The Buck Reports
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — That’s a beautiful dateline, isn’t it? Cooperstown. I’m here to do a bunch of fun research for my upcoming book, WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL. And this time I brought my wife, Margo — it’s her first visit to this magically quaint (or quaintly magical) place. She’s loving it.
As I’ve said before, baseball was not actually invented in Cooperstown.
But it should have been.
I’ve got to save the best stuff for the book, of course, but I did want to share one incredible find I made. I was looking through the fairly sparse file of an incredible Negro leagues player named Smokey Joe Williams — who was No. 62 in the Baseball 100 — and lamenting again how little we know about some of the greatest players in the history of the game.
And then I came across the oddest piece of paper. It was a scouting report page. It showed that Williams had both an overhand and three-quarter delivery. It rated his fastball as an 8 (highest it can go), his curveball as a 7 and his poise as an 8.
Here’s what it said:
“Great arm — an imposing sight on the mound. Great shoulders. Lean waist and hips. Could throw the ball by any hitter and he knew it. Great hard curveball. Changed speeds on all pitches. In the class with Walter Johnson. Very desirable.”
I stared at this report for a long time — what was this? I knew it wasn’t a scouting report from Williams’ time because he was not the only one on the page — Hilton Smith was also there, and Smith pitched many years after Williams.
I kept looking at the handwriting — words in all caps, a bit of shake in the writing, as if the author was putting extra pressure on the pen, an architectural feel to it all — and I thought to myself: Holy cow, this is a Buck O’Neil scouting report.
So I went to Cassidy Lent, the wonderful librarian at the Hall, and she explained that yes, this was a Buck scouting report. Here’s the story: In the 1990s — I’m going to guess 1993 or 1994 — the Hall of Fame came to Buck and asked him to do scouting reports on Negro leaguers he thought belonged in the Hall of Fame. And he did 11 of them.
All 11 are now in the Hall of Fame — well, 12 if you count the author, Buck himself.
And going through these reports felt like, yes, talking with Buck again.
I think we could all use a little more of that — a little more of Buck — in this particular moment. So here you go: The Buck scouting reports (with Buck’s ratings and comments for each player).*
*You will notice how he ended each report with “Very desirable.” That was the scout in Buck — he was, as much as anything — a pure baseball scout.
(Centerfielder. All-field hitter, 8 power, 4.1 speed to first base)
Soft hands and quick feet. Got the good jump on fly balls. Could close the gaps right and left, outstanding defensively. Home run power to all fields. The ability to steal 50 bases per season. Very desirable.
(Catcher. Pull hitter, 8 arm strength and 8 arm accuracy, top-level makeup)
Cat-quick defensively. Good hands. Strong arm with quick release. Could really control a pitching staff. Quick bat with pull power. Good baserunner from first to third or first to home. Very desirable.
Didn’t see this player but old timers rated him along with Gibson and Mackey.
(Right fielder. Pull hitter. 4.0 running time to first. 8 power and 8 fielding)
Outstanding athlete. Could have excelled in any sport. Quick enough to play centerfield. Great arm relegated him to rightfield (at end of career). Great pull hitter. Hit it high and far. Very desirable.
(Shortstop. 8 baserunner and 8 fielder, top-level makeup)
Most intelligent player I’ve ever played against. Great eyesight. Picked up ball off bat and rotation on ball from pitcher’s hand. Excellent bat control. Line-drive hitter to all fields. Soft, quick hands. Made all the plays. Very desirable.
(Left-handed. Four pitches, including screwball)
Live arm. Running fastball. Three-quarter arm acting with tight curveball. Biting screwball. Total command on all pitches. Top starter in early career. Valuable stopper near end of career. Very desirable.
(Right-handed. Top-level makeup)
Front-line starter. Short arm type. Everything quick. Strikeout pitcher. Very durable. Worked with three days’ rest. Played second base or left field between starts. Top athlete. Very desirable.
(Left-handed. 8 control and poise)
Front-line starter. Hard sinking fastball and over-the-top curveball. Both pitches strikeout pitches. Spotted all pitches well. Koufax reminded me of Foster. Very desirable.
Wilber “Bullet” Rogan
(Right-handed. 8 curveball and 8 poise, top-level makeup)
Not a big man but broad shoulders and muscular forearms. Live high fastball and hard, sharp breaking ball that we called a “dropball” — strikeout pitch. Excellent athlete. Hit fourth in lineup when he played the outfield. Very desirable. Bob Feller type.
(Right-handed. 8 curveball, top-level makeup)
Front-line, first-division type pitcher. Two fastballs — one overhand riser, other three-quarter sinker. Excellent curveball. Dizzy Dean counterpart. Very desirable.
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