With the completion of the Major League Baseball draft last week, I thought I would take some time to write about my favorite book about the collecting of talent for professional baseball, Kevin Kerrane's Dollar Sign on the Muscle.
Kerrane, an English professor at the University of Delaware, spent a year with Phillies scouts in the early 1980s learning about the ins and outs of baseball's hunters and gatherers.
You'll meet legendary scout Hugh Alexander, who is outlined with such verve that you can almost see the tobacco juice linger on the side of his mouth.
The scouts that Kerrane encounters bridge the gap between the old days (prior to the implementation of the draft) and the modern era that sees the draft limit the role of scouts to some extent. The scouting community's ideas aren't perfect in a modern world, as they completely miss that the pre-draft system favors the rich and powerful (think Yankees and Red Sox) while leaving middle and lower level teams out of the running for the best talent. However, it is interesting to read about how the draft structure and the MLB scouting bureau changed the whole amateur player acquisition process.
One of the most fun elements of the book are the players you'll read about being scouted, including future World Series hero Joe Carter, and a strong-armed college outfielder named John Elway. The benefit of hindsight allows you the fun of seeing how accurate or inaccurate a particular scout's take on a player turned out.
You'll also be exposed to some of the scouting lingo, particularly the scout's eternal quest for the mysterious 'Good Face.'
One minor drawback is that the book is out of print, so it is fairly difficult to purchase a copy for a decent price. However, most libraries with a substantial sports collection will have a copy obtainable for you.
In summary, Dollar Sign on the Muscle is a well-written, enjoyable book about a side of the game not often exposed to the light of day.