Gib Bodet: National Cross Checking

This article was written by Gib Bodet

This article was published in the Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession


Scouts Book Front CoverCross-checkers, called regional scouting supervisors by some clubs, work a level between that of the area scout and scouting director. Most organizations now have three to four cross-checkers, each covering a territory – like the East Coast. They work in both directions, being directed by the scouting director to scout certain players and following up on the better players in the area scout’s region. Some clubs

have a layer between the regional cross-checkers and the scouting director. This role is usually called the National Cross Checker. One such national cross checker is longtime SABR member Gib Bodet. Gib graciously recorded his thoughts on cross-checking for use in this book on September 5, 2009.

 

I have been scouting about 40 years, cross-checking about 16, and these are observations based on my experiences in terms of cross-checking, to offer some concept of what cross-checkers do.

Cross-checking is essentially a flawed system but is still the best system I know of to try to rate the players. In essence cross-checkers are scouts who see the players who, in theory, are considered the best prospects of any given year, the high-school, college, and junior-college players.

Without cross checking, a team would essentially be stuck with a system that looks at reports to see who has the highest grade — but scouts don’t grade players the same way. Even looking at established major-league players, different evaluators will rate players differently. It’s a fact of life, as old as the game itself.

National cross checking reared its ugly head close to 20 years ago. The way the system worked, it was kind of a very … it wasn’t a set in stone situation. Occasionally, a front-office individual would come out — usually the scouting director — and look at your top prospects. They didn’t spend a great deal of time; they couldn’t look at very many guys, maybe only four or five.

Clubs began to add a number of national cross checkers; some have two cross checkers, some have three and on occasion some have just one. The variation depends on how active the scouting director is and how involved he gets in scouting the so-called premium players in the country.

It’s a flawed system. No matter what level you’re scouting, the more looks you get at a player, the better your chances for making a good determination on where this youngster should be drafted and where he should be selected.

Good cross-checking goes hand in hand with good area scouting. If you don’t have good area scouts, the cross-checker is not going to mean a hoot in hell because he is being asked to see the best players. If the area scout does not identify who the best player is in his area or who the best prospect is, you’re going to have some problems. A cross-checker can’t manufacture the players. A cross-checker can only report on the area scout’s recommendations.

Let’s look at the 1988 Dodgers draft. That year’s draft produced two rookies of the year. One was Eric Karros, who was probably the sixth kid we picked, and the last player, which I believe was number 62, was Mike Piazza. He became Rookie of the Year. I believe there were four other players in that draft that became major leaguers. (Editor’s note: Actually, seven others made the majors from that Dodgers draft.)

We picked four players ahead of Karros; we thought they were better prospects at that point in time. To a degree that tells you that the system has bumps in the road. You’re dealing with the unknown, of course. And that’s the difficult part of scouting. No two players develop at exactly the same rate. Very, very few players develop to the maximum, based on their potential. That’s just a matter of record. You can’t look at it any other way. Very, very few reach their potential. George Brett was selected in the second round. Fred Lynn was selected in the second round. George Brett is a Hall of Famer. And Fred Lynn was a very fine player, the first to win both Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player in the same season.

If you do any kind of study in all of sports you’re going to find exceptions. John Unitas … I can recall an experience I had years ago. I went into the service at the same time as a good pal of mine I had played ball with as a kid. I was in a little bit longer than he was. I remember he had just got out of the service and I was home on leave.

This was during the 1950s. He was very excited about the fact he had gotten a TV set. He was very interested in pro football and he liked to bet a dollar or two. He invited me over to his home. We were going to watch a pro football game, the Baltimore Colts.

I asked him, I said “Norm, are you going to bet on the game?” “No, I don’t think we have much of a chance in this game. I don’t know how close you follow it, Gib. Baltimore has a great young quarterback by the name of George Shaw. He’s one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL and he’s hurt. And they got to play some backup guy. They don’t have much of a chance.”

I’ll never forget this. We watched the game and Baltimore won. The backup quarterback was a guy by the name of John Unitas. George Shaw became sort of a footnote after John Unitas showed up.

