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Dollar Sign on the Muscle: The World of Baseball Scouting Paperback – February 1, 1999
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The book had a more significant impact on me than the trip to Washington did. It was astonishing to me that books like this existed in the world. When we returned, I raided all the narrative nonfiction books about sports from the Palm Beach County library. Most of them weren't so great, but I did, by way of this search, find my way to George Plimpton, Gay Talese, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, etc., which set me on a lifetime course of better and more fulfilling reading.
I recently reread Dollar Sign on the Muscle, and it's better, actually, than I remembered. It's a historical document, now. The scouts and the world of old-time baseball men belong largely to the past. The era of Theo Epstein and Billy Beane, with its emphasis on all things quantifiable, is probably good for baseball, but it's not terribly romantic.
But that's not what makes the book so good. It's the knack Kerrane has for rendering his characters whole. You feel like you know these guys, you know what makes them tick, you know what it's like to spend an afternoon with them, you know what they want, need, desire, what makes their hearts beat hard. Many of Kerrane's old scouts are likely dead now, but in the pages of Dollar Sign on the Muscle, they live and breathe like they did then.
Perhaps with time, this book will find its way into print again. I hope so. Meantime, see if you can find a used copy somewhere. It'll be worth whatever it costs you, I promise.
This book reflects a huge amount of research, but comes across with an easygoing quality, wearing its scholarship lightly.
It's unfortunate that it's out of print, and that used copies are so expensive. But if you can find one for a reasonable price you wouldn't be disappointed.
People often comment on the millions earned by baseball players. The scouts, by contrast, must work for love of the game. (The starting salary in 1981 was about $18,000; a veteran scout earned about $25,000). Scouts also work hard; some spend 45 weeks per year on the road. Unsurprisingly, the job is very hard on family life.
Dollar Sign focuses on long-time scouts. Most of the veterans in the book started well before the amateur draft, at a time when prospective players could sign with the team of their choice. Many of the old timers lament the changes in baseball (and - in particular - in scouting) through the years. The tensions between the independent-minded, veteran scouts who sign players based on intuition and the number-crunching, "corporate," younger scouts is a major focus in the book.
I first heard of this book when Sports Illustrated listed it as one of the 100 best sports books of all time. After reading Dollar Sign, I think that the ranking was well deserved. Kerrane f came up with a real rarity - a unique sports book.