HOW DO THE YANKEES GET THE BEST BALLPLAYERS?
They find them. They raise them. If necessary, they talk other people out of them. But first, they must find them.
Scouts win pennants, and the Yankees have won 15 in the last 21 years. So Yankee scouts should be the best in all baseball. They are. They also wear out more shoe leather than any other scouting staff in baseball, which is one of the reasons they are the best. The other reason is that if they weren't the best they would no longer be Yankee scouts. It is almost that simple.
"Everything," says General Manager George Weiss, "starts with the scouts. Ours are constantly being evaluated. When they lose a prospect, we want to know why. Didn't we like the boy? Was there a good reason we didn't sign him? Or," with a rather grim little smile, "did someone slip up?"
The Yankees, after missing out on a youngster they wanted very much to sign, have been known to fire the scout who failed. They have also been known to spirit right off the payroll of another big league team the man who out-talked him. In the baseball jungle, such tactics can't miss. After a while you have most of the good ones on your side.
The Yankee scouting system in its basic structure is like that of 15 other major league teams: a chief scout to head up the full-time, 12-months-a-year staff of 20, and almost 100 bird dogs, who work on a commission or retainer basis and beat the bushes for talent in spare time away from their regular jobs as high school coaches, sportswriters and window washers for the local department store.
The Yankees hold tryouts at the Stadium itself three times a year and in these sessions they may look at as many as 900 players. Of that number, they might find 25 worth a second look. They usually end up by signing about a dozen. Meanwhile, out across the nation, the rest of the scouting staff is looking at thousands more. From these come another 35 or 40. If 50 young players a year seems a modest number with which to shore up such a dynasty, it must be pointed out that these are highly unusual boys. Very few are less than good; most have the potential for greatness.
"Some clubs sign everyone within distance, thinking that they won't miss anybody that way," Paul Krichell, the late famed Yankee chief scout, would say. "A club could go broke under that system. A scout has to look for real ability in a player: has he got a good arm, does he have speed, does he take a good cut at the ball? Temperament counts a lot but you can't look inside a young player, can you? So, how well does he like to play ball? Does he really love the game?
"Sometimes you can have a ballplayer who will do well in the majors with one fault. Earl Combs couldn't throw. But he made up for that in many other ways. But if a kid has two faults, he doesn't have a chance."
At least not with the Yankees.