Book Review: The Art Of Scouting

The easiest book title of all time was tailor-made for Sam Mellinger’s account written with one of baseball’s longest-serving scouts.

The Art of Scouting: Seven Decades Chasing Hopes and Dreams in Major League Baseball” details the life and times of Art Stewart, a scout’s scout who has been around the game for more than 60 years. For Mellinger, the Kansas City Star columnist tasked with curating Stewart’s memories, the harder task was figuring out what to include in the 268-page book, published by Ascend Books and featuring a foreword by George Brett, and what would wind up on the cutting room floor.

George Brett

George Brett wrote the foreword to Art Stewart’s book.

“He can’t help but give six hilarious or insightful stories in the midst of answering one question,” Mellinger said with a laugh. “He’s 87. He’s been around the game for 62 years, and he’s sharp. He’s seen it all. So there’s probably five books you could do.”

If he wasn’t careful, Mellinger might have gotten in the way of all those stories. In reading “The Art of Scouting”, Mellinger’s deft execution shines through. For those of us lucky enough to have met and talked to Stewart, we know how passionate he is about the game, about his profession and about his teams. He worked for the Yankees from 1953 until 1969, when he joined the expansion Royals. He served as their scouting director from 1984-97 and remains heavily involved as senior advisor to the general manager.

The day we spoke was the day before the July 31 trade deadline. Stewart stepped out to take the phone call, but he also checked in whenever a Royals staffer happened by in the hallway: “Anything happening? Sorry John, we’re still looking for a bat.”

I always recall Allan Simpson working on mock drafts when I first got to BA, and that Allan wouldn’t feel good about starting to write until he had his phone call with Art. He laughed when I related the memory.

“Going way back, I’d see Peter Gammons, and he’d ask, ‘What’s the list? What’s the list?” Stewart said with a laugh. “While I was scouting director, I did believe that doing that job, part of it was getting as much information as you can. The more information you got before your turn came up, you had a pretty good idea what your choices would be.”

Stories about scouting form the backbone of the book, and the best story is the player Stewart is most associated with, Bo Jackson, whom the Royals drafted in the fourth round in 1986. The best part of this telling is the credit Stewart lavishes on Ken Gonzales, who was the territorial scout (as Stewart prefers to refer to area scouts) who established the relationship with Jackson that helped the Royals land the Heisman Trophy winner.

The Jackson story is told in the book’s second chapter, only after the”Donna Wakely and the two great loves of my life.” That focuses on his wife of 47 years, who naturally Stewart met at the ballpark. The Jackson title is simply called “Bo Jackson and the greatest scouting story of my life.”

Stewart keeps the attention focused on the hard work by Gonzales, the relationship he forged with Jackson and his mother, and the enthralling talent of Jackson that captivated a generation of fans. The focus is never on Stewart, who called Jackson “his generation’s Mickey Mantle in a lot of ways.”

The best part of the comparison is that Stewart worked for the Yankees at the peak of Mantle’s powers, seeing him in every World Series from 1953-64 (except for the two times, in ’54 and ’59, that the Yankees fell short of the pennant). So when you ask Stewart to compare Jackson to him, or Mike Trout to Mantle, or Yasiel Puig to Jackson, he’s actually qualified to make the comparisons.

(For the record, he answered “not quite” on comparing Puig to Jackson and called Trout the only player he’d go pay to see play after 62 years of going for free. But he reiterated, “There’s no one I’ve seen with the athletic ability in all of the physical tools that Bo had. It was absolutely unbelievable.”)

Stewart’s book also brings the perspective of a man who’s experienced baseball’s pre-draft era while also negotiating large signing bonuses in the draft era. He scouted Rick Reichardt, whose $205,000 bonus in 1964—twice what the highest-paid major leaguers made at the time—helped lead to the inception of the draft in 1965. It’s especially intriguing to read about the emergence of the draft and the struggles of many scouts to adjust as the draft nears its 50th anniversary next year.

Stewart also details signings of players such as Johnny Damon, who had a secret that made negotiations more difficult than Stewart and the Royals imagined. (Read the book!) To put Reichardt’s bonus in perspective, Damon’s negotiations in 1992 were difficult—and he signed for $250,000, just $45,000 more than Reichardt got in 1964.

Stewart writes, as many others have, that money has changed the game the most over his time, but he doesn’t lament it—he just states it as fact. Scouting, as with baseball, is a game of adjustments, and he’s adjusted enough to remain vital in the game for parts of seven decades.

I loved reading about Brett’s development, or Stewart’s role in helping develop the Royals Academy in the early 1970s and its later parallel, the Royals’ Dominican Republic academy. He’s as passionate about the development as Salvador Perez as he was about the development of Royals Academy grad Frank White.

“Scouts are the face of baseball,” Stewart said. “They don’t care for the recognition because the game is about the players and the fans, and for me—I think I’m talking for most scouts—the fact that you project a young player at 17, and he becomes what you put down and put your name on that report at 22 and 23, that’s the biggest self satisfaction.”

Mariano Rivera

Could Mariano Rivera have been a member of the Royals? (Photo by Tomasso DeRosa)

Royals fans will love Stewart’s accounts of the franchise’s history, since he’s been around for all of it. They may know some of the stories, such as Damon’s signing or Willie Wilson’s, or when he scouted current GM Dayton Moore at an American Legion tournament in the mid-1980s. But they may never have read the story of how the franchise could have signed Mariano Rivera.

What they can’t have encountered, unless they’ve met Stewart, is his genuine passion for the game and appreciation for how special a life he’s led. Baseball has led him to two world championship franchises, two loves of his life and happiness he never takes for granted.

Now, we all can experience it thanks to Mellinger’s smart work and Stewart’s storytelling ability. The combination makes “The Art of Scouting” a fun read and a must for any baseball fans who see the game from a scouting and player-development point of view.

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