SABR

Scouting Jack Doyle

This article was written by Neal Mackertich.

Among the top scouts, few have possessed as varied a background and perspective as John Joseph (Jack) Doyle. During his remarkable 71 years in the game, Doyle performed as a front-line player and captain, major- and minor-league player-manager, National League umpire, minor-league club owner, and as the head scout of the Chicago Cubs during their run of five National League pennants between 1929 and 1945.

Doyle was born October 25, 1869, in Killorglin, Ireland. During his playing days, “Dirty Jack” Doyle was a highly talented, aggressive run-producer with an equal penchant for clutch hits and temperamental outbursts. Doyle was an absolute terror on the basepaths, stealing 518 bases in his career (as of 2011 30th all-time) while averaging .299 with 100 RBIs, 101 runs, 33 doubles, seven triples, and 53 stolen bases per 162 games over the course of his 17-year playing career. Some say his nickname derived from his uniform always being dirty; others point to his desire to win at all costs. Both appear to be contributors.

Even in a meaningless exhibition game during his heyday with the notorious Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s, Dirty Jack slid face-first into all four bases on one trip around the diamond. Doyle himself said, “I was a hard base-runner. You had to be those days. It wasn’t a matter of being rough or dirty. With the dead ball, games were won by very small margins. As a result, a stolen base meant more than it does today. It often meant the difference between victory and defeat. And my base-running was for just one purpose: to win.”1

Creative in his attempts to gain any advantage, Jack was once reprimanded by the National League (while catching for the Giants) for dropping pebbles into the heel area of batters’ shoes as they leaned forward to swing, only to discover the discomfort as they attempted to run the bases. An edge to be gained was to be taken.

After bird-dogging as a scout for various clubs, including both crosstown Chicago rivals, Doyle became the Cubs’ head scout in 1920. It was a great run as the Cubs won pennants in 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945. Doyle has been personally credited with signing the core Cubs players who produced those pennants, including Gabby Hartnett, Billy Herman, Billy Jurges, Phil Cavarretta, Guy Bush, Bill Lee, Augie Galan, Charley Root, and Stan Hack, and with the acquisition of other exposed or released talents including Hack Wilson, Riggs Stephenson, and Bill Nicholson. At first glance it may be hard to picture how such a hard-nosed, rebellious player with Dirty Jack Doyle’s reputation could end up having such an effective career as a top scout. But there are several key attributes that enabled his success.

In addition to understanding the game from multiple perspectives, Jack Doyle was a shrewd evaluator of talent, extremely well connected, open-minded to all styles of play, a charismatic storyteller, and a man who remained young at heart. Many a front-line player has struggled in the scouting business, for a variety of reasons. For one, knowing how to personally play the game and why players are successful can be a contradictory set of skills. Another is a tendency to rigidly cling to the style of play that was successful during their own playing career. Others simply cannot make connections across generational gaps. Jack Doyle excelled in each of these critical areas.

Time and time again, Jack Doyle was able to identify something in a player that would enable his future success that others missed. Examples of this include his signing of future Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett after fellow Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett (scouting for John McGraw and the Giants) passed up the opportunity because his hands were too small. Doyle noted that Hartnett had “a strong puss” (maybe an example of the “Good Face”) and liked the way he didn’t back down on contact plays at the plate.

Doyle jumped on Bill Nicholson after the A’s traded him to the Nationals, from whom the Cubs acquired him. It was also upon Doyle’s recommendation that the Cubs acquired one of their greatest sluggers in Hack Wilson after the Giants failed to protect him against the draft. Hack Wilson’s swing-big and miss-big style could not have been more different than Jack Doyle’s inside-baseball playing days. Yet, Doyle was able to see beyond his own original paradigm and envision Wilson’s potential.

While his baseball intuition served him well, Jack Doyle was known to be very thorough in his analysis of a potential prospect. Doyle would typically observe a prospect closely over a period of time and across various situations before reaching judgment as to his major-league potential. An example of this involves outstanding third baseman Stan Hack. Well aware that playing under the arc lights of the Pacific Coast League was quite different than playing during the day, Doyle sanctioned the acquisition of Hack only after judging his play across five weeks of Sunday afternoon games.

Jack Doyle never took himself or his role too seriously. Cubs president Bill Veeck, Sr. once wired Doyle to head down to Fort Worth and take a look at a real prospect named George Washington. Doyle thought he was being kidded and telegraphed back: “Your wire received. Shall I detour via Springfield and catch Abe Lincoln?” His sense of humor served him well when connecting with others. How much fun would it have been to be a fly on the wall with characters such as Dirty Jack and the Veeck family?

Young at heart, the aging and feisty Doyle still liked to mix it up with the players. The essence of this is nicely captured by Peter Golenbock in his description of a late-night spring training poker game involving Gabby Hartnett, Doyle, and rookie Phil Cavarretta. After Cavarretta bluffed his way into a big final pot with only a pair of jacks to Doyle’s three kings, a still-fuming Doyle took the kid aside and said, “You only had a pair of jacks? ... I could kill you. … Young man, you’re a young player. … We got good reports on you. … If you play baseball the way you play poker, you’re going to be an all-star.”

Even into his 80s, Doyle regularly traveled south for spring training, providing input for the Cubs, the game in general (“it’s improved tremendously, just about everything has gotten better - pitching, infield play, and hitting”), and participating in various first- and last-pitch events (the Orioles’ return to Baltimore and the Giants’ last game at the Polo Grounds).

John Joseph Doyle died of heart failure on December 31, 1958, at the age of 89 in his hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts. He is buried at St. Jerome Cemetery in Holyoke. Active in the game to the end, Jack Doyle was employed by the Cubs as either their head scout or as a scout/adviser for the final 38 years of his life. Doyle, a native of Ireland who immigrated to Holyoke as a young boy, is honored annually by the Irish League in its awarding of the Dirty Jack Doyle Silver Slugger Award.

In addition to the signings previously mentioned, Doyle is credited with signing Clyde Beck, Sheriff Blake, Pat Malone, Barney Olsen, and Bruce Cunningham.

 

Sources

James Bready, Baseball in Baltimore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1998.

Bill Felber, A Game of Brawl. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Peter Golenbock, Wrigleyville. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.

Paul Green, Forgotten Fields. Wisconsin: Parker Publications, 1984.

Jack Doyle file, A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Bill James, Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Abstract. New York: The Free Press, 2001.

Jack Kavanagh and Norman Macht, Uncle Robbie. New York: SABR, 1999.

Pete Palmer, The 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. New York: Sterling, 2005.

Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of Their Times. New York: Macmillan & Company, 1966.

Mike Shatzkin, The Ballplayers. New York: Arbor House William Morrow, 1990.

Alan Schwarz, The Numbers Game. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

  • 1. The Sporting News, January 14, 1959
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