Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Know When to Walk Away...
2008-07-01 09:54
by Alex Belth


Here is a nice vignette from Mark Winegardner's book about the legendary scout Tony Lucadello, "Prophet of the Sandlots."  (For more on Lucadello, check out Gare Joyce's terrific e-ticket piece.) The following took place at a Michigan-Michigan State game on a chilly spring day in 1988.

"That's the hardest part about scouting here in the mid-west territory," Tony said through the scarf. "The weather. Up here they play half as many games as the teams do in places like Florida and California, places like that. Up here, too, the weather we get for teh high school and college seasons--in March and April and early May--is just dreadful. Sometimes you can go days without getting a ball game in, but yet you have to keep trying so that you're ready for the draft in June." Tony gestured toward the Michigan shortstop, an aggressive, good-fielding player with mediocre body control. "That's why scouting's a year-round job. I've seen this young man since he was a sophomore up at Bay City Western High School, over in Linwood, Michigan. I already have an opinion about him, and now I just check in to see if anything's improved. But if I don't see him, I still have something to go on."

I nodded, blue-lipped and shivering. The wind had picked up and tiny flecks of hail stung my cheeks. Before leaving Virginia to joint Tony, I'd been wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Now, in a sweatwuit and down vest, I was able to quote whole paragraphsw from "To Build a Fire."

"We'll leave after this inning," Tony said.

I wanted to kiss him but feared he'd offered to leave for the sake of my pathetic blue lips. "Are you sure? It's okay with me if we stay. I'm fine, really. Do you want som hot chocolate?"

"You can take some with you," Tony said. "We have to go. I can see Abbott pitch another time."

Michigan tood the field in the bottom of the sixth, and I closed my eyes and wished for three quick groundouts.

"Back in the early fifties when I was just a young scout, I was at a high school game in Portsmouth, Ohio. It was a cold, brutal day, colder than this. I was in some rickety bleachers, and here comes this guy up to me and he says, 'You mind if I sit here, young man?' And I said I'd appreciate it. He introduced himself. It was Branch Rickey, Sr., who, of course, had owned the Cardinals when I played, and this high school game was in his hometown."

The first batter struck out.

"Well, Mr. Rickey sat there with me for about three innings, and the wind just blew harder and harder. He turned to me and he said, 'Have you seen anything out there that impressed you? Have you seen any talent?'

"'No, I haven't.'

"'Well, what are you doing here?'

"'I don't know,' I says."

The second batter lined out to third.

"I was just a young scout, see, and I thought I had to stay for the whole game to be doing my job. But on the way out to the parking lot, Mr. Rickey put his arm around me and told me just the opposite. 'Don't ever stay. If there's nothing there, go home.'"

The third batter, one of the players Tony had come to see, hit a fly ball to the warning track in center field.

Tony put his hand on my shoulder. "Go get that hot chocolate," he said. "I'll warm up the car."

You can order Prophet of the Sandlots, here.

2008-07-01 11:01:20
1.   cult of basebaal
hmmm ... michigan ... abbot ... pitching ... was this perhaps, jim abbot, who pitched for michigan and was drafter in 1988???
2008-07-01 11:19:26
2.   Alex Belth
Yup, that was Jim Abbott alright.

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