Moore: The superscout and a rotten heartbeat

From Jack Moore at The Classical on September 4, 2014:

This is an excerpt from “Primary Sources: Deconstructing baseball’s myths through its documented history,” a collection of columns by Jack Moore. The collection contains 34 columns like this one covering topics from sabermetrics and the strategies of the game’s early hitters to race and labor issues. The e-book can be purchased here for $3 and comes in .EPUB, .MOBI and .PDF formats.

Men like Hugh Alexander, baseball men will tell you, are the bedrock of the sport. Alexander was a baseball lifer, a superscout near the top of the Philadelphia Phillies hierarchy; it was considered one of the best organizations in baseball during the 1980s, at the twilight of Alexander’s career. A widely syndicated 1983 story by Philadelphia writer Bill Conlin said Alexander, then 66 and a part of the baseball world for half a century, “personified baseball.” He was, Conlin wrote, “a man with a face from a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell, a sage who speaks the earthy poetry of his game and his time from a yeasty treasure trove of reminiscence.”

Like most scouts, Alexander had a baseball career before he entered scouting. Alexander was signed by a legend, Cy Slapnicka, who was at the time the only scout in the Cleveland Indians organization. Slapnicka was a classic huckster, the baseball version of The Music Man’s smooth-talking protagonist Harold Hill. Kevin Kerrane wrote of Slapnicka in Dollar Sign on the Muscle: “When he became the Indians’ general manager in 1936, he began hiring scouts and showing them how to cut corners. He had once been a vaudeville juggler, and he could also juggle the contracts he issued to new prospects, leaving them undated or otherwise non-binding until the prospects proved themselves in the minors.”

Alexander was signed to the Indians on one of Slapnicka’s “undated or otherwise non-binding” deals as a 17-year-old. In 1936, Alexander’s first year at Cleveland training camp, another young player named Tommy Henrich challenged the contract he had signed from Slapnicka. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled that Henrich’s contract had been manipulated, and Henrich was made a free agent. Soon after, Slapnicka approached Alexander and asked if he would pursue free agency as Henrich had.

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Originally published: September 4, 2014. Last Updated: September 4, 2014.