My favorite Red Sox year: 1958
My favorite Red Sox baseball year was 1958.
At age 13 I still had some baseball dreams, those would soon fade, but I managed to get to about thirty games at Fenway and it was an experience.
The Red Sox of 1958 were a good team, but not a great one. They finished third in an eight team, pre-expansion, league.
You had a sprinkle of stars starting with Ted Williams. Jackie Jensen was the league MVP that season. Jim Piersall dazzled defensively in CF. Frank Malzone won a Gold Glove. They had some talent, but not enough.
Attending the games I met an usher who befriended me. His kindness was to occasionally sit me with the scouts and that was an experience in baseball education 101.
The scouts were behind home plate. Close, but still far enough away to monitor pitching. The group would change series to series except for the Red Sox contingent. They knew each other from playing days to competing for talent to now being an information conduit.
"No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined. – Paul Gallico"
Occasionally a scout would wander down towards first base isolating himself from the pack. I was informed that it was merely a way of observing the catcher.
Being around adults I knew the drill. Keep your mouth shut and speak when spoken too. I would listen and occasionally be engaged in conversation when one wished to so honor me.
The scouts that were assigned to major league games were not the hoi polli of scouting. Most had managed to advance up the scouting food chain so that beating the bushes was just a distant memory. No more dusty back roads to witness a semi-pro or high school team play in a weed infested lot with a rock strewn infield. MLB was the big time.
The scouts at the MLB level had the connections. They would often report directly to the General Manager and bypass the Director of Scouting. They were seasoned veterans of baseball.
The scouts usually were in advance of their team. That was, to them, a “Two-‘fer,” meaning you see two teams and not your own. I am sure information was gathered and sent down the information highway (telephone) about any flaws they saw in both teams, injuries, who was hot and who was not and any other bits of information that could be garnered for future use – especially trades.
"Baseball fans love numbers. They love to swirl them around their mouths like Bordeaux wine. – Pat Conroy"
The scouts had three basic pieces of equipment: A gun, radar of course, a stopwatch and a self-created rubric. I could add a fourth – a flask.
The rubric, I later applied them to education, were unique in design. As with scoring each scout had his own ‘system” for grading and making notations. Today when I look at metrics I can see the same used, to some extent, back almost 60 years ago. Even a spray chart.
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The gun was a fascinating piece of equipment and quite often only one was visible. Why should everyone have one? Simply put them away and assign the task by some type of convoluted means to just one person. His assignment was group information.
“Charlie (or hook) down (or hanging or side) at 87.” That was how a curve was described. Type and speed. Curves in baseball lingo are “Uncle Charlie or “hook” and the break was either down, to the side or the worst possible – hanging.
“He told me that Capone drove a Cadillac and killed people. Williams drives a Cadillac and kills pitchers.”
“Nickel” at 89 was the designation for a slider. The slider was often referred to as “A nickel curve,” hence the call sign.
“Number one” at 92. That should be self-explanatory. Number one was always the fastball.
Each scout had their own glossary to describe players. When I hear Dennis Eckersley talk about “Cheese” or any other of his expressions it all comes back.
One scout used the term “Betty” to describe a player. I found out his sister was called Betty and she could never hit a baseball or a softball. To him a weak bat was a “Betty.”
Another scout called Ted Williams “Capone.” Why?
He told me that Capone drove a Cadillac and killed people. Williams drives a Cadillac and kills pitchers.
Some scouts were stoic and others were chatterboxes. They would talk to anyone including me.
One scout told me about the “Greatest player he ever played against” – Buzz Arlett. Look him up and take a peek at a performer who could hit a ton and win 20 games. He would give a running commentary on the Pacific Coast League in the 1920s and 1930s and why it was the equal to MLB.
"Baseball is a dull game for only those with dull minds. – Red Barber"
More about TSW.
In 1958 Williams was just about done. At the end of the season his batting average had dropped 60 points from the previous season, yet he still won a batting title hitting .328, beating out teammate Pete Runnels on the last week of the season.
When Williams came to bat all action stopped. This was like a visit to the Oval Office with the President or attending a personal Mass with the Pope. Batting royalty. Everyone savored every swing.
One scout I spoke to use to love speed. His stop watch was his best friend. He claimed Mickey Mantle, batting left-handed, got to first quicker than anyone he had ever seen. Rant he would about how the American League needed to play “colored ball.” Yes, this was the 50s.
The scout had played against Blacks back before baseball grew up. Said he had barnstormed back in the 1930s and would reel off names of great players he had played against. A few names stuck and when I got into baseball history and eventually paid a visit to the Negro League Museum in Kansas City some memories vividly came back.
"I don’t care how long you’ve been around, you’ll never see it all. – Bob Lemon"
Scouts had full access to the resources they cherished most – food and drink. During the games beer vendors would wander into the area and a brew would be available – gratis. The empty cup would also provide a handy spittoon. This was Fenway in 1958 a big cigar was a standard for many. Smoking was allowed.
1958 was a lesson for me in baseball. I had a group that all had Ph.D’s in baseball. I was told the importance of the little things and not necessarily spend too much time focusing on the stars. What does a Nellie Fox do that makes him special? Why is the Yankees Gil McDougald so important to his team despite the shine from the other stars. Watching the infield signs dictating pitch. As one scout claimed “There are 18,000 situations you have to react to without thinking.”
When I attend the occasional game in the Cape Cod League I’ll try to sit as close as possible to the scouts. The vocabulary may have changed a bit but the intent is the same. You get the chance at a college game or even a pro game try it. It is a special baseball world.
“Dollar Sign On The Muscle” has been revised into an updated edition. This is the premier book on scouting and one of the best baseball reads I have ever had.