Flannery tops at finding good talent

The Atlanta Braves scouts are the unsung heroes in the organization. They are the ones that go out and find the talent that has made the franchise one of the most successful in the game over the past fifteen years. As he continues to promote his new book, "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team," BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talks with one of the best, Braves' Regional Crosschecker John Flannery. This interview was conducted last winter.

SHANKS: Tell me first how you got to the Braves.

FLANNERY: I played minor league baseball for about seven years. I played in the big leagues for a month. I was out of the game for about six years when I started bird-dogging for a Tigers scout named Rick Arnold. An Atlanta Braves scout by the name of Dean Jongewaard hired me as a part-time scout in November of 1988. I met the staff the following spring as they came in to see the players in Southern California. Then that following year I started full-time as an area scout. I've been with them ever since.

SHANKS: Who did you play in the minors and majors with?

FLANNERY: I signed with the California Angels. I was traded to the Chicago White Sox. I played in AA and AAA with them and went to the big leagues with the White Sox in 1977. Then I played five years with the White Sox and then optioned out to the Padres for a year. After I had been released I played another year for the Tigers organization. 1982 was my last year. I signed in 1975 out of high school then played briefly in the big leagues in 1977, and then finished my career in 1982.

SHANKS: What did you play?

FLANNERY: I was a shortstop mainly. I played some second base but was mostly at shortstop.

SHANKS: And you had a month in the majors?

FLANNERY: Yes sir a 20-year-old big leaguer. It was a thrill. It was a great year. I grew that year spiritually. I played in the big leagues and then got married at the end of the year and have been married ever since. So 1977 was a tremendous year.

SHANKS: It was only a month but they can't take that away from you can they?

FLANNERY: No sir they can't. I was with Des Moines and we were in Omaha playing Joe Sparks was my manager that year. A couple of days before the season ended he called me into his office he called me in and told me I was going to the big leagues at the end of the year. I said, "Ok that sounds good." He said, "Well aren't you going to jump up and down." I said, "No Joe I've been thinking about doing this all my life." When I went up the runway that's when I started jumping and hollering and screaming. I got on a pay phone and called my dad. That was a tremendous phone call.

SHANKS: What did you do those few years you were away from baseball?

FLANNERY: Well with a wife and two kids and one on the way I did about just about whatever I could. I painted houses for several years and worked for a maintenance company for several years. Actually when I started scouting I was painting during the day and watching ballgames in the afternoon and evening. I was working a real man's job.

SHANKS: Did you know you wanted to get back into it?

FLANNERY: No. It really hadn't crossed my mind. When I finished playing I was 25 years old living in Southern California with a house payment and a family. In my mind, the only options were to go into coaching. The coaching life with a family didn't appeal to me. At that time I thought scouts were just a bunch of old guys. That's how much the game has changed. It wasn't until after about six years after I had been playing that a friend of mine that I went to high school with who was a young scout with the Tigers, who works for the Major League Scouting Bureau now, approached me about bird-dogging for him and helping him run his scout team on Sundays. When I started doing that, my wife said that I had that little spring back in my walk. I started watching guys do that and I'll never forget Cliff Ditto, who was an outstanding scout out there in California for the Padres, said, "John I'll give you two pieces of advice. If you see a high school kid do something once, you know he can do it. Don't expect him to do it all the time. The other thing is keep you're regular job and just do this part-time." I took half of that advice. It just looked like they were having so much fun and it was a way to get back into the game. When the opportunity presented itself…going to work for Dean Jongewaard and Paul Snyder was a real blessing.

SHANKS: So how did you know Dean?

FLANNERY: Dean is Roger Jongewaard's brother. Dean was working with this Tigers scout on putting together a combined scout team. When he saw me at the games and saw me running the team he just decided to go ahead and get me a part-time contract, which he did. I'll be forever grateful.

SHANKS: What about Dean?

FLANNERY: He's probably one of the best baseball scouts I know. When I'm watching baseball players and I'm trying to scout for talent, it's generally the guys who do it easy that appeal to you. The guys that just go about their job and play the game without a lot of effort. Well Dean Jongewaard is that type of a scout. Dean does his job very easily, very naturally, and very instinctively. We had a tremendous amount of fun working California and going to Mexico and just doing everything that scouts do.

SHANKS: When did you meet Paul?

