Friday, March 24, 2006

Ace (Part II)


That was all I needed to hear but Goldie persisted. Come to find out the kid was already late for a poker tournament at some frat house. I stood there dumbfounded as he quickly ditched his ball cap in exchange for a lid that endorsed an online poker site. It is my ignorant understanding that the NCAA rules prohibit wagering on the outcomes of sporting events, but when it comes to poker and casino-type games, it is silent. But if he receives any benefits from endorsing that online poker site, I would think that his eligibility could be called into question.

You hear of those people that win some online satellite tournament and are invited to play at some big-shot tournament in person. Many times the company that sponsored the online satellite tournament requires the winner to endorse their website if they wish to play in the big-shot tournament. I wonder if that's the deal here?

Anyhow, our little "Johnny Chan wanna-be" swears that he's well on his way to being a star in Texas Hold'em. He flat out told us that he feels like he can get to the final table in any tournament. If only he had that much confidence in his fastball. He said he learned the game by watching it on ESPN.

I asked him, "Which game? Baseball or poker?" He didn't answer. Of course, I didn't expect him to answer. I'm not interested in a gambler. It's not the type of person I want to put into the organization. Look at the story involving A-Rod. The Yankee's allegedly warned A-Rod to stay away from illegal poker clubs. They obviously were concerned that poker might darken A-Rod's image and that of their organization. And I completely understand. It is not in the best interest of professional baseball to have their players associated with gambling.

Goldie, a crime-boss in the making, completely disagrees with me . . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ace (Part I)


I'm still grinding out signability questionnaires and face-to-face interviews in Georgia. Let's just say that I was at a four-year college to watch a junior pitcher that Goldie flagged as having an abnormally high ground ball to fly ball ratio. Manny had scouted the same kid coming out of high school several years back and saw some potential there as well. So I didn't think it would be a complete waste of my time. After all, the kid was drafted near the 20th round coming out of HS but opted to accept a scholarship with the university instead.

He spent the last two years in and out of the starting rotation. Good new is that he's a proven survivor with a reputation of getting himself out of jams on a regular basis. Bad news is that he finds himself in one too many jams on a regular basis.

Anyhow, when we arrived at the field about an hour before the game, we thought we saw him in the bullpen playing cards. Not a great first impression. Especially since he was penciled-in as the starting pitcher. Sure enough, we watched him take the mound after a lackluster pen.

The righty was your classic breaking ball pitcher. Curves. Sliders. Slurves. All were released from a high three quarters slot with a nasty arc that looped pretty wide. You could tell that he had a high degree of confidence in his break and did not have much difficulty coming inside on R/H batters. On those rare occasions when he did miss, it was in the dirt at 59 feet. He also did an excellent job of mixing in both off-speed and fastballs to maximize deception. His fastball, however, needed the most work. It always seemed to be low and away with below average velocity. A very tentative delivery and hardly ever the same release point. It also seemed that he was only throwing two-seamers which tailed erratically. This is where he needs to improve if he wants to go any further.

But he certainly has the tools to improve. It would, however, take a considerable amount of time for him to obtain enough confidence to come inside on both R/H and L/H batters while increasing his velocity. In other words, he was another project. But after watching him pitch, we both agreed that he was worth the undertaking and stuck around to have a conversation with him.

I can honestly say that our conversation was an experience all in its own. It was the first time that I ever had a player tell me that he was seriously deciding on being a professional poker player instead of pursuing a career in baseball . . .

Monday, March 20, 2006

Signability


Less than four months at the job and Goldie's been given more responsibility. Dare I say a promotion. When DeSear uttered the words more responsibility I almost threw up. Of course, when my sympathetic feelings toward Goldie wore off about ten minutes down the road from the Bankman house, I was fast on the phone with DeSear. I could care less that Goldie was in the van hearing every word. Shoot, I even put DeSear on speaker.

"He's a freaking bird dog for cryin' out loud. He basically promised to pay the kid a $750,000 signing bonus! I can't even do that!"

