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Chat: Kevin Kerrane

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday November 07, 2013 1:00 PM ET chat session with Kevin Kerrane.


The Dollar Sign on the Muscle reprint comes out today. Buy it here, then chat with author Kevin Kerrane about the book and his experiences in the world of scouting.

Kevin Kerrane: Hi, everyone. I'm happy to be here. Thanks to BP for hosting. --Kevin

Robert (California): Who is a player you thought would be a no doubt star and flopped? And on the other side, who was a guy you thought wouldn't amount to anything and became a star?

Kevin Kerrane: I thought Kevin McReynolds would be a big star. Maybe I was focusing too much on tools. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that this athlete's cool demeanor reflected a lack of drive. Later I thought that Grady Sizemore would be a perennial All-Star, even though he struck out too much. I didn't realize how physically brittle he would be. (I'd love to see Grady make a comeback, even for a season or two.)
I didn't think that Ryne Sandberg would be a Hall of Famer-or anything close to it. I saw him when the Phillies still imagined him as a shortstop, and I remember writing in my notebook that he only had "warning track power." But Dallas Green knew what the kid could do, and one of his first moves when he went to Chicago was to trade Ivan DeJesus to the Phils for Larry Bowa and Sandberg. What a steal! And what a great fit for Sandberg as a second baseman hitting in Wrigley Field.

Mike (PA): It's been a long time since I read the book, but one thing I remember were a few stories or comments involving race that struck me as maybe "ok for the late 70s, early 80s", but definitely not ok for the early 2000s when I read them. Those comments would seem even more out of their time today. Did feel that you needed to address the changing attitudes towards race and stereotyping when you revised the manuscript for this edition? Thanks and I'm really looking forward to reading the new edition and finally owning a copy of my own.

Kevin Kerrane: Can give me me an example? One scout used the N-word when recalling how some racists in the late-1940s scorned the Dodgers for having black players. Others casually assumed that black players were usually faster runners than whites.
Two scouts used the word "monkey," but they were referring to WHITE guys-the way that you or I might call someone "big donkey."

I remember showing Bip Roberts (one of my favorite players) the passage where one scout described him as "a smiling black with a motor up his ass." Bip thought that was hilarious.

On the other hand, I think it's significant that the man who popularized the use of the term "good face" was Al Campanis, who later embarrassed himself on air with some racial stereotypes. When scouts form impressions of a player based on what he looks like, they can apply unconscious prejudices-and the best example of that in the book is Eddie Murray. When he was a prospect, some scouts referred to him as "lackadaisical" because of his cool demeanor. The Pirates knew better because Howie Haak was studying him. The Orioles knew better because they had the benefit of a psychological test score, and they beat the Pirates to the punch.

hotstatrat (Toronto, O.): Would you say there is a strong correlation between how rich a team is and their propensity to overspend in the free agent market?

Kevin Kerrane: Yes, but it's not 1-to-1. If a mid-market team needs a player to fill a role, they might be led to splurge-say, if the Indians, who need a closer to replace Chris Perez, If they can't work out a trade and if nobody on the current roster seems ready, they could overspend.

whjohnson37 (Houston): I had the privilege my collegiate junior year to have labrum surgery, thus making me the pitch count/radar gun operator behind home plate. I sat behind home plate with a number of scouts and heard ridiculous stories. It seems the tall tales grow with age. What is your % estimate of how much is true?

Kevin Kerrane: Depends on who you're talking to. I'd bet my house on the truth of anything Brandy Davis or Mike Toomey told me. Some other guys-not so much. I chose not to do a chapter on a scout whose stories sounded like episodes from the Twilight Zone. I couldn't figure out how to present him as the great scout he was (50 signees in the majors).

But I went to the trouble of verifying a lot of stories about specific games, like the one that Tom Ferrick told (in the new Afterword) about being a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1950, and being brought in "put out the fire" when the Red Sox had scored 29 runs. (The Browns' manager didn't want to be the first whose team ever gave up 30 in a game.) I checked the box score and game stories. Everything was true, and there were even other great details. For example, Tom got the last out on a fly ball to a Browns' outfielder named Hank Arft, whose nickname was "Bow Wow"!

floydwicker (SF Bay Area): What new closers do you see coming to the fore in 2014?

Kevin Kerrane: The guys at BP who do reporting on a steady basis would be better equipped to answer that. I really like Tim Collins of the Royals (he's on the cover of the new edition), but he's probably more of a set-up guy or situational left-hander. But he has the guts to be a closer!

gerrybraun (san diego): The Cardinals success in developing high-caliber players without incurring high costs has become a sort of received wisdom for baseball fans. Do you have any thoughts on what that formula really entails, or what other teams are closest to replicating it?

