PHOENIX — Math as a tool for analysis has taken hold of baseball, and the preponderance of new acronyms tells us so.
But sometimes a scout’s eyes are the best tool of all.
Take a look at the major league scouting bureau’s report on Diamondbacks’ manager Kirk Gibson, which was compiled when he was playing his first (and only) season of baseball at Michigan State in 1978 after starring on the Spartans’ football team for two years. Football coach Daryl Rogers suggested Gibson give baseball a try, andhe just might have been on to something.
Players were assessed in 10 categories, weighing hitting, running, throwing and intangibles. Grades were given on a 2 to 8 scale, with 8 being the highest. Scouts now use a 20-80 system.
The low-down on Gibson:
Running speed: 8.
Base running: 7.
Veteran scout Jim Martz knew exactly what he was looking at. A scout for 31 years, Martz was not one to give out 8s on a whim. His report gave Mike Schmidt a 7 for power. But there was something special about Gibson.
“He was the best prospect I’ve ever seen,” Martz said from his home in Lima, Ohio.
The grades were based on what Martz saw in Gibson during a pregame batting practice and in the first three innings of a game against Central Michigan that was rained out. Gibson took five swings in batting practice, and hit four balls over the road and into the trees outside the Spartans’ stadium.
“He missed the first pitch by two feet. The next four, it was like somebody was hitting a golf ball. My blood pressure went up 20 points,” Martz said.
Gibson homered into the trees in his first at-bat in the game, and in his second beat out a routine ground ball to second base with a time of 3.7 seconds to first base. Major league average is 4.2. Gibson stole second base with a ferocity that “knocked the shortstop halfway into left field,” Martz said.
“I said, ‘Lord, let it rain. I’ve seen enough,” he said.
Martz called his boss to report his findings.
“I just saw the most exciting player I’ve ever seen. You can’t hit it any farther. You can’t run any faster. You can’t play any harder,” said Martz, who is one of scouts honored in the new “Diamond Mines” exhibit honoring scouts in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.
His best line came in describing Gibson’s defense.
“Occasionally his cape gets in the way when he chases a fly ball,” Martz remembers saying.
“He was Superman.”
Those reports were filed in April, 1978, and less than two months late Gibson made the decision that determined his life’s work, turning down the NFL despite being a likely first-round pick to sign for a $120,000 bonus with the Detroit Tigers as the 12th overall selection in the June, 1978, draft.
Arizona State’s Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks were the first and third players taken that year, and long-time major leaguer Mike Morgan went fourth, but none of them had the impact Gibson did during his 17-year career.
Gibson was the 1988 MVP and World Series hero — he also gets credited for popularizing the first pump on the home run trot — in his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and is one of a small group of major leaguers with at least 250 home runs and 250 stolen bases. Only six players in the Hall of Fame have 250 of each.
At least one man saw it coming.
“If willing to devote himself to baseball, has the potential to be an exciting offensive star. However, loves football. Money is not the significant factor. Football is,” Martz wrote in the summation and signability section, the last part of the one-page document.
“He has the raw tools to be an exciting & productive offensive player. An aggressive hitter and base runner. Makes good contact, ball jumps off a quick, live bat,” Martz wrote.