It was now my opportunity to throw Goldie under the bus and I wasn't going to waste anytime letting DeSear know how I felt. But to my dismay, DeSear was unmoved. In fact, DeSear followed up with, "Do you think he's worth that much?"

As if Goldie did no wrong. I kept trying to go back to how poorly Goldie handled the situation but DeSear refused to go down that road. He kept wanting to zero-in on whether $750,000 was too much.

Goldie leaned over and announced that he was just toying with Shawn's father. That he didn't make any promises and that he simply wanted to see the man's reaction. Afterwhich, he felt like farmer Bob was totally bluffing and that Shawn would probably sign anything from the 5th round or better-- but that he probably wouldn't last later than the 4th round (meaning that a $300,000-$500,000 bonus range was probably more reasonable). According to Goldie, neither Shawn nor his father were seriously looking at any colleges and that Shawn confided in him that he was going pro no matter what.

That was good enough for DeSear.

As for me, Goldie had piqued my curiosity. He's been sandbagging me all this time. This kid wasn't simply all WHIP ratios and on-base percentages. I had to find out what else he had in his bag of tricks.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Balk (Part II)


I tried to set the stage for our discussions but Goldie kept interrupting to ask about Shawn's progress over the last few outings.

And then Goldie turned to the father and asked, "You have to let me know that if we take Shawn in the third round that he'll sign. You need to give me something that I can take back to the club."

Huh? What about me? I'm the scout here. Not him. Who gave him the right to ask this question? I was stunned. It had to be the work of Donald DeSear and Logan Cooper. I couldn't get the air over my vocal cords to cut him off.

Without hesitation the father answered, "Son, you can take him whenever you want. But if he don't git a signing bonus of at least $700,000, he ain't signing. That's what the other fella who just left an hour ago said he'd give us."

That had to be a lie. We were getting played by a cagy cotton farmer. Not only was it high for a third round prospect, no scout would come out and promise a specific dollar amount. Check that . . . at least most scouts would not come out and promise a specific dollar amount. Unfortunately, Goldie fell right into the cotton gin and responded, "Then I guess we'll have to pay him $750,000."

"Works for us," the father stated while extending his hand over to Goldie's as if some sort of deal had been struck.

That was my cue to interrupt. "And I suppose Mr. Bankman that you also shook the other fella's hand who promised the $700,000. Time to go Seth. We've taken enough of this family's valuable time." I got up from the table and made my way through the kitchen. I could hear Goldie apologizing to Shawn and his father as he wheeled himself from the table and followed behind me. My anger towards Goldie turned to rage with each apology given. I couldn't wait to get out to his special van and read him the riot act.

I was moving so fast that I practically took the hinges off their kitchen door. Goldie was struggling to keep up. As soon as he hit the ramp, however, I heard his wheels start to skid. Unfortunately the dampness of the night air lined the wooden ramp with a slippery dew. Although his wheels were locked up, his chair went skidding down the ramp out of control. I was barely able to jump out of the way when he crashed sideways onto the ground throwing him a good six feet from his chair.

I was scared to death. But Goldie immediately began to use his hands to crawl over to his overturned chair. His legs were withered and lifeless. I looked back up at the family expecting some help but all I saw was a smirk coming from the father and then eventually a laugh. The mother also began to laugh and then the kids followed suit. Even Shawn.

My rage towards Goldie was quickly replaced by my rage towards this family. I offered to help Goldie but he quickly dismissed me. He wanted to show everyone he could handle it himself. So there I stood, watching him struggle to upright the chair and to pull himself back up into it. Almost back, his hand suddenly slipped and he fell back to the ground. More laughter and finger pointing. Like they were at the circus or something.

