Baseball's Endangered Species (Book Review)
by Paul Semendinger
May 19, 2023
A few weeks ago, I was provided with a review copy of Lee Lowenfish's new book Baseball's Endangered Species: Inside the Craft of Scouting By Those Who Lived It.
The following is my honest review of this detailed and quite amazing baseball book.
To begin, Baseball's Endangered Species is a book rich in detail, history, and and amazing facts about the history, not just of scouting, but of specific scouts who are used to tell the story of the scouting profession over the last one hundred (or so) years.
Rather than simply talking about the art of being a baseball scout, Lowenfish takes the reader inside the world and the lives of the scouts themselves. He shares stories about each, how they connect to each other, the teams they worked for, and the sport itself. He also tells the story of the players they scouted and signed.
Through this approach, the reader doesn't just get to know how scouting developed and changed over the history of baseball, he gets to almost live the life of the scout as he toils at his unique craft. This book is both a history of the game, populated by many of the biggest names in the sport, but it's also the story of forgotten men and women who loved the game, worked for the game, and often worked in anonymity.
The aspect of the book that struck me the most was the tremendous detail Lowenfish was able to get into in the text. The reader gets to know each of these scouts, and their associates, personally. Lowenfish shares the stories of their journey through baseball (often young players, not quite good enough to sustain a professional career, but with keen minds, tremendous work ethics, and a love of the game). Lowenfish then also tells the individual stories of many of the players these scouts followed, signed, and helped in their own quests to reach the big leagues.
Some of the players we meet in the text, of course, go on to become stars. Others flame out. We see players of great promise who, for a host of reasons, are not able to succeed, and some who might not have even been the brightest star on the sandlot attain greatness. All these stories and all of this history is told through the lens of the scouts who discovered and/or nutured them in their careers.
For me as a Yankees fan, Chapter 2 was especially enjoyable as it focused primarily on the career of the great scout Paul Krichell and the role he played in the great Yankees dynasties. As noted, though, we don't just meet Krichell and the players he found and signed, but also a host of other players and scouts who helped make the Yankees into the powerhouse club they were in from the mid 1920s to the mid 1960s.
This book shares a unique and often untold history of baseball. Rich in detail, it is a book any student of the history of baseball will enjoy!
What follows are some of the great nuggets from the text, some fun facts and trivia, that I especially enjoyed learning about:
Before becoming a great scout, Paul Krichell was a catcher, signed originally by Clark Griffith of the Highlanders in 1905. He was injured in a home plate collision with TY Cobb. In 1914, still hanging on, Krichell was catching for the Buffalo Bisons against a team from Baltimore when Babe Ruth made his pro debut as a pitcher. They intentionally walked the batter ahead of Ruth in the lineup before his first at bat. You can imagine what happened next...
Bill Virdon, who played for the 1960 Pirates (who defeated the Yankees in the World Series) had originally been signed by the Yankees by another great scout Tom Greenwade. Virdon was traded to St. Louis in the deal that brought Enos Slaughter to the Yanks. In the mid-1970s (of course) Virdon managed the Yankees.
Hank Bauer's given name was Henry Louis Bauer (the same first and middle names as Lou Gehrig).
In the tenth round of the 1966 MLB draft, the Yankees chose a Hall of Famer. This player, the 190th player chosen in the draft, didn't play professional baseball and instead went on to play in the NFL. That player? Ken Stabler.
The only player to play in three different perfect games was Paul O'Neill (Tom Browning, David Wells, and David Cone).
I'll close the review with a great quote from Johnny VanderMeer, the only pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters (and who hailed from my hometown, Midland Park, New Jersey):
"The harder you work, the luckier you get."
This book is filed with great stories, great history, and so much more. Everyone who reads this book will learn things about the game that they never knew before.
If you enjoy reading about baseball history, you'll enjoy this book!