Unitas had had a great college career. I think he was selected by the Steelers initially and he was cut and he was playing on a semipro football team getting paid, I don’t know, 8 or 10 dollars a game. The Rooney brothers, who were sons of the great old owner of the Steelers, had seen him play and they went to their dad and said we drafted this guy and he’s playing semipro football and he could help us. I guess the senior Rooney said, “Well, you know, our guys didn’t think that much of him.” Somewhere along the line, I don’t know if they had a taxi squad or whatever the case was but I guess he was re-signed and somehow or another was dealt over to the Baltimore Colts.

There is a flaw in every system for sure. National cross-checking doesn’t eliminate any of those questions but it creates a program which has as many experienced guys who have been in scouting over a period of time make judgments as to who the best players are. My experience is that the same clubs repeatedly make overall good selections.

I came to the Dodgers over 30 years ago. Beforehand, I’d worked for the Tigers and the Expos and the Angels among others … Kansas City and so on, and I was fortunate that all of those clubs had a very keen eye for young talent. They were selecting good players. They were feeding their system with good young players.

Are all the clubs equal in terms of their ability to judge young players? Obviously not, any more than they’re the same on the field. You have to look at prior experience and prior results. Atlanta is a very impressive outfit in terms of their ability to scout young talent; I believe at one point they had 14 division championships. Atlanta retools constantly and feeds young players into their major-league club. That’s always impressed me.

Between the late 1970s and 1996 the Dodgers produced nine rookies of the year. I’m quite proud of the fact I had something to do with three of them. Todd Hollandsworth, Karros, and Mike Piazza. That doesn’t diminish what others have done. When you look around major-league baseball, you see the Jeters and the Wainwrights and the Carpenters. Albert Pujols. Incredibly, Albert was picked in the 13th round. But the point is: He was still picked by the Cardinals. Others could have picked him, but they didn’t. It seems to me the same clubs have essentially have had very good results.

When I joined the Dodgers, they had that long-term running infield there of Cey, Garvey, Russell, and Lopes. All drafted. Let’s see. Cey was a college guy from Washington State. Garvey was from Michigan State. Russell was a high-school player and [Davey] Lopes was drafted out of junior college.

The 1968 draft historically has to go down as one of the great drafts – probably the greatest draft ever. It produced a whole slew of big-league players. Bobby Valentine was one. Bill Buckner was another. Garvey was in that draft. Cey was in that draft. Tom Paciorek was in that draft. I’m leaving out others for sure. [Editor’s note: Davey Lopes and Geoff Zahn were drafted by the Dodgers in that year’s January secondary phase draft. Doyle Alexander, a major-league player for other clubs, and Joe Ferguson were also in that draft.] Good organizations repeat and good organizations are sprinkled with a lot of very fine scouts; some area guys, some supervisory personnel – which is just a fancy name for cross-checkers that work their part of the country – West Coast, Midwest, or East Coast.

There have been a lot of very fine players produced through the system. The toughest part is to say when you look at the player, how quick is this guy going to develop? Is he going to develop to the maximum extent? There are a whole lot of bumps in the road for a young player. Professional baseball offers a lot of instruction. Some of it manifests itself to the nth degree when the player becomes a front-line guy. Some of it works out that the player becomes a major leaguer but he’s not a special player and so on.

Some of the sharpest baseball minds that I know in the game are very good in one phase of the game but mediocre in the other. I’ve seen guys who were excellent scouts in terms of evaluating front-line talent but they’re not very good in evaluating raw talent. Of course some are very good in every possible phase of the game. And those in my judgment represent the very best that scouting has to produce.

At this point it would be worthwhile to explain what some of the general routine is when you are a national cross-checker. You start usually in the month of January and it runs through about the tail end of May. You crisscross the country in every possible direction and you try to see the players that are rated the highest by your area scouts.

We have 20 or 22 guys in the field that cover different parts of the country. There’s a lot of driving. If you are the national guy, you fly a lot, maybe 100,000 miles in the course of a year. I figured it out at one point the miles I’ve driven and the miles I’ve flown over the years I’ve scouted. It’s unbelievable when you get down to it. You probably drive each year as much or more than some guys who drive a truck for a living.