It took me back to a day when I remember my own son falling off his bike and watching the neighborhood kids laugh at him. I ran out of my house so fast to pick him up. He was all bloodied and bruised but nothing could compare to how hurt he was in his heart that his "so-called" friends laughed at him. When he started to cry, I knew it wasn't because of the cuts and scrapes. I was so angry with those kids for laughing at him. And my feelings toward the Bankman's weren't much different.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Balk (Part I)

Goldie and I made the trek over to Albany, Georgia, on Tuesday evening to visit with the area's top high school pitching prospect, Shawn Bankman, and his family. Not even Goldie could ignore the lefty's intimidating 6'4" 200 lb frame with even more room to grow. His four-seamer in the 89-90 mph range will no doubt get quicker. When I saw him in November, he was throwing from a high three-quarters slot, short stride, with little to no scapula loading. Not a lot of movement from his two-seamer or his slider, but just enough to get a miss or two. Excellent opportunity for improvement. Only one problem. There were ten other scouts watching him. The likelihood of us getting this kid was low. Nevertheless, I introduced myself to his father and maybe called him once over the phone. Both were one-way discussions and never an invitation over to the house.

Goldie, on the other hand, gets the invite without a problem. And he did it with text messaging between him and Shawn. As we pulled up to their farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, there were younger kids running all over the place. When Goldie lowered himself out of his special van, I could see them stopping to stare and whisper. He wheeled himself over the grass and up an old wooden ramp leading to a side door which was really their main entrance through the kitchen.

We were greeted by Shawn, or shall I say, Goldie was greeted by Shawn and I was greeted by Buster, the family's golden retriever who stuck his nose pretty much everywhere from my waist down. Of course, Shawn's mother told the dog to stop but like my children, he didn't listen and I kind of got the feeling that the family enjoyed watching me defend myself and my dignity.

We eventually sat down at the dining room table and waited for Shawn's father to join us. Soon enough, the 6'5" 240 lb third-generation cotton farmer exited the bathroom cracking several jokes about lighting a match and slapping Goldie on the back.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Throwin' Grease


85 days until the June draft and I'm stuck in central Georgia listening to Goldie praise the virtues of the WHIP ratio. Quite frankly I'd rather be hunting with Dick Cheney, but I'm trying to have an open mind.

And yes, I did see the three prospects that Goldie had been hounding me to see. All with outstanding WHIP and Strikeout to Walk ratios, according to him. I was somewhat impressed with the movement of one of the pitchers. That was until he began to annoy me with his constant fidgeting. Rubbing his fingers under his cap, touching his face, wiping his brow, scratching his ears, picking his nose, adjusting his cup, and doing it all over again before the next pitch. I swear I was watching Gaylord Perry. In fact, his pitches were moving just like Perry's. Indeed, way too much movement to be legit.

"He's throwing grease," I announced to Goldie, like he would even know what I just said.

"No way, old man," he responded. "It's a hard slider."

I didn't know which was worse. The fact that he just called me an old man or that he was in complete denial of the cheater in his midst. As I was about to lay into him, his cell phone started to beep. I expected him to answer but he simply flipped open his phone and began to read something.

"Aren't you going to answer it?" I asked.

He sighed like he was trying to tell me that I'm a couple generations behind the technology curve. He showed me the screen of his cell phone. It was a text message that read, "7 pm tomorrow okay? Shawn."

It didn't make too much sense to me until Goldie explained that Shawn was none other than the area's top high school pitching prospect, Shawn Bankman. And that we have an appointment to discuss signability issues with him and his parents tomorrow at their home in Albany. Apparently Goldie's been trying to have an open mind as well. This should be interesting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bottom of the Ninth (Part II)

Thankfully he didn't fly-in to just talk to me. He had an early dinner arranged with several other owners to discuss what can only be described as important matters. Given the weather conditions up north, I could certainly understand why some of the owners would be flocking to either Arizona or Florida to check out the opening games of Spring Training.

"Where's all your stuff?" he asked after crushing his cigarette into an ashtray that resembled a catcher's mitt.

"What stuff?" I responded knowing full well what he was asking for.

