Character is Not a Statistic: The Legacy and Wisdom of Baseball’s Godfather Scout Bill Lajoie
By Anup Sinha and Bill Lajoie
List Price: $29.99 (HC)/19.99 (PB)
Given his success, Bill Lajoie has led a relatively anonymous career for a baseball lifer. The architect of the 1984 World Series champion Detroit Tigers was overshadowed even then by the team’s manager, Sparky Anderson. His four-paragraph entry in Wikipedia doesn’t even mention his greatest accomplishment—drafting the foundation of that Tigers team. Since moving on from the Motor City, where he served as general manager for seven years, he’s assisted a number of other, higher profile, GMs, including John Schuerholz and Theo Epstein.
Anup Sinha recounts Lajoie’s long and successful career in “Character is Not a Statistic: The Legacy and Wisdom of Baseball’s Godfather Scout Bill Lajoie.”
A star on the high school and college diamond, Lajoie signed with the Orioles and bounced around the minors for 10 years, lacking the inner belief necessary to drive himself to the majors. But he picked up a valuable skill during his days in the bus leagues: the ability to discern those among his peers who had the ingredient he himself didn’t.
Lajoie latched on with the Reds as a scout for a few seasons before being unceremoniously dumped following a disagreement with farm director Chief Bender. It turned out to be a break, as the Detroit-area native was scooped up by the Tigers, where he climbed from part-time scout to scouting director, eventually working his way to general manager in 1984. Under his guidance the club stockpiled a tremendous amount of talent. Lajoie’s emphasis on character and competitive fire helped the team hone in on future stars Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Kirk Gibson in the draft from 1974-78. They formed the nucleus of the powerhouse Tiger teams of the 1980s.
Later in his career he moved on to work as a special assistant with the Braves under Schuerholz and Red Sox under Epstein, helping both teams win World Series. His resume also includes stops with the Brewers, Dodgers, and Pirates, his current club. Every time he thinks about retiring, the game calls him back, a new generation seeking to benefit from his experience.
Like many in the scouting community, Lajoie and Sinha (who scouted for the Padres and Cardinals earlier in the decade) were not fans of Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball.” There are several pointed references within the main text (the “Legacy” portion of the book), but Sinha reserves his sharpest criticism of the bestseller, in which A’s GM Billy Beane openly ridiculed traditional scouting, for the appendix (the “Wisdom” portion of the book). The first two (of 22) appendices are dedicated to “Moneyball” and contain some very valid points about the dangers of Beane’s approach (which he has altered significantly since that book came out in 2003). Several others circle back to this theme. In fact, there’s quite a bit of repetition in these entries, a few of which do little more than recycle points made in the main text.
The appendix comprises nearly one-third of the book, and gives “Character” something of an identity crisis. Many of the appendices are interesting, well-written, essays. In particular, the analysis of the 10 best scouting directors of the draft era stands out. But what are they doing here? Is the book a Lajoie biography? An anti-Beane diatribe? A guide to the essentials of scouting? Is there more than one book here?
As is the case with many self-published titles, “Character” could have benefited from a strong editor, who might have been able to massage much of the appendix content into the main portion of the book. There are also several places where the text could be tightened significantly, with repetitive information eliminated (we’re told four times that Lajoie was a high school contemporary of Frank Tanana Sr., father of the major league pitcher). And Sinha teases us with 10 references to “The Magic Question,” before we’re finally let in on the secret of what the question is.
My chief complaint, however, is ironically one that ruined “Moneyball” for me. Too much fawning. As a younger scout, Sinha has every reason to admire Lajoie, to whom he pitched the project idea two years ago. But at times he places him on a pedestal. The stories of Lajoie’s great drafts and sharp trades, as well as the laudatory quotes from many of his former players preceding each chapter, are enough to underscore his brilliant career without that.
Still, Tiger fans, especially those who cheered the team through the 1970s and 80s, will enjoy the chapters on how the roster was built. From the phenomenal drafts to the deals for Aurelio Lopez and Willie Hernandez, Sinha details the acquisition of nearly every piece of the Championship puzzle.
Lajoie had the Midas touch and has left a trail of accomplishments wherever he’s worked, providing plenty of material to fill a book. Sinha knocked this one well into the outfield, but the wind has held it up just shy of the warning track.
James Bailey is a former associate editor at Baseball America. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.