I remember one period – I think it was two years ago – I was out on a cross-checking junket and I was out for 24 days around the country. And then during that period of time I had been in something like 22 different airports. One of the problems you have is scheduling young pitching. You don’t find probable pitchers announced the way you do in the major leagues. High-school and college kids pitch … usually in college your top pitcher on a given college team works on a Friday. But your scout may not be that high on him, he might like the kid that usually works on Sunday. And then what happens when you have three guys, one in Dallas, one in New York, and one in Los Angeles pitching on the same day?

You can’t obviously see the three of them. That’s one of the problems you have in trying to fit the high-school and college schedule into your schedule where you have different time zones and the rest. It is very, very difficult. Then when you add to that weather problems in the spring and very early parts of the winter it becomes a real zoo trying to dodge bad weather and to see top players.

There are a few individuals who don’t have a great deal of experience. But for the most part national guys are experienced scouts. Of course they should be. You’d better be a good evaluator and you’d better be resilient in your ability to run around the country because it is a considerable grind.

One of the most difficult issues to determine when you so-call “flash scout” a player is: Did you see him on a good day? That issue comes up occasionally. A scout will be high on a player in the field. An area guy will say, boy, I really like this guy. He’s a position guy and you go in there and see him bat four times and strike out three and pop up once and kick a groundball or whatever. The area scout might say, well, you didn’t see him good. He’s better than that. Everybody has a bad day and you saw him on a bad day.

That’s the advantage of having more than one guy who’s a national cross-checker. If you have two or three chances to see him, the chance of him repeating a bad day is slim. The key is having good people in the field and having good area guys who really know the player. To really know the competitive nature of the player is very important, to understand how the kid competes. Physical ability and tools are really not that tough for scouts to determine. It’s how the player competes against better competition that separates one player from another.

Most high-school players – the better ones – are not going to compete that often against front-line competition. They’re not playing against guys who are going to end up playing professional baseball. For the most part they dominate the competition.

You can’t determine a kid’s skills from how he handles weak competition. He is going to be playing against better players when he becomes a professional. How is he going to react? How is a good high-school player going to react his first year out, when he may be competing against some kid that was an All-American at a major baseball school? That’s going to tell you a lot about how he handles competition as his career unfolds. About 35 or so years ago, I had a scout-league team that Jack Clark played for. He was a high-school kid, from Gladstone High School in Covina, California. I happened to live in Covina. I had asked him to play for the scout-league team. I think I was working for Montreal at the time.

Jack was an interesting kid and of course there was interest in him. He was a pitcher/outfielder for Gladstone and of course he was a good-looking hitting prospect. Defensively he had a plus arm and Jack could run at one time. He wasn’t a plus runner but was certainly an average runner. Physically he was about 6-feet-3 and weighed 180 pounds. Of course, when he filled out he was a much bigger guy as a big leaguer. Jack was an interesting kid in this respect. He was a highly aggressive kid with a bat in his hand. Jack thought he could hit anybody. At the level we were playing at, he hit them all.

But defensively he was very indifferent. And he was immature in a lot of respects. I can remember once … incidentally, the Giants selected Jack as a pitcher and because the signers, the signees that year were kind of slow he got an opportunity to play the outfield and that was the end of his years on the mound.

One of the guys I know quite well told me that when he was playing in the California League, Jack was hitting about .330 and had a boatload of extra-base hits and home runs, etc. He was one of the leading hitters in the league and they saw Jack in a ballgame. His first four at-bats he hit four rockets, two off the wall and two out of the ballpark. His fifth at-bat, he lined to shortstop and he was so discouraged as a result, it took him about five minutes to walk out to his position out in right field. He was immature and pouting because he did not have a 5-for-5.

One of the keys there … the interesting part is Jack played hard in the phase of the game he felt very comfortable in. He was a tiger with a bat in his hand. Defensively, it was kind of like, oh, anybody can play defense. He did not work hard on his defensive skills. He got to the big leagues quickly. I think Jack was in the major leagues at 19. At times he would be very indifferent if he had poor at-bats. He would be indifferent.

