Earlier this week I gave an all-too-brief synopsis of Ray Fagnant’s talk at the Boston SABR meeting. It may have been because the World Series championship ring he wore had some sort of memory-erasing effect that only now I have been able to shake. Ray was actually featured in a chapter of the book Minor Moments: Baseball’s Best Players Recall Life in the Minor Leagues. Publisher’s Weekly summarized his story:
... Ray Fagnant [was] a career minor leaguer who was playing for an insurance company’s slow-pitch softball team when a Connecticut club signed him as an emergency catcher. Just a few weeks after leaving the insurance team, Fagnant hit a home run off star major league righty Jack Morris, who was in the minors temporarily to rehab an injury. Fagnant bought 25 newspapers the next day and clipped the box scores.
Who better to learn about scouting than someone that is so impassioned about the game? Other points that Ray discussed:
There are peculiarities to scouting the Northeast. Scouts often speak of the “senior effect” in the kids they look at, meaning that a player has shown all that he is capable of by his senior year in high school. Scouts in this region, however, have found that a player here may not show his abilities until after this generally accepted milestone. Consequently, scouts here may exercise more patience than their counterparts in the West.
When on his journeys, if Ray spots what he thinks is a potential major league player, he notifies one of three crosscheckers to observe the player in action. If the potential player passes the crosscheck, he is seen by another crosschecker who oversees a larger territory and has the knowledge to compare prospects from different regions. Most major league clubs have this structure or something like it. The Red Sox have more heavily invested in amateur scouting since John Henry acquired the team.
Collegiate players who want to be seriously considered for professional baseball will use wooden bats during batting practice. Of course, the more outstanding of these players will be invited to wooden bat leagues outside of the NCAA schedule, such as the Cape Cod Baseball League.
A scout may be considered successful if once out of ten times a player he scouted makes the major leagues, so they have it a lot easier than major league hitters. A large part of Ray’s job is to find good organizational players who may never make it to the show but would good role models for the young players as they advance through the ranks. In fact, this is his favorite part of the job because at that level they it truly isn’t about the money: it’s about playing the game you love.
Ray spoke of the naïveté of players he finds along the way. When kids find out that he is a scout, the first thing they want to do is get an agent. They dream of Craig Hansen contracts while Ray hasn’t even decided if he’s going to alert his crosscheckers. One youth said that he’d sign, but he wanted “a three-figure deal.” Ray was kind enough to inform the player of the concept of place value. I wonder if it was Carl Pavano? Just one of the players Ray scouted.
When driving between scheduled stops, if Ray sees lights on at a field, he will always drop by to see what’s going on. You never know what you might see. It fits in with his motto, “Never let anyone fall through the cracks.”