Remembering George Genovese

Last week, 93-year-old George Genovese passed away.

I’ve read nearly every book written by or about a scout, and Genovese’s memoir, just out this year, is one of my favorites. Maybe because he goes into some detail about his playing career; he got into just three games in the majors (in 1950) but played in the minors from 1940 through 1957, excepting his wartime service. Of course those 18 years could have been a book in itself.

But Genovese was just getting started in baseball, and would become best-known inside the game as the San Francisco Giants’ ace scout. 

The knock on Jack was that he couldn’t run. That was foolish. The stopwatch is a useless scouting tool. My bird dogs would laugh that I categorized guys who could run very simply — fast, pretty fast, and very fast. I only used a stop watch if Jack Schwarz or Carl Hubbell specifically asked for a time on a prospect. The way I see it, you’ve got to hit to play. If you’ve got skills, they’ll find a place to play you. "I’m sending a name," I said the next day to Carl Hubbell. "His name is Jack Clark. I don’t think anybody has looked at him."

Man, I just love stories like this. The Giants waited until the 13th round but finally drafted Clark, and he wound up as the best 13th-rounder in the 1970s. By far.

But Genovese was even better-known for his earlier work with the Giants. In at least two 1973 games, seven of the Giants’ nine players on the field — including outfielders Bobby Bonds, Gary Maddox, and Gary Matthews, and Chris Speier and Dave Kingman — had been signed by Genovese. And an eighth, shortstop Tito Fuentes, had been signed by George’s brother!

Back in 1967, Genovese had done more than scout Maddox and George Foster. He’d actually coached both extensively, back when scouts did that sort of thing.

Most books by scouts are full of two things: The ones they got, and the ones that got away. Genovese’s "got away" story might make Dodgers fans weep. By 2007, Genovese was working for the Dodgers but didn’t have the ear of his boss. So there’s a whole chapter late in the book about when Genovese couldn’t convince scouting director Logan White that the area scout was wrong: that Andrew Lambo wasn’t more talented than a big fellow (then) named Mike Stanton…

During our discussion with the area scout, it became clear that Stanton’s showing in the Dodger Stadium workout had gotten Logan White’s attention. He asked the scout a number of questions about Stanton, and many drew negative responses. "Really raw," the scout said about Stanton’s skills. "Going to play football," he added. "Wants nine hundred thousand dollars." As the words were spoken, I felt a knot form in my stomach. I knew the information was wrong. Our scout’s evaluation made it clear that he had not invested the effort to thoroughly appreciate Stanton. Lambo had been easy to evaluate. He played travel ball, was in tournaments all around the country, and took part in showcase events. Stanton did not. Nobody should have been scared off because he was raw. If you understood the power hitter, you know their skills take longer to develop.

Because our scout lacked an appreciation of his skills and didn’t have much scouting experience, he couldn’t help Logan White understand if Stanton’s performance at Dodger Stadium was an anomaly or a legitimate display of his talent and potential. I knew my opinion wasn’t wanted, but I decided to pipe up. "Your first-round guys should be exceptional talent guys," I said. The remark got no response. Logan White then made Andrew Lambo the topic. "Is he your guy?" White asked. "Yes," the area scout answered.

That was it. It was done. I was frustrated and disappointed that I couldn’t have any input. I could not help but wonder if I had just witnessed the shortcomings of new-era scouting, where summer leagues and scout teams have been replaced by travel teams and showcase events…

For the record, Andrew Lambo was a bust with the Dodgers but eventually established himself as a really good Triple-A hitter and might still become a decent major leaguer. Of course he won’t be Giancarlo Stanton. But the Dodgers didn’t pass up Stanton for Lambo, because Lambo was a fourth-round pick and Stanton went in the second round.

In fact the Dodgers had only two picks before Stanton got drafted, and used both on college pitchers, one of whom (Chris Withrow) probably has a future and one of whom (James Adkins) probably doesn’t.

There were 75 players chosen ahead of Stanton, and so far only five or six of them have been as good as Stanton. So a lot of teams missed out on him.

Which doesn’t mean Genovese doesn’t have a point. But every scout has these stories, and you could probably write a fascinating alternate history of baseball according to the ones who got away. 

What I missed in this book, and what I’ve missed in all the books, are the mistakes. As passionate as Genovese was about Stanton, he must have been just as passionate about some players who wound up failing as professionals. And I’d love to know what we can learn from those players, too.

Anyway, if you’ve always wanted to read a book by a scout, Genovese’s is a good one. And yeah, we need to keep reading and telling these stories, because they’re a bigger part of the game’s historical fabric than most of us realize.