I saw a game, a Dodgers game, where Ed Halicki was pitching for the Giants. Jack was playing right field. He had a bad at-bat. I believe at that point in time Halicki had a no-hitter going. And Jack had probably taken that lousy at-bat out to his position. Somebody hit kind of a lazy fly ball to right field. It wasn’t hit deep and he was very nonchalant how he came in and played the ball on a hop. Of course, the guy had a base hit. Well, when he got into the dugout, I could see right into the dugout from where I was standing watching the game at Dodger Stadium, boy, I thought Halicki was going to punch his lights out. He was so upset. Well, that was Jack Clark as a young major leaguer.

By the time Jack matured a little bit and played for the Giants and then played for Whitey Herzog at St. Louis, he became a real team guy. Playing for Herzog was a great experience for him because Whitey wouldn’t put up with any of that indifference. You play hard all the time or you don’t play. I think Jack was sort of a pet of Whitey’s. But Whitey would not look out the window if he didn’t play hard. Jack knew it, so he played hard all the time and became a very fine major-league player.

You better be sure about the degree the guy wants to play. I knew Clark and I knew the way he played and I knew the kid’s personality. When a scout would say, well, he doesn’t play hard, you would say, “You gotta know the kid.” Is he ever going to grow out of it? And he sure as hell did. He had a very, very fine career in the big leagues. He had great, great self-confidence.

That is something that a scout must be able to determine when you’re the area guy. You can’t just say because a kid didn’t run a ball out well, he doesn’t play hard. There are a lot of kids that play very hard who have marginal ability. Sometimes they play above their tools, for sure. But there are a lot of kids that play hard who don’t have the necessary ability to be major-league players.

I can recall getting into a conversation years ago with one of our scouts. We were talking about projecting players and of course projection is the name of the game. How do you project a 17-year- old or 20-year-old college guy in terms of what kind of a player he will be in the major leagues. This scout said, “I can tell you who I think has enough ability in terms of athleticism, etc., tools and so on, to get to the big leagues but I’m not gonna tell you what kind of a player he will be.” I differed with him there.

It’s my judgment that as a scout, as a national cross-checker, you have to look at the player and say this is what type of major-league player you think he will become. And how likely it will be that he will realize his ability. In other words, will he develop to the point of getting to the major leagues and then determining is he going to be the 25th guy on the roster or is he going to be a key player. His whole concept was, I’ll tell you if I think he can get to the big leagues but I’m not going to go past that.

There’s a big, big difference between the first player and the 25th player. Is he going to be a so-called 1 on a pitching staff which is a guy like Carpenter or Clemens or Maddux? The Braves had three pitchers, three starting pitchers that were what we would classify as a 1. An ace on the pitching staff – Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz. And then Avery, whose career kind of tailed off. But when he was on that staff, he was probably a good solid number 2, but for whatever reasons, his ability to function at the big-league level and be a front-line pitcher didn’t last that long.

When we won in ’88, Hershiser was a 1. Now we did have Belcher and we did have Leary, who were probably good solid 2’s and 3’s. I’m probably leaving somebody out there. I believe Fernando was on that ’88 club. Fernando in his day in ’81 was a very solid 1.

You have to be able to determine what type of player the guy will be. Now that determination with the younger player is very tough. There’s no getting away from it. Projections on high-school kids can be really, really difficult.

I think the best pitching prospect I ever signed with the Dodgers was a right-handed pitcher by the name of Danny Opperman.

Danny pitched at Valley High School in Las Vegas, over 22 or 23 years ago. He was a few years behind Maddux and had better stuff than Maddux had. He threw harder and he had an outstanding arm. Danny never won a game in the big leagues.

He had a Tommy John operation very early in his career. He warmed up to start in a rookie-league game his very first year and he broke down. Actually he ended up having two Tommy Johns and of course as a result his career flattened out and he never got to the big leagues. He enjoyed some success at the Double-A, Triple-A levels but it never happened for Danny. Pitching is a very, very difficult prognostication to have to make. As the old expression says, a lot of them are just always one pitch away from a bad arm.