FLANNERY: I met Paul the following spring when the cross checkers came into town to see Dean's players. It was at a restaurant Roger Jongewaard's Bake and Broil Restaurant in Long Beach. We all had dinner. We went to Blair Field, which was kind of the cornerstone where we all met up. It was time for those guys to come in. It was usually Paul Snyder and Bill Wight. At that time the area scouts were Dean Jongewaard and Jimmy Johnson. So I was helping out with kind of carting them around and meeting them out at the ballpark and keeping my mouth shut and my ears open.

SHANKS: What did you think of Paul?

FLANNERY: I thought he was outstanding. He was a very easy-going and personable guy. The thing I noticed about the area scouts with the Braves versus some of the other clubs was when the area scouts had their cross checkers come in, generally they all were worried and just taking a lot of time to think about how good my player was going to be. These guys, Dean and Jimmy, were very relaxed and just having fun when their guys came in. There was a different atmosphere. They worked together well as a team. There wasn't that tension like there was with other clubs. It just seemed like a good place to work.

SHANKS: Was a lot of that Paul do you think?

FLANNERY: Back in that day, my first year as a full-time area scout in 1990, Paul used to travel from region to region and get a hotel room. The area scout would go in for a one-on-one meeting with Paul to talk about all the players on your list. My first time and only time to do that with Paul was at the LAX Marriott in 1990 and we sat in that room and we ate hamburgers and chewed tobacco and talked about players for about eight hours. It was very special. It was intense but it wasn't tense. I felt my players had gotten a good shot when I got done talking with him. I was just looking forward to the draft. He really is a special human being. He and his wife Petie are special people.

SHANKS: Most everyone talks about the trust that he had in his scouts.

FLANNERY: It's amazing when you think about how long he's been in the game. You can't find anybody to talk bad about him. It's very, very unique.

SHANKS: What were some of the things you learned from him? Did you have a lot of contact after 1990 when Chuck Lamar replaced him?

FLANNERY: It back off somewhat. Paul was put in a different role, so my working with him was somewhat limited. I'll tell you I remember one time and I don't remember what year it was there was a pitcher in the Pensacola area by the name of Farnsworth, not Kyle Farnsworth but Jeff Farnsworth. I needed to have him seen and I was the Midwest crosschecker at the time. This must have been in 1996. Paul was down in spring training in West Palm Beach when we were still down there. Paul went to the morning meeting like he always did with the minor league camp. He hopped in his car and drove to Panama City, Florida from West Palm Beach to see Jeff Farnsworth pitch. Farnsworth went out and pitched one inning and the next inning he walked out there and he had a pain in the back of his shoulder and walked off the field. Paul said, "Ok I've got to get back to spring training." Paul got back in his car and drove all the way back to spring training in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was in the meeting the next day. It was that type of effort that he put out that he put out that has influenced me the most as I go about my job. I used to like to read a lot of western books. They talk about blazing a trail. Well Paul Snyder really did blaze a trail for us. Then when Roy took over Roy just kept it going. It was a seamless transition there with the same kind of effort and attention to detail. They both have different styles and they're both very different people. The results and the style of effort are very similar.

SHANKS: Over the years what has been said about the high school vs. college debate?

FLANNERY: What we've always emphasized is that we like to raise our own. That generally means drafting high school players. We were very high school oriented when I started with the Braves. We have since made some changes, I think more to economics than to philosophy. I still think that we try to draft the best player that we can get, regardless of whether they're from high school or college. We've had success in both areas. I think the nucleus of our real good players has been high school players. That's a credit to our player development staff. When you're out there in the field talking to families about having an organization that can develop their son, if you can back it up and show them the tape that Dayton Moore put together that shows all of the white-haired coaches we have that have already been to the mountain and back and who all they really want to do is develop the talent that they are given, that makes a big difference.

SHANKS: Chuck Lamar liked a little more toolsy players, right?

FLANNERY: Yes. I think the emphasis was still somewhat similar. There were some people he brought in that he has since taken to Tampa Bay where they have carried that mantra over there about taking athletes with tools. You've still go to play baseball. We've kind of combined the two over the years. But you can't walk away from players with tools. The more I do this the more I see that the formula with the tools has always got to be there, but the emphasis on makeup has really been tremendous. That's really been the key ingredient that we try to ascertain through talking with them and tests and that's why we need to maintain and trust our area scouts. I think that's why Paul was so successful. There were scouts he did trusts. One of him who just passed away last January, who was a close friend of Paul's and who I became close to, Charlie Smith. Charlie was an outstanding scout. He really knew the players he had in his scout. He's the guy who signed Ronnie Gant, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, and Matt Wright.

