters and banlon jerseys and white and black tasseled loafers. Some smoked cigars, a few chewed tobacco and only a handful, it seemed, kept careful notation of the game's progress in their little black notebooks. They looked much more relaxed, convivial, than I ever remembered scouts being. Scouts were nervous, frantic men before the free-agent draft, always trying to figure some way to outsmart their cohorts in latching onto a prospect. Now they looked as if buzzing in Art DeFilippis' ear was the farthest thing from their minds.

I walked over and sat on the hill behind home plate, a few feet beneath the scouts. They were talking about good restaurants nearby and their next stops and old friends they hadn't seen in a long while, and none of them seemed to concentrate very much on the game. But then again, it was a boring game. Art DeFilippis had already fanned eight of nine batters with a fastball that was tailing and sinking when thrown low and rising when thrown high. He had a nice loose motion, and I could tell he loved pitching just by the way he savored every moment he was on the mound. He must have been pitching a long time, since Little League at least, because he knew when to turn his back on a batter, when to throw over to first base to hold a runner and when to look for a ball's rough spots after it had been fouled off. Only once in a while, however, did any of the scouts comment on him. Often they even had to ask one another how he'd gotten that last batter out, because they'd missed it.

In the fourth inning DeFilippis hit an inside-the-park home run. "He hits, too?" asked a heavyset, white-haired man in his 60s who sat down beside me.

"I guess," I said. He asked the other questions about DeFilippis (What kind of boy was he? Did he like the game? Was he interested in signing?), and we talked for a while, only half-watching the game, until finally he introduced himself as Paul Florence, a Houston scout. Ten years ago, I told him, he had scouted me when I was in high school. He said he remembered, although I'm not sure he did because he kept calling me Bob after that.

"Who did you finally sign with?" he asked.

"Jeff Jones," I said. "He was with the Braves then."

"Ah, Jeff," he said, smiling and nodding with satisfaction. "I'll bet Jeff romanced the hell outta you in those days, didn't he?"

"As a matter of fact, he did. Aren't you doing the same with the kid?" I asked, pointing toward the mound.

"No, it's not necessary anymore. Not after the draft. If it wasn't for the draft I'd be romancing his whole family, maybe take them all to dinner tonight and invite them down to Houston. But that would be foolish. I'd just be getting his hopes up, and mine, for nothing if we didn't get to draft him. All I do is watch him pitch a few times, write up a report on him and turn it in. The front office decides what to do about him after that."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7