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long live the bing (part 1 of 2)

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"i didn't grow up with beane ball," says
bing devine, "and I didn't grow up with a
computer."

notwithstanding which, the former cardinal
GM consented to spend half an hour
chatting with a blogger about beane ball and
other vagaries of the 21st-century game.
still going strong at 88 years old, devine is
now a special assignment scout for the
cardinals, for whom he served two
illustrious stints as general manager --
1957-1964 and 1967-1978. devine was
the main architect of the cardinals' glorious
championship teams of the 1960s, who
hardball times' steve treder called "almost
certainly the greatest trade-built baseball
team of all time."
devine pulled the trigger
on most of those trades, most famously
brock-for-broglio; if you're unfamiliar with
his record, i recommend his autobiography,
the memoirs of bing devine: stealing lou
brock and other brilliant moves by
a master g.m..
(sports publishing, 2004).

i made contact with devine through the
generosity of skip erwin, an old friend and
a fixture in st louis sports broadcasting and
promotion for more than 50 years. skip
hosts a weekly sports-talk show on
wgnu 920 am
("radio free st louis") every
monday at 6 pm; he and bing devine go
way back, and skip was kind enough to
facilitate this exclusive for VEB. part 1
runs today; part 2 tomorrow.



VEB: what you do for the cardinals these days?

DEVINE: well i'm what is called a special assignment scout, and that doesn't really mean a great deal except that you don't have a territory. you scout at will, your own choice. or when they have somebody they'd like to have you see, they send you to whatever club it is to see the player or the team.

VEB: so you do a certain amount of traveling then?

DEVINE: i have done a lot of traveling, really up to last year. i didn't do as much last year, and this year i haven't done hardly any, period. but i am scheduled to see a couple of minor league clubs in the next two weeks.

VEB: and that was going to be my next question: you're scouting both minor and major league players?

DEVINE: well, again, up till the last couple of years I scouted both major and minor league teams. last year I cut it down to AA and AAA, and I think that's probably about what I'll do again this year. if I do any traveling this year it'll be the AA teams and maybe one or two AAA teams.

VEB: and are you scouting players within the cardinal organization, or are you looking at players that belong to other organizations?

DEVINE: it kind of works both ways. this year one of the assignments i have for some time in the next couple of months really are our own teams. springfield AA and memphis AAA.

VEB: you mentioned that a certain amount of the scouting you do is at your own discretion. if you go and scout somebody on that basis, how do you decide a certain player is worth a look? do you go on things you've heard from other scouts, or are there certain types of players that you look for?

DEVINE: i'm not quite sure how to answer that question. if i go somewhere on my own initiative, i might just go to see who or what impresses me. i usually have knowledge of one or two players that i think would be of interest, but it could be that somebody else catches my eye as i'm there. i do read reports on players that are published, and i occasionally talk to a scout to get some idea what they think just for my general information.

VEB: the scouting that you're doing is the type of scouting that's been going on since baseball began, where you go in person and watch a player and you look at his mechanics and his demeanor and his performance, and you base your judgments on that. and of course in recent years there's been a greater use of statistics and computer models and things of that nature.

DEVINE: billy beaneball.

VEB: billy beaneball. what are your feelings about beaneball? do you think there's a place for it in baseball?

DEVINE: well, it's a whole new approach, and that attracts the media and the public and people in the game to study it. i think it's helpful, and you don't ignore anything that might be helpful. i don't think it's the answer in itself; i don't think you can just completely take statistics and live on that. but i do think that it fits into your picture when you're scouting, and i definitely read about it and try to understand it. i think to some extent i've always done that. after i scout, maybe before I scout, I'll look through the book at the players I'm going to see or have heard about and study their numbers, study what's being said about them. i guess really to some extent beaneball has always been around, but it didn't get the attention or carry the weight that it does now. i didn't know it would eventually come to the point where it would have a title. i think it's a big part of scouting, but it has to be part of personal observation too.

VEB: when you say [beaneball] has always been around, are you saying that you and your scouts used statistics like on-base percentage, slugging average, and so forth back when you were running ballclubs?

DEVINE: yes, we used them but we didn't give them the kind of emphasis they get today. we'd get extensive sheets full of statistics -- on-base, slugging, versus left-handers or righthanders -- and we'd read them and maybe notice something, but we paid the most attention to the basics, like batting average or ERA. the other statistics weren't the critical ones -- they didn't drive the decision making then as much as they do today.

VEB: you work pretty closely with walt jocketty. what skills do you think make him so successful as a general manager?

DEVINE: people skills. he relates well to people -- not only his own employees and associates, but other people. I think he's well liked and has good rapport with people. people trust him -- not only his own people, but the other teams trust him. they feel they will get a pretty honest opinion if they ask him about a ballplayer.

i think something else he has is the recognition that you can't ever sit still. that's what i used to think. i grew up working for frank lane, who was known as "trader lane," and for a good reason: he loved to make trades and sometimes went out of his way to make one. i didn't think that was good, but that's the only thing about him i didn't think was good. i might have had a tendency to be conservative when it came to player personnel, but after working with frank lane I discovered you had to take a chance -- take a chance for a good reason with what you think is good background. and then you make your moves and have the courage to make the move, because it may be wrong. you're not going to be right all the time. but you go ahead and make the move and hope you get lucky.

walt jocketty has made a lot of fine moves, obviously, very few bad ones. and he fits everything together very well, and i think has the courage to make the moves. he knows what he's doing, and he's a nice man along with it. and that helps.