Bob Welch had a wonderful career. He’s a Cy Young Award winner, a front-line pitcher with us and then Oakland. I think he won his Cy Young with Oakland. During his entire major-league career the doctors wanted to operate on his arm to move his ulnar nerve. He always said no! But it’s interesting because pitching is very, very chancy – not establishing their stuff, but in establishing whether they are going to hold up. It is a very tough, tough row to hoe. Years ago I can recall our people being told – somewhere along the line and probably not by the medical people – once they have a Tommy John they’re as good as new.

To some extent the medical prognostication has been changed. If you have a youngster that has had a Tommy John surgery as a teenager, chances are he is going to have the problem again with full maturity. If he’s had a Tommy John in his maybe early 20s he becomes much less a gamble. They hedge to a degree but of course when we drafted Danny Opperman, we had visions of Danny being a front-line major-league pitcher and it just didn’t happen for him. Mainly because of his surgeries.

Here’s a kid who never lost a high-school game. Four years he pitched. He pitched on a very good high-school team that produced three or four major-league players. Maddux, of course. Tyler Houston, the catcher, was selected a couple of years after Maddux, became a front-line player. The backup catcher whose name I can’t recall off the top of my head who ended up playing third base the year Houston was selected, his name starts with an M [Doug Mirabelli], at any rate he got to the big leagues and caught for quite a while.

It’s a chancy call when you take pitchers – and yet you never have enough pitching. That’s an axiom used in baseball which I think does holds up: Good pitching defeats good hitting. You see it in the playoffs each year. You see it in the World Series. Occasionally you’ll have a game that gets out of hand; there are a lot of runs scored. But more often than not in the playoffs if you’re facing somebody’s number one guy and somebody’s number two guy and number three more than likely he is pitching in the middle of the game.

Relief pitching, that’s an interesting aspect. Why do relievers last a minimum amount of time? It’s all the ups and downs and all the throwing in the bullpen. It’s that simple. We had Niedenfuer, who burned out fairly quickly; he was a front-line reliever. We had Gagne, who was a front-line reliever. Relief pitching has been reduced to getting three outs, if you are a closer in the big leagues now. Relief pitching is different than when guys like Gossage, Perranoski, some of the outstanding relief pitchers were pitching.

They may come in and throw three innings for you. Sutter, those kind of guys. Now what they want is, the concept in major-league baseball is, try to be ahead by six innings and then you bring the specialists in. You bring in a middle-innings guy, a setup man and a closer to get you three outs apiece.

You shorten the game. That is the purpose of developing relief pitching to that point. Interesting view is look at Lidge. A couple of years ago he was unhittable. The next year, he couldn’t get anybody out. It’s a whole different issue. Lot of pressure on the player, on the pitcher and so on. Playoff baseball is entirely different to a point than the 162-game season.

Getting back to cross-checking, there is an expression that I can remember hearing years ago that area guys would use. Instead of calling them cross-checkers – guys that had my title, so to speak, they would call them double-crossers. Cross-checkers talk a lot. There isn’t any question that the so-called premium players in the country are seen by most all the clubs and are seen by everybody’s cross-checker.

Some area guys feel cross-checkers talk too much and share too much information because a lot of them go to the same places, you get familiar with people and so on. To be honest with you, and it’s not an attempt to cover anything, I’ve never experienced that. I really haven’t. I know cross-checkers who work for all the clubs. There are a few who talk probably more than they should. The lion’s share of the guys go to the games, they have the same routine you do, same travel schedule to a point. They got to chase all over the United States and see guys from Maine to California, from Wisconsin to Texas; they see them all.

Of course, you go one step past that and the step past that, and, the first kid you select in the draft is the guy that you most desire in that point in time – but that does not mean that five years from now or three years from now he’s going to be considered the best prospect from that particular draft. Little Pedroia is a good example. Second baseman for the Red Sox. You can look at him and break his game down any way you want. Pedroia was a fine player as a college player. But with scouts looking for size and strength and speed, he didn’t possess any of those things. He’s a little guy. Probably listed at, 5 feet, oh, probably 9 inches, he’s probably closer to 5-feet-6.

He was not a big-time base stealer or any of those things. And yet he became a very fine player who was the Most Valuable Player in the American League.