Kevin Kerrane: I tried to pry information out of them--to no avail. Partly it's a matter of correlating college stats with field observation (as with Allen Craig), but it's also a matter of great minor-league teaching and training. There are a lot of good stories on the web about "The Cardinal Way" that stress what happens to St. Louis prospects AFTER they're drafted.

floydwicker (California): Football drafting has a term DNDC.... do not draft character. Do baseball scouts/GMs have something similar? If a ballplayer has great upside but questionable character what kinds of things do organizations do (if anything) to steer him or help him see how character deficiencies will hurt him. I just was a former top prospect of the Giants in the AFL who seems to have a lot of dog in him (but signed a big bonus) ... what would you do with him?

Kevin Kerrane: "Questionable character" has a lot of meanings, and of course it matters how old the kid is. In football the big fear is drafting a criminal type. In baseball the big fear is drafting someone without the determination to play his way through the minors for, say, three years. Local scouts doing their work, really getting to KNOW the prospect, seem to me a lot more helpful than psychological testing.

Mark (Omaha): Your book is one of my favorite ever about baseball. What's your favorite book about baseball?

Kevin Kerrane: Probably Roger Angell's FIVE SEASONS. But I'm also a big fan of Pat Jordan, and A FALSE SPRING is a wonderfully honest memoir. But frankly, Mark, I could list about a dozen others that are still on my top shelf. Do you know a collection called CULT BASEBALL PLAYERS? I forget who edited it, but it has contributions from various writers about wonderful players like Vic Power and Minnie Minoso.

Wilson (Seattle): Jerry Crasnick wrote about personal characteristics that some scouts hate in prospects: red hair, a weak handshake, duck feet. Does every scout have something like this that influences him, and do you think its a sign of insight or personal prejudice?

Kevin Kerrane: I think that the red hair thing was mainly a hook for writers this year because of a top prospect. But yes, most scouts probably have conscious or unconscious preferences or dislikes. A scout I spent time with this summer, Mike Toomey, is 5'7", and he loves finding "little guys" who can do the job. I've heard some scouts say they won;t consider a prospect who wears eyeglasses, which seems short-sighted to me. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

justarobert (Santa Clara): Why is it that football worries more about criminal tendencies and baseball worries more about determination? Criminals would be just as damaging to a baseball team's reputation, I'd think. Is it just the violence inherent in football, or are there other issues involved?

Kevin Kerrane: I like football, but many of the people who play it really see themselves as gladiators. The trouble they can get into may carry over some of the violence of the game. I don't have a grand theory here. I only know that a scouting organization like the Ravens worries about this all the time.

LoDoKid (Detroit): So many of the colorful characters whose stories form much of the narrative of the book are no longer with us. Did you maintain an ongoing relationship with some of them and, if so, what anecdotes can you share about how they, or their family members might have felt about how they were portrayed for posterity?

Kevin Kerrane: Family members were among the book's biggest fans, and have often asked me if I could get them extra copies. I stayed in touch with almost all of the scouts I originally profiled, but sadly very few of them are still alive. The scouts I spent time with in 2013 are "colorful" only because they don;t have stories about the era preceding the draft. But they still express themselves with wit and originality, and I loved talking with them about their biggest mistakes as well as their biggest discoveries. If you think you love baseball, start hanging around with these guys!

Kevin (Anaheim): What was your initial reaction the first time you scouted Trout?

Kevin Kerrane: I wish I could say that I scouted Trout. What I love about the Angels grabbing him in the draft is that Greg Morhardt, the scout who saw him at 16, and pushed hard for him, was one of the low-level prospects I charted in 1981. In fact, about five of the players from that time have become important talent evaluators--like Jim Olander of the Tigers. (Trout turned out to be the son of one of Morhardt's roommates in the minors.)

Sulley9 (Denver): First off I love your book. I was fortunate to find an old copy and have shared it with countless people in my SABR group. Question is when you see young people wanting to try to get into the game of scouting, what would your advice be to a 25 year old like me?

Kevin Kerrane: One of the guys I spent time with this year has been kicking at the door of scouting offices for a long time. He;'s an assistant coach at a small college, and he has done some "associate" work for the Indians, but paid his own way to the scout school that Ben Lindberg attended (and wrote about on Grantland). Finally, the guy is starting to get interviews--but only because he's showing the kind of drive that scouting directors love. He's gone to tournaments and showcases to hone his reporting skills, so he can show any prospective employed a "portfolio" of his work.