SHANKS: Did you learn early on when you joined the Braves that makeup was important?

FLANNERY: I think when I first started doing this I was focusing mainly on tools. I think the makeup part of it is something that I gradually learned. It's hard to measure. Going out and measuring a guy's tools are easier to do that finding out what's inside of a player. Regardless of how many tests we give or how much we think we know a player, until he gets out on a professional baseball field, that's when you're going to find out what a kid is made of. I think it took me a little time to recognize why some of the older scouts may have been keying on some players who I thought had less ability but had better makeup.

SHANKS: And as a crosschecker you aren't able to spend as much time with them as an area scout to learn the makeup, right?

FLANNERY: No. It really is a snapshot when you're crosschecking players. We try to really keep the lines of communication open with our area scouts so when we go in there and see a player we know things about him that we can go to the bank with as far as about this player's ability and his makeup. The finances of the game and the things around the game have made certain decisions for us as far who we can go after and we have a shot at. The tools will get you drafted and the makeup will get you to the big leagues.

SHANKS: What do you think about Charlie Thomas?

FLANNERY: He's not only a great story for the Braves, but for all of baseball. When you're looking at a kid who was protected by the player development staff. Their sole purpose is to develop whoever or whatever we give them, regardless of what level they think he can get to. They don't focus on that. They focus on making the guy the best they can make him. I happened to be in Danville when Charlie got called up. To see the expressions on the coaches faces who knew Charlie, who worked with Charlie, and who stood up for Charlie when they said ‘let's release him,' they were thrilled that he was getting his chance to go to the big leagues. Of course, now he's gone up there and done very well and it really makes everybody happy for him. That's what baseball is. We read stats, watch games, and we grade players out, but baseball can be the most humbling game on Earth and also the most satisfying game. When you see a kid who has that desire that will not be denied to play this game and make it to the highest level, you know it's the greatest game on Earth.

SHANKS: You mentioned you were around Bill Wight (retired Braves West Coast Scout). Can you talk about him?

FLANNERY: Bill Wight is a tremendous evaluator of talent. If you've ever met him, he looks like he's got the biggest eyes you'll ever see. He doesn't miss anything when he's out there to see a player. Nothing escapes him. His sense of humor is incredible. He's just a fun guy to be around and a fun guy to take to the ballpark. But you just had to make sure you didn't miss any meals when you had him in your car. I did that one time and found out about it. I made sure that from then on I scheduled my games with the players he had to see so that we made sure we took care of the necessities. He's a great guy.

SHANKS: Paul said that Bill scouted position players very, very well.

FLANNERY: Yes I think so if you look back at the history and see who he helped Paul sign. It seems that he really did have a feel for the hitters. When he saw Brian Hunter at Cerritos College. I think he was an 8th round pick for us (in 1987). He was a good hitter. I remember taking him to see Dmitri Young. They intentionally walked him four times. We couldn't do much with that game. He did really have a good idea. And I think he did really realize when pitchers had talent. I had a kid on my draft board who I didn't think a lot of who he saw pitch. He said, "You know you might want to take another look at that guy." His name was Steve Trachsel, who pitched in the big leagues for about 15 years. He had a great eye for talent.

SHANKS: You mentioned when Roy took over for Paul. Was there any worry when that happened that he couldn't do it well? Those were big shoes to fill there?

FLANNERY: The thing that we've been able to do that has been a tremendous blessing for us is that Paul Snyder is in the draft room with us. So when we sit down for those ten days or so of intense meetings to talk about the players we've got that influence of Paul Snyder there who has been through the wars, who can sometimes get around a roadblock when there's a discussion going on that seems to be stalemated. So Roy has really been able to utilize Paul's experience and ability to continue doing what we've always done, and that's to try and keep the edict that John Schuerholz gave us a long time ago and that is to keep the pipeline full.

SHANKS: Can we talk about the 2000 draft?

FLANNERY: I remember at that time I was the Midwest regional crosschecker. The player I had on my list that I really wanted was Kelly Johnson. Tony LaCava was Roy's guy that year. He was doing the national job. Tony did a tremendous job of covering the entire country. When we sat down to line up the players and who we thought we had a chance at we knew we had several extra picks. These were the players we liked: the power arms, the hitters, and some of the lower guys who ended up being big leaguers. It's always been the saying in baseball: you make your draft in the 4th through the 10th round. And that was the case in this draft. We drafted good prospects high, middle, and low. I think it was probably the best depth of any draft that I've been involved with. Some of those players are in the big leagues and some of them are getting close. We're pulling for all of those guys to make a splash here pretty soon. We're counting on kids like Kelly Johnson to make an impact for us in the near future.