That’s the nature of scouting. That’s the nature of what they call player development. Al Campanis used to use the term quite often, he’d say normal development of a player. The normal development of a player. Not that there was an attempt to push this guy faster than he should. We used to call Campanis “The Chief.” The chief’s concept was let him develop at a normal rate. Because along with his game, he is going to develop a confidence level which says that when he does reach the big leagues, he will realizes that he belongs. He can play with the people that are there.

There are all types of views that people have about developing young players. What comes first, confidence or success? Well, it can be a trick question. To have success you have to have confidence, but it’s hard to build a great deal of confidence when you don’t have success. When Mike Schmidt hit .200 as a rookie it’s very difficult to look at his development and say he was a highly confident hitter as a first-year guy in the big leagues. He couldn’t have been, not hitting .200. And players don’t all have the same type of confidence. And quite often they are unable to retain it as they get older as big-league players when their skills slip a little bit.

That’s why baseball is a novel sport. You can overuse the theory but it is true: baseball’s based on who fails the least. If you’re a hitter, a position player, let’s face it. I’ve never done a numerical breakdown on this but I would say off the top of my head that when you look at the great hitters, the Henry Aarons, the Mayses, Mantles, DiMaggio, Ted Williams, George Brett, Rod Carew, any of the great hitters, Stan Musial, they’re hitting the ball in terms of lifetime batting average, certainly they’re getting three base hits out of every ten at-bats.

Does anybody believe that they’re hitting the ball hard three times? My guess is and it’s just a guess, but it’s off the top of my head, I would have to say that probably .300 hitters are hitting the ball five to six times hard against the best pitching in the world. For hitting a ball five or six times out of every 10, how do you come up with hitting .300? Well, remember this: In the big leagues they catch the ball.

The infielders are better, the outfielders are better, pitchers pitch tougher, etc., etc. Sure they get cheap hits occasionally but for the most part they square up the baseball. Great hitters hit. That’s not my terminology. I picked it up from somebody else. What do all great hitters or very good hitters have in common? The one common denominator is: THEY HIT!

You don’t look at someone and say, well, he hits .320 against right-handers but against left-handers he hits .180. That’s not a great player. That’s a guy that has a certain phase of his game, he’s dangerous. Probably a good example would be a guy like Ethier. Ethier’s going to hit about .275 or .280 for us, he’s got 31 home runs. He’s a dangerous hitter against right—handed pitching. He’s not a dangerous hitter against left-handers. Left-handers do a pretty good job of getting him out.

Again we get into terminology. But it’s interesting because as a scout you have to be able to break this down. Remember ultimately the game is played in the big leagues by the players you draft, whoever they may be. A small percentage of them get to the big leagues. Think about it this way. Maybe 8 to 9 percent of the players ever selected get to the major leagues. Of that 8 or 9 percent that get to the major leagues probably 6 percent, maybe 5 to 6 percent of them have appreciable careers in terms of time. The balance don’t. Of course pitching is a whole different animal. But let’s say 9 to 10 percent get to the big leagues. Pitching in the big leagues is one thing; being a front-line pitcher is something else.

I saw George Brett play. I scouted George Brett. On the face of his results, of course he’s a Hall of Fame player. Yet he was passed over by every major-league club, in the draft, in the first round. Even the club that drafted him. Yet George Brett turned out to be an amazing clutch hitter and justifiably so – a very, very good hitter. With some power. He didn’t have a lot of power as a kid. I want to say George Brett probably hit .275 or .280 in the California League. Again, it’s called development of the player. And there is not a common denominator as to who is going to develop or who doesn’t.

There are a whole slew of issues that can come up that impede a player’s development and some of it has absolutely nothing to do with the instruction. A lot of it has to do with the player. And that doesn’t mean the kid is essentially dumb or anything else. Anybody that’s ever been involved in athletics, involved with young players, when a coach or manager has a kid at a lower level, and has a lot of confidence in him, almost the very first thing you tell him is, hey, you’re not going to get three hits in the next at-bat. Just be yourself. Be yourself. What you are is plenty good enough to be a contributor here.

Just remind him: Get a good pitch to hit. This guy’s a tough pitcher, so you don’t want to help him. Don’t go out of the strike zone to hit. Are there exceptions to that? Of course. All you gotta do is watch [Vladimir] Guerrero, who is primarily a DH now. He might hit a pitch around the peak of his cap or off his shoe tops. That being said, he’s the exception to the rule.