Mr. Hunt smiled. He went on to let me know that Logan and DeSear were on their way here to fire me but that he stopped them. I believe he called them a bunch of whining tattle tales just looking for an excuse to hammer me, no matter how trivial the issue. And that he's been the only thing standing between them and me having to look for other employment opportunities.

He even called Logan a young arrogant punk. But that he ultimately hired Logan for all the right reasons. And if I could paraphrase Mr. Hunt, it would go something like this - I'm not a philanthropist. I'm a businessman who likes to win and turn a profit. Pure and simple. And Logan's looking to build a team that will give me the most wins for the dollars I want to invest. He gets it. But what I also know is that he's not a baseball person. He's never played the game competitively. Oh sure he knows baseball theory but he doesn't know the more practical things that can make or break a professional ball club. That's where you come in.

The tools and intangibles that you spend so much time trying to detect are something that Logan does not and cannot fully appreciate. Yet, you do not fully appreciate the analytical process of performance scouting which has incredible merit from an efficiency point of view. What they do is more objective and concrete. They can analyze someone's performance numbers and decide what they're willing to pay for those numbers. Much like the way things are done in the real business world. When I decide to buy a company, I spend countless hours breaking apart the financials to see what its worth. But if you think about it, that's only part of the equation when valuing a company. The other part is what I call the forward-looking part. And you just can't assume past performance will equal future performance. You really need to spend a great deal of time thinking about the company's future potential and what you would be willing to pay for that potential.

You see Cutter, anybody can break apart financials and past performance. That's the easy part. But only the best can go the extra step to accurately predict a company's potential and ultimately determine its true worth. That's the more subjective part. The forward-looking part. The speculative part. That's where the big deals are either made or broken. And it's a good thing that past performance does not always predict future performance. Because if it did, there would be no opportunities to speculate and make a killing.

What you do Cutter is subjective and at times, very speculative. You and the other senior scouts are my forward-looking part. In my mind, we will never win a World Series Championship until both the past and future come together to eventually put the best team on the field in the present. I just can't hire Logan to get the best past performers. And I just can't hire guys like you to get the best future prospects. I need both elements. I need both of you to work together if we are ever going to win a World Series Championship. And let's face it, I'm not getting any younger. Are you with me?

With that said, we shook hands and I vowed to work more closely with my performance scouting counterparts. Needless to say, I'm up here in Macon, Georgia this evening getting ready to look at Goldie's three prospects that he accused me of refusing to look at.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bottom of the Ninth (Part I)


Twelve o'clock sharp came and went as I sat patiently in the lobby of the Tampa International Jet Center. After about fifteen minutes, a nice young lady approached me and asked if I was Maxwell Jones. Her question took me back about thirty years. A question like that probably happened several times a week during my playing days. People just wanting autographs or maybe a picture or two.

But to this young lady at the Jet Center, I was just another face with a name. She let me know that their flight was inbound on final approach and that she would escort me out to their aircraft once it was parked.

It wasn't too long before a Boeing Business Jet emblazoned with the team logo on the tail rolled up to the terminal. A linesman guided the high performance Boeing 737 to a parking spot and then quickly chocked the nose wheel. Within seconds, a truck mounting a long flight of stairs pulled up to the aircraft door. Not wanting to face the music, I began to plan my escape route. But a sudden tap on my shoulder brought me back to reality and before I knew it, the nice young lady had me walking out onto the tarmac toward my twisted fate.

She stayed at the bottom of the stairs while I began my trek upward. About half way up I made the mistake of looking back only to find her waving goodbye as if I were on some sort of death march. How could she know anything? Anyhow, I turned my attention back to climbing the stairs. As the aircraft door popped open, I was nearly blinded by the sun reflecting off a set of large gold initials A-T-H affixed to the outside of the door. There was someone who looked like a flight attendant motioning me inside. Her smile was phony and completely void of any feeling. Things only got worse.

