While I’m off escaping to the central California coast for a few days, I thought I’d leave you with a few bits from Stan Hart’s Scouting Reports, which provides actual photocopied reports and commentary on 40+ players from back before they signed professional contracts. We’ll feature a different player each day this week. Enjoy!
We’re going a little old school to finish the week. Not only is Rod Carew a Hall of Famer, he’s also one of the few players I’ve had the opportunity to meet. I should qualify this by noting that I was 10 years old at the time. My only lasting memories of the moment are that he signed my scorebook and that his cologne seemed very strong. I don’t know whether it really was — when you’re 10, I suppose all cologne seems strong — but memory is a funny thing.
At any rate, Carew was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, following a career that spanned 19 seasons and saw him collect 3053 hits. Carew made the American League All-Star team in all but his final season. He was league MVP in 1977, when he hit a surreal .388/.449/.570. Carew won seven batting titles and led the AL in on base percentage four times. He also led the league in intentional walks on three separate occasions, which is amazing for a guy who reached double digits in homers twice in his career and finished with just 92 big-league home runs.
Most of Carew’s great years came while he played for the Minnesota Twins, first as a second baseman and then moving over to first base. By the time I got to see him play, when he came to the California Angels, Carew’s game had dropped from dominant to merely very good.
The story of how Carew came to sign with the Twins is fascinating — this was before there was a draft, so the gamesmanship behind discovering and signing amateur talent could be much more pronounced than anything you’re likely to see today. In the case of Carew, due to some unusual circumstances, he didn’t play baseball in high school but instead played sandlot ball in the Bronx for a team called the Bronx Cavaliers. Scout Herb Stein found Carew and successfully, um, kept others from finding him. Stein developed a relationship with Carew, who at age 18 negotiated his own deal to play professionally for the Twins. Needless to say, the way business is conducted has changed a bit in the intervening years.
What made Carew such a special player, even as an amateur? Here’s a little of what Stein’s report from 1964 has to say:
He is a good hitter. Can hit the ball to all fields. He has strong arms and great wrist action. He has a quick bat. On contact the ball jumps off his bat. He can hit an inside pitch to left field and make good contact. He has also shown good power. I have seen him hit balls 400 feet. He also has a good idea of the strike zone.
This last sentence really jumps out at me for two reasons:
- It proved to be a tremendous understatement. Noting that Carew has a good grasp of the strike zone is like noting that Mozart had a good grasp of melody.
- It demonstrates that at least some professional scouts recognized the importance of strike-zone judgment well before Moneyball made it fashionable to speak of such things.
Stein also praised Carew’s range at second base, noting that his footwork could be better on double plays, and observed that he lacked the arm strength to play shortstop. And although Stein’s report is written on official team letterhead, it concludes with this refreshingly candid statement:
Once in pro ball if he can get use to being away from home, accepting the good and bad, and the many adversities in this game, he will become one hell of a player.
One presumes that Carew got used to being away from home, because by anyone’s standards, he became one hell of a player.