Shawnykid23 (CT): What state/region do you think is the most prospect rich, and is there a specific reason for it?

Kevin Kerrane: Obviously the Sun Belt. But don't forget that Mike Trout came out of New Jersey--which is one reason that some teams were reluctant to draft him high. Anyway, I can't help feeling that the center of gravity in scouting has moved even further south, to Latin America, Lots of scouts and scouting directors talk about a thinning out of baseball talent in the U. S.

Mike (Little Rock): One of my favorite books is "Prophet of the Sandlots" by Mark Winegardner. Do scouts like Tony Lucadello still work?

Kevin Kerrane: Tony Lucadello may have been one of a kind. In his last years the Phillies weren't giving due priority to his recommendations, which may have contributed to his depression. I admired the way that Mark Winegardner handled Tony's tragic death--which occurred just before his book was due to go to press, Tony was a relentless worker in an area where spring weather is typically bad. But there still are guys who'll make that extra road trip.

jbm (florida): What is your scouting background who have you signed

Kevin Kerrane: I've never signed anyone! I was lucky to know two scouts in my hometown--and one of them was my coach in a semi-pro league. These guys were surprisingly forthcoming about scouting, and I started going to games with them, and I thought: "Why has nobody ever written a book about this?"

jbm (florida): Thanks for your honesty. Everyone thinks they can scout. I don't think people understand what goes into it.

Kevin Kerrane: After going to so many games with scouts, and reading so many reports, I think that I could be a "fair" evaluator and reporter of young talent. But I don't have the kind of drive those guys do to be on the road so much. And they don't get paid enough!

Keith (KC, MO): The time at which you wrote the book was so unique in baseball history, and it may have been the perfect time for a book on scouting to be written. Have you ever considered writing a new book from scratch? A sequel of sorts?

Kevin Kerrane: You're right that my timing was lucky, because so many of the veteran scouts were starting to leave the game. But a very good book could be written today. I added about 15,000 words to the original book for this edition, but realized that someone (not me) should do a much bigger survey of 21st-century scouting. And if anybody wants to try it, I'd be happy to give them some leads.

Tino (()): I don't have any asperations to get into baseball. I just like watching from my couch. How can I watch the game more intelligently on TV?

Kevin Kerrane: When I started going to games with scouts, I began to look at individual players--maybe just one or two--and to worry less about the score. And that meant looking at the players' actions before the game and between innings, because a shortstop might not have to make many plays in the game itself. I also started focusing more on pitching mechanics than I ever had (even when I was pitching). Often I didn't follow the flight of the ball after it was hit. I was looking at the pitcher's follow-through, or the batter getting out of the box. It became more a matter of HOW than WHAT, if that makes sense.

R.A. Wagman (Markham): Kevin, why do you think Dollar Sign on the Muscle has withstood the test of time so well? As a follow-up, what do you think could be done by a prospective intrepid author in the future to look at the scouting sub-culture and not be overly derivative of your work? Thank you - I look forward to the arrival of the new copy of the book I ordered this morning.

Kevin Kerrane: When I began the book I thought it was going to be about the Phillies, because they had just won the 1980 Series, and they had 44 of their original signees in the major (more than any other organization), and they were giving me unbelievable access. But when I got into the topic it became "horizontal" instead of "vertical"--in other words, about a whole occupation, and way of looking at the game, instead of one transient success story. I started feeling universal elements in it, like when one old guy asked if I had scouted my wife! And I think that the sheer love of the game expressed by underpaid searchers carried a lot of energy in itself.

Sulley9 (Denver): In the game today. Who has the best "Good Face"?

Kevin Kerrane: Great question! I'm partial to Mike Trout. But Jason Kipnis has to be in the top ten. How about you?

LoDoKid (Detroit): As you said, besides Greg Morhardt (who signed Trout), there were other young players who were profiled in the book that have since gone on to become scouts. Did any of them happen to tell you that they took an interest in scouting because their stories were included in what many people feel is the most comprehensive documented account of the profession?

Kevin Kerrane: No, I haven't had that compliment paid to me. And I doubt that it's affected any of them that way. But Charlie Kerfeld, now with the Phillies as a talent advisor, always liked his portrayal, brief as it was. A lot of players I've spoken to--like Tony Gwynn and Bip Roberts--thought it was great fun to read about themselves from a scouting perspective.

