Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: Portland, Or
Re: So, you wanna be a scout?
Here's an article on a 60-year journey of a Major League Scout:
Mining for gold among corn fields - baseball scout Ellsworth Brown
Sporting News, The, August 6, 2001 by Dave Kindred
Ellsworth Brown is a baseball scout, among the last of his kind.
Raising dust across the Midwest, he figures he has worn out 30 cars since 1946. The latest is a Dodge Intrepid that he says handles well in traffic.
Not that there's much traffic where Brownie goes. He mostly drives through towns hidden between corn fields. "My address? Beason, Illinois, Poverty Row." As to what he's doing: "Got off the road at midnight last night, been out to Iowa, going to Peoria tonight for a Midwest League game."
Such has been the sweet music of a baseball life lived by a man who played with Grover Cleveland Alexander, discovered Bill Madlock, signed Kirby Puckett, and now, 87 years old, beats the bushes for the Twins.
"When I started as a player, you couldn't make any money. Class D ball might promise you $150 a month. But it was 1931 and sometimes they'd pay you and sometimes they'd say, `Get you next month.'
"I was a 5-foot-11, 181-pound first baseman. Good fielder, not much of a hitter. Thing was, I was 17 1/2 years old, and when they told me to report to the Kansas City Triple-A team the next spring, I just went home. I was homesick. Probably a mistake. Should've stayed with it.
"I found some work. Made some money playing summer ball, too. And a few years later, that's how I came to play for Grover Cleveland Alexander's barnstorming team. Somebody said, `Pete Alexander wants you to join his club for the summer.'
"I loved that old man. Everybody said he was a drinker, which he probably was, but some of it was his epilepsy. He was good to me. I played one inning with him pitching. He was 52 years old then, 1939--and he'd gone into the Hall of Fame the year before. Such control he had. Every pitch was right where he wanted it. Four pitches, and I got all three putouts at first base."
Some people get lucky and make a living doing what they love.
Sportswriters do it, bless 'em all. And in 1946 Ellsworth Brown became a baseball scout. Asked to describe his work, he says, "Have fun." Watching games from March to October, driving two-lane roads, floorboards covered with notebooks, Brownie did the job the way it was done by scouts building the major leagues.
Kevin Kerrane's book Dollar Sign on the Muscle: The World of Baseball Scouting quotes the late catcher/manager/scout Birdie Tebbetts on pre-World War II scouts: "They drove all over hell to find ballplayers, and they made final decisions on their own about how valuable the players were, and they competed to sign them. They weren't just leg men; they built ball clubs.... I've been in every seat in baseball, and I'd have to say that the old-time scouts were the most important people I ever came in contact with."
Just last year, Ellsworth Brown signed a player he'd watched from high school through college, Josh Rabe, an 11th-round draft pick now hitting .285 for the Twins' Class A Quad City team. Says Rabe: "Brownie would sit and talk with my parents at all my games. He's such an all-around nice guy."
It was 20 years ago when the scout, old even then, stopped by an Illinois community college to take a look at a short-coupled kid named Kirby Puckett.
"A guy in the Twins' office had seen Puck the year before and liked him but couldn't sign him," Brown says. "When I saw him, Puck was playing third base. To be honest, I thought his arm was going to need work." But he liked the young man's strength and quickness at bat. The Twins chose Puckett third in the first round of the 1982 winter draft.
As to how Brown signed Puckett, the old scout laughs. "Might have been the little extra cash. About $20,000 I gave him."
And on Sunday, Kirby Puckett goes into the Hall of Fame.
"I haven't talked to Puck in years," Brown says. "I'd love to be at Cooperstown for the ceremony. But I don't suppose I could afford it. Too long a drive, anyway, the way I'm feeling. Fell on ice last winter and busted up ribs. Got some Legion tournaments the same time, too, with two, three kids to look at."
Puckett is a scout's good story. Bill Madlock is a better one. In 15 major league seasons, Madlock hit .305 and won four batting championships; only nine hitters have won more. Listen to Ellsworth Brown's song ...
"I'd been down in Southern Illinois, and I was driving home to Beason. Usually I go to Lincoln and back down the highway. This time I took a back road from Decatur through Chestnut, and I saw a ballgame going on right there in Beason.
"Lincoln's Legion club was there against Decatur. It was the last inning. I saw this kid by the name of Bill Madlock swing one time, and I said, `Boy, he's got that quick bat' I went to Lincoln's coach, John West, and said, `How'd that kid do the last time up?' West said, `He reached that fence out there'
"So I got on Madlock from the start. Signed him for the Senators in 1970."
Fifty-five years on the road, wearing out cars, and our hero finds a batting champion five blocks from his house in the middle of corn fields.
Such sweet music.
Rob Neyer: "Any writer who says he'd be a better manager than the worst manager is either 1) lying (i.e. 'using poetic license') or 2) patently delusional. Which isn't to say managers don't do stupid things that you or I wouldn't."