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DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
Kevin Kerrane
March 19, 1984
In 1981 the author went to an amateur baseball tournament in Johnstown, Pa. to research a book on baseball scouts. As this excerpt reveals, while the scouts discovered their gems on the playing field, he found his own off the field
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March 19, 1984

Diamonds In The Rough

In 1981 the author went to an amateur baseball tournament in Johnstown, Pa. to research a book on baseball scouts. As this excerpt reveals, while the scouts discovered their gems on the playing field, he found his own off the field

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"The next year the Tigers made me a part-time scout, and I took it up from there. I learned a lot from Joe Brehany, the old scout for the Pirates. He's here at the tournament, still kickin', 80-some years old and all mad that they won't let him put on a pregame exhibition hitting fungoes at The Point. Anyway, he taught me, then Wish Egan taught me and made me a full-time scout. And the rest was experience."

Katalinas' experience led eventually to the front office. He had been as ambitious as any of the current young scouts, and in 1957 he was promoted to scouting director on the basis of his education (a master's degree in counseling from NYU), his record as an Eastern scouting supervisor and his reputation as the man who signed Al Kaline. He held that post for 16 years, guiding the Tigers into the draft era, then coming to terms with the Major League Scouting Bureau (which meant firing 17 of his 22 full-time scouts), and then beginning the new cycle of hiring young scouts for the 1980s.

I asked him to tell me about signing Kaline.

"Did you know," he asked, "that Kaline played right here at the Johnstown tournament?"

"Is this where you first saw him?"

"Oh, no. He was 14 years old the first time I saw him. I was down in Baltimore to sign a shortstop named McCarthy, and the manager of McCarthy's team said, 'Ed, there's a boy that lives right around the corner, going to be a hell of a ballplayer. His name is Al Kaline.' So I put the name down in the little book. Then I found out that McCarthy had a brother who was playing second base for another team, and I thought, 'If I sign a brother combination at second and short, I'm going to go down in the books.' I went to see the other McCarthy play, and who was at shortstop but this kid named Albert Kaline.

"He was about 5'10" and weighed maybe 140, but he hit line drives, ran beautiful and threw hell out of the ball. Fourteen years old. I watched him all through high school, saw him get stronger and fill out to about 180, and the amazing thing was that he had all the intangibles. Didn't lose his temper, had time for people and just wanted to be a ballplayer. He was oozing with it. 'Lemme play ball!'—that was his attitude.

"All the scouts knew about him by then, but I had two advantages. I'd gotten close to his whole family—his father, his mother, his sister, his uncles—and I even stayed in Baltimore for three weeks before he graduated. The other thing was that I offered him a big salary/bonus contract [reportedly $35,000]. In 1953 the rule said that a boy who received more than $6,000 in salary and bonus had to stay on the major league roster for two years, so I was really giving a major league slot to this 18-year-old kid. But I'd convinced John McHale [the farm director] that he could play rings around our outfield, which at that time was Bob Nieman, Jim Delsing, Don Lund and Steve Souchock. This boy Kaline, as time proved, could run better than them, could throw better than them, could catch the ball better than them. And he could hit better than all of them put together!

"Scouting's more of a numbers game now. These young guys won't have the chance to gamble like that, or to romance a prospect the old way. They've become graders, and they can't afford to fall in love with talent."

I hitched a ride out of Johnstown with Bob Engle. He rarely stayed for the end of a tournament, he said. "I'm scouting the players, not the games, so I never know or care who wins." Johnstown was only one sliver of Engle's scouting territory. "My area could be measured in square miles, or in scouting miles driven per year, or in time away from home," he said. "I think the last one's the most significant. And that's one reason I don't want to make a career out of being an area scout."

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