Sulley9 (Denver): I agree with Trout that jawline is undeniable. The top ten list must include Harper and Cargo.

Kevin Kerrane: What about Max Scherzer? I liked his face even before I saw that his eyes are different colors. Now, for me, his stock has zoomed up even further.

Pete (SF): Kevin, What do you think of the Moneyball way of scouting and Billy Beane's comment of "adapt or die" vs. Grady Fuson's comment of "You're discounting what scouts have doing to 50 years".

Kevin Kerrane: A decade after Lewis's book, I see a lot of intelligent blending of information in scouting offices. The point is that you don;t have to retrain any of the old guys to start doing quantitative stuff. You just have to supplement what they give you. The one stat I hear scouts cite most often is the ratio of strikeouts to walks--for hitters as well as pitchers. As for me, I've become much more interested in contact percentage. I think the ability to put the bat on the ball is as much of a "tool" as running speed. Like Tony Gwynn or Joey Votto.

Shawnykid23 (CT): Re: talent being thin in the US- why do you think that is? Are more and more kids gravitating towards football/basketball? With seemingly new findings of how dangerous football is every day, do you think there is a shift back to baseball in the coming years?

Kevin Kerrane: Scouts talk about all the inner-city talent going to basketball, a game where you can perfect your skills with needing a whole field with 18 people and a lot of equipment. It feels like it's not just other sports (including soccer) that are preoccupying American kids in the summer. It may be a whole world of gadgetry. Boy, I wish I had the answer to this. But you should hear the guys who look at kids in the Dominican and Venezuela talk about the baseball focus on those youngsters.

Sulley9 (Denver): I think we just found your next book. A picture book analyzing face bone structure and characteristics with ability and stats. A little something for everyone.

Kevin Kerrane: I was surprised (and pleased) to hear the pro FOOTBALL guys talk about the good face! One of them, Eric DeCosta in Baltimore, compared "face grading" to how a trainer of racehorses might study conformation of the "look in the ye" of a colt. I do think that, unconsciously, we're reading the "projection" of an athlete's strength or virility--and maybe also his total "symmetry."

Sulley9 (Denver): After hearing so many stories of people in the past. Is there anyone that sticks out in your mind that you wish you could go back and spend an hour or two with?

Kevin Kerrane: Of all the scouts I met, Ellis Clary was the most entertaining. But Hugh Alexander was the most incisive--and not just about baseball. When he told me about getting his hand cut off in 1938, I said: "You must have thought your world had ended." And he said, "Hey, this was Oklahoma in 1938. " And I thought of the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the world of John Steinbeck's novel. Tjis guys attitude was: I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I'm gonna go out and earn a living and life an interesting life.

LoDoKid (Detroit): There's been an exponential increase of money in baseball since you first examined the business. Can you describe how scouts feel that has changed the process?

Kevin Kerrane: One reason that scouts love the "showcases" for top amateurs is that they thin k it cuts down on bad mistakes in the first round of the draft--and a first-round mistake is a much bigger deal than ever. I think that the money has also led to a lot more energy in pro scouting, looking for bargains among "undervalued" players in other organizations. When I first did the book, scouting forms had a line for money (the dollar sign on the muscle). Now they don't, because bonus decisions have now moved way up the organizational ladder.

Dan Brooks (Providence, RI): The book is loaded up on my kindle and ready for my flight on Monday. Thanks so much for re-releasing it - I'm really looking forward to diving in. 1) In what ways is "Baseball Scouting" different from other forms of categorical expertise, like "Wine Tasting"? 2) I always find that scouts I talk to have a deeper appreciation for what seem like simple fundamentals to those of us who only watch baseball "for fun". Do you think this stems from their personal experience playing (and often, failing at) the game, or their experience seeing so many others with a much wider range of talents (i.e., "amateur to pro", rather than the "only pro" level we tend to see), or some other factor?

Kevin Kerrane: Last question first--The scouts' appreciation of fundamentals comes from their experience as players, but especially as they reflect on their own point of failure. One young scout who never played pro ball, and who got cut from his college team, told me that a mentor counseled him: "Take the failed player in you and remove it from your scouting." That is, learn to look as objectively as you can. And yes, they often get better with age, like wine experts. But unlike wine experts, their mistakes cost serious money. By the way, if you want to read a great short story about wine, look for one by Roald Dahl called "Taste."

Kevin Kerrane: Sorry I have to go. Thanks for the excellent questions. You can reach me at . I appreciate the help from all the folks at BP, especially Ben Lindberg.

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