Baseball was here a hundred years before me, and it'll be here a hundred years after me.
Scout, Detroit Tigers
"Johnstown's greatest tourist attraction," the 37th annual tournament
of the All American Amateur Baseball Association opened quietly in that central
Pennsylvania city on Monday, Aug. 17, 1981 with noon games. At Roxbury Park,
three miles from the city center, new snow fences denned outfield boundaries
for the diamonds at each end of the commons. Buffalo was playing Baltimore on
the east field; Columbus was playing Detroit on the west. Baltimore, better
known as Johnny's Auto Sales, is a perennial amateur power. Coached by
Milwaukee Brewers scout Walter Youse, it has the look and almost the talent of
a minor league team. It had won 10 championships and five runner-up trophies at
Johnstown, and was the 1981 favorite. Baltimore's lineup included seven players
who had been drafted by major league teams out of high school; each had chosen
to go to college instead, and to play for Johnny's during the summer as a sure
way of maintaining the scouts' interest. John Thornton, a big catcher/first
baseman, had turned down $25,000 from the Brewers in order to attend the
Community College of Baltimore. "God knows how much he'll expect in two
years," said Ed Katalinas as he watched the teams getting ready for the
game. Katalinas, 71, assistant to the director of scouting for the Tigers,
thought Thornton should have taken the money. "He won't get that kind of
offer next time."
alone on the high slope above third base of the east field. The younger scouts
clustered around the backstop and shared observations on each hitter's stance
and swing. Carmen Fusco of the Mets, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, remarked
that Thornton's swing came too much from the heels; it generated home-run power
but also left Thornton off balance, looking as if he was falling away from the
Like most of the
new scouts, Fusco, 28, had never played an inning of professional baseball.
"I was coaching at Middle Tennessee and knew a guy," Fusco explained.
"That's how I got to be a scout. Pro experience isn't necessary anymore.
What's more important is knowing the game, being analytical, organized, mobile,
able to do a lot of reporting. The scouting directors look for younger guys now
because we can put up with all the travel, and maybe they figure we don't need
money as bad. But that's why I want to work my way to the front office: less
travel, more money."
in the fourth to put Baltimore ahead 9-0. Across the commons, Detroit and
Columbus were tied 1-1 in the fifth. "Scout the player, not the game,"
I had been told all season, but I still needed a reasonably close contest in
order to feel perceptive, and I went over to watch the other game. Just as the
inning began, two girls hopped over the snow fence in right center field and
trotted across centerfield. Umpire Juergen Mathes halted play and ran out to
order them off the field, then discovered that they were his children.
Detroit broke the
game open in that inning by parlaying singles, errors and two hit batsmen into
five runs, and for the next hour I had to be satisfied just to watch a pitching
masterpiece by Greg Brake, the Detroit lefthander. From the second to the
eighth inning, Brake retired 19 consecutive batters, most of them with a snaky
curveball that seemed to float up to the plate and then to accelerate as it
darted to the knees. Gary Nickels of the Phillies graded the curve as a
71—above major league average. In the Phillies' system players are graded from
60 to 80. Steve Carlton's slider would be near an 80, with a 70 signifying
major league quality.
it about 65 percent of the time," Nickels said. "It's a great curve,
but he's a one-pitch pitcher. His fastball is way short for me, maybe a 67, and
he's not going to get any faster, so it's hard to see him beyond college or the
low minors. The pitcher to scout on this team is Bill Shuta." In the bottom
of the eighth, Nickels decided that 68 was the right grade for Brake's
I make on this tournament," Nickels said, "will mostly be names of kids
worth a 'follow' next spring. Then I'll write up a few players, but just with
number grades. I think the grades are more important than the verbal part,
because when I write out comments I find that I repeat myself. Like, 'This
boy's an above-average runner.' Well, I've already told you that if I put a 71.
The written stuff is really salesmanship to the front office; I call it putting
the mustard on the hot dog."
Nickels is short
and roundish, with a quick, enthusiastic manner. He can watch a game without
reacting visibly, but his conversation is frank and open, affecting no cool
scouting pose. At 34 he has already been in the baseball business for nine
years. After pitching college ball at Illinois Wesleyan (the zenith of his
playing career), he landed an internship in the Phillies' office and in 1974
became an assistant to Dallas Green, then the director of scouting and minor
leagues. Four years later Nickels became a scout, mainly to acquire
"seasoning." His real goal was to make it back to the office, this time
in an executive role.
thought scouting would be when I was in the office wasn't what scouting really
is," he said. "In the first place, you have to push yourself. It's not
a job where you punch in or where someone's always looking over your shoulder.
You're on your own for a week, two weeks at a time, and it's up to you where
you should go. It wouldn't be that hard, if you wanted to, to fool your boss
with your reports and expense account, and if you weren't a self-motivated
person you could slide by for a while.