You can go way back and say, well Joe Medwick … Ducky Medwick was considered a great bad-ball hitter in his era and so was Yogi Berra. But you probably run out of names when you get to the five fingers on your one hand, players that were great bad-ball hitters.

The other point I try to make is this: Great hitters rarely, rarely look bad. I’m talking about great hitters, rarely look bad on a given pitch. I saw a quite a bit of Williams as a teenager and I saw quite a bit of Williams as a young adult when I was playing ball in the service and even after. I am sure he took some bad hacks. Common sense would tell you that. But I never saw one.

I don’t remember seeing DiMaggio – I saw a lot of him, too – lunge at pitches and swing at pitches a foot outside the strike zone, breaking balls that bounce on the plate. I think some of these terms that are used in baseball now are thrown around far too freely. I’ve heard people say things like the greatest hitter that ever lived and that type of thing with Barry Bonds. It’s a given, Bonds was an exceptional power hitter. In his era, absolutely the best. But the greatest that ever lived, no.

And I’m not going back to the era of Honus Wagner or some guy that played between 1904 and 1920. I’m not going to that zone. I’m talking about great hitters. One of the exceptional hitters that I’ve seen during his big-league career was Carew. Not a great power hitter but a great hitter for average.

With the advent of Astroturf, speed is a big factor in terms of certain types of players. As a National League cross-checker, not only must you be a good evaluator, you must have a very, very good idea what good mechanics are to hit, pitch, and field. If you don’t have an idea there, I don’t see how you can make solid judgments. Because those are paramount.

The reason I say that, I’ve been asked periodically by different people: Have you ever seen a guy that’s a major leaguer that didn’t have great mechanics to hit that was a good hitter? And I would say, yes I have. But almost without fail they are players who are runners and can utilize their speed. Willie McGee was one, Bake McBride was one, Coleman was a good hitter without much power but they were runners.

Probably their mechanics allowed them to hit, on the face of just their mechanics, maybe .270 or so. But their speed enabled that average to get pumped up and I believe Willie McGee won two batting titles. When you look at that you’re saying his speed enabled him, he could run another 30 or 40 points. I signed a guy years ago, less a hitter than the guys I just mentioned, who was probably about a .230 hitter but whose ability to run and bunt and so on allowed him to hit more for average. Al Wiggins.

Even Garvey, Steve Garvey, who was a legitimate .300 hitter, 200 hits per year, maybe 30 home runs, knock in 100 runs. Garvey was a very good bunter. Garvey would beat out maybe 12 to 15 bunts a year, which got him over that .300 level. And Garvey wasn’t a great runner, when he first came to the big leagues he was probably an average runner. But he was a very, very good bunter. The other guys on that club didn’t bunt. Lopes, who was the leadoff guy, rarely bunted. But that was all part of Garvey’s game.

There are all kinds of nuances to the development of the player and/or pitcher. Regardless of what level you are doing, scouting is scouting. It’s an evaluation process. Once a player has been in the big leagues three or four years, if he’s not a star within three or four years, chances are hugely great that’s he’s not going to be one.

You can look at a few examples and say, well, Koufax became a star. Koufax had a terrible … what an unusual situation Koufax was. Koufax had terrible problems with the command of his stuff. His control was poor. Even though he had great stuff, it was a very tough haul for the club to pitch him. Because it was ball two on everybody. Ball one, ball two. Of course when you fight your control, then the hitter knows what’s coming. Koufax not only went from a guy who struggled with his control to a guy with great stuff that had excellent control. That’s highly unusual.

I guess I’ve rambled in terms of my concept of scouting here probably too long. At any rate what I wanted to do was to establish some of my theories in cross-checking over the years that I’ve been involved in the game. I hope this has been of some help somewhere along the line.

GIB BODET was named West Coast scout of the year in 2008 by the Scout of the Year Foundation. He is credited with being involved in the signings of Brad Wellman, Dave Hansen, Mike Munoz, Eric Karros, and Mike Piazza.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved