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General  | Professional  | 2/12/2010

Finding Character in a Baseball Player

Anup Sinha     

Perfect Game contributor Anup Sinha has written a book with longtime MLB scout and executive Bill Lajoie entitled CHARACTER IS NOT A STATISTIC: The Legacy and Wisdom of Baseball’s Godfather Scout Bill Lajoie.

The book is available through the Xlibris.com (https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.aspx?bookid=70062) bookstore as well as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Bill Lajoie was the architect of the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers as well as an indispensable right-hand man to John Schuerholz (1990s Atlanta Braves) and Theo Epstein (2000s Boston Red Sox) during their terrific World Series runs.

This fourth excerpt for PGCrosschecker.com comes from Appendix U in the “Wisdom” section of the book, entitled Finding Character in a Baseball Player. We’ve excerpted pages 335-336.

Finding Character in a Baseball Player

“Makeup” is a word that gets thrown around the horn by baseball scouts. To people on the streets, makeup is something women put on to hide their blemishes. To scouts, makeup is supposed to refer to the player’s intangibles, what he has inside him, i.e. what makes him up.

But few really understand the importance of what a player has inside his heart the way Bill Lajoie does. A typical scout will often claim a young player has good makeup because he’s a “Yes sir, no sir” type of kid, because he doesn’t drink, or because he hustles. All are admirable attributes and perhaps a part of the equation, but none of them answer Bill Lajoie’s primary concern.

Bill Lajoie’s primary concern is whether this player is going to reach his potential on the field. Everyone has graded out his physical tools. His hitting, his power, his running, and his fielding. Everyone thinks they know what the player’s upside is, what kind of player he can be. What they don’t know for sure is whether he’s going to work hard enough and long enough to make himself that kind of player for an appreciable length of time.

It is not as simple as just going out and doing it. That’s where scouts make mistakes. Certainly more talented players have more leeway, but they still have to have a certain amount of devotion and inner strength, a certain amount of character to get to the big leagues and have any success. There have been tremendously talented players, even first overall picks in the entire draft, who’ve failed to make it in the big leagues and it’s often because their baseball character simply didn’t allow them.

Lajoie used himself as an example. He was a good kid, he played hard, loved baseball, and had the physical tools to be a 10-year major league player. While he was playing, Lajoie was unable to understand why he couldn’t rise to the occasion. He was a great AAA player, but whenever he had a chance to impress the big league staff in spring training, Lajoie fell short. Introspection eventually revealed that he was flawed on the inside, in his character. Lajoie didn’t have that deep-down belief that he deserved to be, and was destined to be, a major league player. It inhibited him subconsciously when he needed to rise to the occasion.

And that is exactly what Lajoie desperately looked for in players he scouted. He learned to look kids straight into their hearts to tell not only how motivated they were, but how tough and determined to become the best ballplayers they could be.

It isn’t just limited to baseball players, Lajoie could walk into most any room and within seconds of mingling and studying body language, tell who had the character to succeed in whatever endeavor they had chosen.

This definition of character should not be confused with any of the other 15 definitions one might find in a dictionary.

Good baseball character means having the insides, the makeup, the “lower-half” to achieve one’s potential. Having a gambling problem like Pete Rose, an ego like Barry Bonds, or even eccentricity like Manny Ramirez doesn’t mean bad character in this sense. All three of them were exceptional players, if you call them bad character (or bad makeup), then you’re missing the point. They have their flaws, but to say they didn’t reach their potential because of bad character is ignorant. The truth is, they exceeded their potential. To pass on one of them for a choir boy is counterproductive. A Hall of Fame jerk is more desirable than a career minor league Joe Niceguy any day of the week if you’re a major league general manager!

Lajoie certainly liked “nice guys” and his 1984 Detroit Tigers team was full of them. But he understood the difficulty of procuring 25 nice guys who are also excellent baseball players on the same squad. It’s not ideal to have not-so-nice guys, but it’s practical.

So how does Bill Lajoie determine if a young player has strong character? The Magic Question (Appendix J) is a start, but it also requires a keen eye. Lajoie believed in watching a high school or college prospect in everything he did, in the dugout, on the field, interacting with his parents, essentially doing everything short of following the kid to the bathroom. The player will tell you if he’s determined to become a great player, if he’s motivated to succeed, or if he’s only motivated by money and attention. The way he plays when nobody’s in the stands, the way he plays “away from the ball” (to borrow a basketball/football term), the way he plays hurt, in big games, all these things collectively give an idea on what the young man is made of.

There’s truly no way to write it down or to teach it. It’s something that is instinctive to Bill Lajoie, but also learned through experience. The experience of watching thousands of hopeful young baseball players and seeing which ones made it and which didn’t. There is no replacement for that, no statistical innovation or Ivy League degree can replace experience and instincts. That is the only way to identify character in a player and character is the Holy Grail that allowed Bill Lajoie to come out on top in Major League Baseball.

CHARACTER IS NOT A STATISTIC: The Legacy and Wisdom of Baseball’s Godfather Scout Bill Lajoie is already available for purchase from Xlibris.com at https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.aspx?bookid=70062. It is also available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Anup Sinha can be contacted via e-mail at Nupester@aol.com.