I expected to see Logan and DeSear but they were nowhere to be found. The woman with the fake smile led me past a spacious area that looked like a family room, then past a conference room with a large table, and eventually towards a door with the initials A-T-H.

"He will see you now," she said as the door opened automatically.

He? What happened to they? I walked into the dark smoke-filled room as the lady closed the door behind me. I could barely make out a desk and someone seated behind it. I stumbled closer to focus my eyes on the person's face. Red embers glowed from the end of a cigarette as the person inhaled. I still couldn't make out who it was. I tried to draw closer but I ran into a chair that was in front of the desk. It was at that point that I saw the person reach over to a lamp and turn it on. I rubbed my eyes just to make sure they weren't playing tricks on me. I stood in complete disbelief and utter shock.

It was none other than Angus T. Hunt-- the owner of the club.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Change Up

Where is everybody? I can't get a hold of Doc. Stat boy and PC geek aren't calling me back. But then again, what else is new. I did find it strange, however, that someone from the front office called me this morning. I didn't recognize the woman's voice but the number on my cell phone did match up with the front office number so I know it wasn't a prank. She told me to go to the Tampa International Jet Center instead of the main terminal and reminded me that I was to be there at 12:00 noon sharp.

Odd that someone in the front office was working on Saturday, but I guess even those 9 to 5 folks have to work a weekend or two every now and then. And it was also odd that I was being asked to go to the general aviation terminal instead of where the commercial airlines load and unload passengers. DeSear hardly ever get's to take a ride in the charter fleet. Logan does it all the time, but DeSear? Almost never.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Run Down


Today was supposed to be a travel day to Georgia but due to my conversation last night with Donald DeSear, I was instructed to remain in Tampa and cease all scout related travel. Both he and GM, Logan Cooper, were already planning to fly into Tampa International on Sunday to watch some of the Grapefruit League action. Only now I get to be part of their busy weekend agenda. Little ol' me. Apparently they've even reserved a conference room inside the airport hotel for all of us to meet at noon.

And get this-- I'm to bring my laptop and all hardcopies of scouting reports, prospect notes, and video that I've generated over the last year. DeSear also wanted me to bring the old three-ring binders that Manny had put together for the Georgia and South Carolina prospects.

When I asked why I'm to bring all this stuff, he simply responded that, "We just need to review what you're doing for us. Soup to nuts. All of it. " I called Toby Bradford, my old boss, and he said that it sounded like they're going to fire me. Gee, you think? I then called Manny and he said that's the same thing DeSear told him the day before he was fired. Once he arrived at the review meeting they immediately took all his stuff and then told him to not let the door hit him on the way out. I called the Doc but for some reason he's not returning my calls. Maybe I'm just getting paranoid for no reason, but I would really be more comfortable if the Doc made that diagnosis rather than me.

It goes without saying that I had a hard time sleeping last night. Of course, when I did catch a wink or two, I kept finding myself in a dark boardroom with who else but The Donald. He kept pointing his finger at me. His lips suddenly began to move in slow motion but nothing was coming out. Unfortunately for me, I could still make out what he was saying. Any guesses?

No matter what, I've decided not to bring a darned thing to the meeting. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. If they want my laptop (well, I guess it's really their laptop-- they gave it to me in the first place) good luck in trying to get it back. All of my notes, reports, and videos are priceless. I wouldn't know where to begin with trying to put a dollar value on that stuff. Good luck getting that too.

I keep telling myself that I'm probably getting paranoid for no reason. They're probably just going to tear me apart and force me to do more with Goldie and Carson. 31 years in the business. It's gotta count for something. I sure wish Doc was around.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Pick Off Attempt


I barely heard my cell phone vibrating on the hotel night stand. Somehow I woke up. In a daze, I fumbled my hands on top of the night stand only to knock the phone onto the floor. Without thinking, I prodded my fingers over the grungy hotel room carpet in hopes that the phone would magically appear in the darkness. The good news was that I quickly found the phone before the caller hung-up. The bad news was that I quickly found the phone before the caller hung-up.

