Scouts are baseball's poets, and here are some of the best lines they've used over the years
Scouts have a way with words and player evaluations alike
Poets have been called society's mirror; its conscience; its vestige of the shamans. Search engines detect no instance, however, of poets being labeled society's baseball scouts.
The inverse is plainly true: Scouts are the closest thing baseball has to bards. Each group is underpaid and underappreciated, yet unfazed in providing its culture with a literary bed stone. Interacting with a scout or their reports is akin to learning a new vernacular. Scouts call breaking balls "twisters," riding low-velocity heaters "ghostballs," and junkballers ... well, a scatalogical term unfit to print. They write up players with a salmagundi of wit, perceptiveness, humor, admiration, and, yes, occasional crassness -- hey, they're baseball's poets, remember.
To honor scouts and their talent for turns of phrases like infielders turn double plays, CBS Sports asked more than a dozen front-office personnel and media members for the best line they've heard or read from a scout. "Best," a subjective term, was used for good reason: The responses ranged in genre from funniest to most on-point to snarkiest. The identities of all parties -- the submitters, scouts, and players in question -- were promised to be withheld for obvious reasons.
The perfect scout's line is memorable and incisive. It tells you about the player (or an element of their game) without resorting to cliche or tepidness in a way that sticks like a well-cooked noodle. For instance, one gaffe-prone outfielder was said to "run the bases like he thinks he's invisible." A different, less-imposing player was described as being able to "hang-glide on a Dorito." As with great poems, sometimes the omitted words in a scouting report are the ones that matter the most. Consider the time a scout noted about a player's makeup that they "owned a large collection of tie-dye t-shirts." The scout's implication remains unknown.
Highlighting player weaknesses is a large, albeit undesirable part of scouting. This is where humor can slouch toward cruelty and where dissecting athletic ability and projection can double as body-shaming. "Slow? Slower than slow," one scout wrote. "But the best part: It takes him zero time to stop." Though scouts don't write in iambic pentameter, their reports can exhibit a verse-like structure. "Big arm, no heart. Blowing cheese with no pressure," begins a report about a pitcher that concludes with: "[He's] a quitter and has a long history of getting people fired.
"[He] ain't gonna get me."
Scouts often write like they speak, leading to unintentionally devastating comments like the one offered about a call-up who struggled at first base: "Looked like he had never played before. Upon further review he had … wow." The ellipsis before the "wow" packs an Elmore Leonard-esque punch. Speaking of Dutch, he would've envied the efficiency of some scouts. This is a scout's entire report on a famous old outfielder: "Maims RHP, Kills LHP. Hits balls from nose to toes. Runs/moves like he hurts always. Plays possum & will pick spots to steal a bag." A to B, B to C, staying on schedule without exerting excess energy. Beautiful.
When scouts go long, they make it count. "In over 40 years of scouting in both sports I have never seen a physical [specimen] like this kid," began a report about a Double-A player. "Bow legged------that's fine. Splay footed-----it's been done-----but an infielder????? Heel to toe runner------I've seen them helped some----not much. Combine all three and you've got a physical freak. But this freak has the tools to be a solid ML hitter for a long time." The freak lived up to the report, by the way, making multiple All-Star Games due to his offensive aptitude.
Scouts are incorrectly assumed to be cantankerous old men who deal in pithy insults and weird hats. That presumption is way off the mark … but sometimes they do play to the stereotype. Like when a scout says that he would call a bad first baseman a butcher, except that it "seems a little on-the-nose for a guy that carries a dead pig to his position every inning." Or when a scout sums up the league as a whole by saying, "If it's a good idea, baseball probably won't do it."
Occasional crankiness aside, scouts can and often do effuse admiration for the players they see. There's no shortage of examples wherein a scout will say something to the effect of a player having so much power that "even his ground balls go all the way to the wall." Examining a player's body is a crucial part of the evaluative process. Sometimes, scouts can't help but notice that certain players sport impeccable physiques. Hence one scout expressing their desire to be reincarnated with a top prospect's body.
It's not quite "love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs," but it's baseball, that's for sure.
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