VEB: how many cardinal games to you get see in person in a given year?

DEVINE: i would say up till last year -- again, having reduced my scheduling --up till last year i probably saw 50 to 60 home games a year. this year i would guess i'll see probably at the most 30.

VEB: and do you like what you've seen of the team this year?

DEVINE: i think the record speaks for itself. they've got one of the best records in baseball, and they're playing very well in all phases of the game. their pitching has been good. the relief pitching has been good when isringhausen is healthy -- and he is now -- and their everyday lineup is very good. to me, at least, they're the standout club in the national league. now lots of things can happen between now and then. we've only played about a third of the season. in some ways it's a question of what kinds of injuries you suffer -- what kind of absence from how many games of certain players. that always happens, but the question is how much.

VEB: you just mentioned injuries, and isringhausen -- he has an injury history. i have been campaigning for the cards to acquire a strong setup man or even another closer -- billy wagner is the player i have focused on -- because the bullpen seems vulnerable to me.

DEVINE: relief pitching, i don't think you can ever have too much of it. but you're going to have to put out some pretty good players to get back somebody who can close.

VEB: i've been suggesting that with the two kids pitching so well down at memphis, the cardinals can afford to give up somebody from the rotation, like suppan or marquis, to acquire wagner. that shores up the bullpen, and then you hope the rookie will just pitch .500 ball. the way those kids are pitching, maybe you don't step down that much from marquis; maybe the rookie pitches just as well.

DEVINE: maybe. but you don't know that. i don't think i would move marquis. relief pitching is important, but starting pitching is more important. as much as i like wagner -- and i don't like him as much as i used to, but he's still very good -- i don't think i would give up a marquis for him. if i were the gm i would be thoroughly satisfied with how marquis is pitching. but that's just my opinion; i'm not the gm.

VEB: what about trading for an outfielder? that possibility has been raised as well.

DEVINE: yes, there was a story about that in the paper this morning. i would guess that such a move would be for the future as opposed to the present. you know, when you're going good and you seem to be unbeatable, sometimes you add something you don't need and it can upset the balance you have. i don't think either the outfield or the bullpen is a pressing need.

VEB: do you draw comparisons between this team, which has had a long run of success, and the teams you helped assemble back in the 1960s that had a similar run of success?

DEVINE: just as an observer, yeah. that sometimes hits you -- what the strengths of this club are compared to ones that you knew about or had, particularly championship teams. but I don't really dwell too much on the past.

VEB: is there anything in particular about this team that strikes you as similar to the gibson-brock teams?

DEVINE: i think the main thing is, it's well balanced. they have a good club on the field every day. it has a good pitching staff. most championships teams that have that. and that's what they have, and i think that's the reason they're playing so well.

VEB: tell me about some of the young players you have seen in the cardinals' system that particularly excite you.

DEVINE: i have not been out yet to see the AAA club, memphis, or the AA club, springfield. but one of the players i want to watch -- and i've been asked to make sure i see him enough to have an opinion -- is ankiel. you know, ankiel appeals for your imagination every time you look at him and think about him.

VEB: yeah.

DEVINE: right now he's basically decided he should become an everyday ballplayer, because he's a good hitter and his pitching ability and maybe his attractiveness as a pitcher has gone backwards. and it probably has. my own opinion -- and this is just strictly an opinion as a longtime baseball man -- is that i would hope that somewhere along the line ankiel will again get into the pitching picture. now, if he doesn't feel like he can and doesn't want to, it won't work. so it has to get to the point where he thinks he's not as great a hitter as he believed, h's not as good an everyday ballplayer as he hoped he would be, but let's take a look at pitching again. i don't know if he'll pitch again, but i personally would like to see it. he had a great arm, great ability. he's still only 24 years old with that talent. so who knows what would happen or could happen down the line? i'm anxious to see him, whatever he's playing or doing, just as a matter of personal observation as much as a scouting opinion.

VEB: yeah, he's really a unique case isn't he?

DEVINE: Yes he is.

VEB: you have seen so many pitchers over the years. had ankiel not run into this problem with his control, do you think he had the hall-of-fame type of ability that everybody says?

DEVINE: oh yeah. i don't think there's any question of that. when you used to see his arm and the ability he had with his pitches, and the impact he would have on the hitters -- there's no doubt that he was a potential hall of famer. now that was still early in his career. and it still really is not late in his career, so who knows what would have happened. but he certainly had it all right there for it to happen.

VEB: i think all cardinal fans are hoping for the best for him, one way or the other.

DEVINE: yeah, i think probably everybody in baseball is, just as a matter of course, because that kind of problem doesn't come along too often. and those kind of pitching abilities don't come along too often either, and when they do you'd like to maximize them for the game.

part 2 of this interview runs tomorrow at VEB.