When the national scouting director calls you at 6:15 a.m. to ask about three prospects in Georgia that you've never heard of, chances are that the rest of your phone call isn't going to help your standing with the organization. Not to mention that Donald DeSear was already sitting at his desk in Texas when he called. That's 5:15 a.m. his time. I could tell he was loaded with at least one pot of coffee and ready to rip me from one end to the other.

I tried to deflect his questions by saying that I was headed to Georgia this weekend and that there was a good chance that Goldie had already set it up for me to see those guys. But of course, he didn't.

"No, Goldie already sent me the list of players that he plans to show you this weekend and during the next week. What I'm talking about are the three prospects that you refused to look at."

Unfortunately, it was all coming back to me. Freaking Goldie. Going behind my back to stick it to me. We simply ran out of time and I had to get back to Florida to catch a tournament. I told him that I would take a raincheck on seeing the players but when I saw that Manny had no notes whatsoever on them, I figured they too were loser prospects just like his can't miss first baseman who doubled for the Pillsbury doughboy. I never got back to him to reschedule.

DeSear then proceeded to grill me for the next 30 minutes on being a team player. I don't know how much longer I can put up with this nonsense. But that's not all. He's going to call me later this evening once both he and Logan Cooper decide on some form of corrective action. This ought to be good. I wonder if I'll get the paddle?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Left Stranded (Part II)

Just to continue my previous post, Donnie McLaughlin is no stranger to juvenile detention. No stranger to courtrooms, judges, and attorneys. No stranger to having his Miranda rights read to him. And obviously no stranger to tattoo and piercing shops.

But as Carson will quickly point-out, he's an incredible talent that will no doubt excel at the next level. Easily a top 5 round pick. He's made it through the first semester of junior college with just enough GPA to keep him on the playing field. No arrests since he turned 18 years old last October. To him it's glaringly obvious that he's turned it around and is headed in the right direction. We'd be crazy not to draft him.

I call this condition of Carson's, Five-Tool Blindness. Simply put, you're blinded by the five-tools and their superiority. You don't want to look at anything else. You spend countless hours trying to find someone of his caliber and when you find him, a little voice inside starts to convince you that he's turned away from his checkered past and all will be just fine and dandy going forward.

You see, under his tilted cap and countless tattoos and body piercings, is a boy who just doesn't get it. He mopes around between pitches. Slumbers his way into and out of center between innings. He looks lazy. Disinterested. Arrogant. But when he wants to turn it on he most certainly does. You have to wonder how good he would really be if he always kept it on.

But then comes the issue of controlled substances. Two of his arrests were for possession.

"So what? Put him in rehab from the get go," announces Carson, still blinded.

I can't help but shake my head. Just ask the D-Rays about Josh Hamilton, the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. And the list could go on and on. I asked Carson a simple question. If he was with the D-Rays front office back in 1999 and actually knew of Hamilton's issues (I'm not saying that the D-Ray's knew anything), would've he rather drafted Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets, or Barry Zito, instead of taking a $3.96 million dollar chance on Hamilton? Beckett, Sheets, and Zito were all drafted in the first round in 1999. Of course, the question was completely unfair but I just wanted Carson to start thinking about risk management and building a team with an eye towards character. And I recognize my question can totally be turned back on me with other players like Mickey Mantle, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, etc. Questionable characters can win ballgames and World Series titles.

But I'm not ready yet to throw seven figures, six figures, or any figures at a kid with questionable character. Let me put it this way, I'm not willing to risk my job on it. I can hear the coaches in our minor-league system thanking me profusely for drafting such a problem child. The chances of failure are just too great. I'll move on and find another five-tooler. Take a longer-term perspective. A perspective that would honor the game. In the long-run, the game will thank us.

And after that monologue Carson says plainly, "So how about we look at taking him in the 40th round or later?"

"Or later," I respond.