Book Review: “Smart, Wrong and Lucky” Tells MLB Draft Stories Of Baseball’s Biggest Stars


Image credit: Mookie Betts (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

If you’ve ever wondered how a player like Mookie Betts could last until the fifth round of the MLB draft, Jonathan Mayo’s “Smart, Wrong and Lucky” is here to solve the puzzle.

“Smart, Wrong and Lucky” tells the draft stories of some of the biggest baseball stars of the 21st century, a player per chapter. You can learn why Albert Pujols was largely a draft afterthought, how Lorenzo Cain managed to turn himself into a baseball star despite never playing a game of baseball until his sophomore year of high school and why Jacob deGrom’s pitching career almost never got going.

The book looks in depth at eight players (the four mentioned above, plus Charlie Blackmon, Shane Bieber, Ian Kinsler and Joey Votto). None of the eight were first-round picks. These aren’t the stories of players who seemed destined for greatness. Instead, it’s the journeys of players who had to overcome plenty of initial hurdles or scouting skepticism. 

As Votto explains about himself as a high school prospect: “I was not the type of prospect that I think the average scout would be that interested in following just because there wasn’t that much that stood out about me.”

Some were players who needed time to mature. Some needed experience. Others just needed to be better appreciated. But all have stories that help illustrate why players often play til the jersey is ripped away from them—players develop at different rates.

In many cases, Mayo gets the stories of the players’ paths from the stars themselves, but the insights he gets from coaches and scouts are often just as illuminating and even more entertaining.

If you’re a Baseball America reader, and especially if you’re one who cares deeply about the draft, this book is perfect for your library. And while these are players who have become household names, “Smart, Wrong and Lucky” has plenty of insights you are almost assured to have never heard before.

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