SHANKS: Kelly's handled the transition to the outfield very well.

FLANNERY: He has and that doesn't surprise me because he does have physical ability. He can run. He can throw. He's got instincts. We're just waiting for that bat to really come around in a consistent way. Once it does he has one of the best swings in our organizations.

SHANKS: But he was a surprise to be taken that high in the draft?

FLANNERY: Well if I remember right we took a lot of heat for that entire draft. The publications that come out and rank the players haven't signed a single player yet. So we didn't worry about public opinion in that regard. We were worried about what we thought about these players, their ability, and who we could sign. That's kind of the way we always do it.

SHANKS: Were there other teams in on Kelly?

FLANNERY: There were a couple of teams on him. We knew where they were drafting. Luckily, our strategy paid off.

SHANKS: Who else did you look at in that 2000 draft? Did you see Matt Wright?

FLANNERY: Yes I did. And again that's a testament to our area scout and our associate scout John Baron for staying with the kid. He didn't throw particularly well the day I was there, but those guys knew they could sign him and stayed with him. He's paying off pretty good. He had a good arm. He could spin the ball. One he learns what it's going to take to make it in the big leagues, he's got a chance to make it. I have seen him pitch probably at his best in the second half of the last couple of seasons where he started off real bad and then I go in there and he looks like Millwood. So it's just a matter of getting that consistency. That's more of a mental thing more than anything else, just like it is with all minor leaguers.

SHANKS: Tell me about what a cross-checker does?

FLANNERY: Well I think the better word would be a "comparison scout." My job is to go in there and not determine whether or not a guy is a prospect, but where he fits on the list regionally or nationally. That's kind of where I fit in. When we start comparing apples to apples, we want to make sure that we've got these guys in the right groups. Of course you'll have guys that will just light you up and then you'll have guys that just won't. But again it goes back to the area scouts knowing the players, equipping you with enough information so that when you get into the draft room, where the crosscheckers sit for ten days for many hours and talk about players. The area scouts are not allowed to be in there, probably more due to trying to manage that many people in one room. But if I have enough information about players that I know area scouts really like, then you can stand up and fight for a player. We get a chance to see them play briefly. A lot of it depends on what happens that day. But if you have a guy that really believes in his players, and you trust that scout, then I have no problem in going back and seeing a player.

SHANKS: We talked about Roy. He's had five drafts. Are we deeper now than we've ever been and is it because of these last five drafts? We haven't lost that many picks lately.

FLANNERY: Roy had the luxury of having multiple picks the first few years that he was in the big seat. The last couple years we've been picking further down. The only think I can tell you about the depth of our organization is what other scouts are telling me that go to see our minor league clubs. Right now I'm covering the Texas League. I'm filing reports on every player in this league. I've got an idea on how many prospects there are on each club. When other scouts come up to me and say, "You know I just saw Rome and wrote up thirteen prospects on that club" or "I just saw Myrtle Beach and they had ten legitimate prospects on that team," I think that gives you a little bit of confidence that we're doing a pretty good job of getting the right players drafted and signed. Not only here in the states but internationally. It's kind of a combination of the two.

SHANKS: Has Roy continued the philosophy that was in place with Paul?

FLANNERY: Absolutely. I think with the work ethic and the attention to detail, and Roy's more technological than Paul ever was, so we've been able to use some of those tools to help us in the draft. The budget has somewhat changed how we go about doing our business compared to the 90's when Ted Turner owned the club. Things have changed now with the current ownership, but the philosophy and the work ethic and the type of "Braves type" player that we're looking for has never changed.

SHANKS: Is that reputation of going after a certain "Braves-type" player out there? Do high school coaches even know what that is?

FLANNERY: I think the ones that are really in tuned to major league baseball and looking at an organization and what it has done over the years. It hasn't hurt that our club has won 12 divisions in a row and has been to the World Series five times in the 90's and has had that kind of national exposure and success. But I also think that they know when the Braves are in the house what we are looking for. That again goes to how Paul taught us to go out to the ballpark: to get there early, to be on time, to pay attention to details, and to carry yourself as a representative of the Atlanta Braves.

SHANKS: As a crosschecker you are often not listed, so who have you been involved with?

FLANNERY: Going back to when I was a part-time guy, I think that was when I had my first real experience with being in on a signing. Dean Jongewaard was the area scout and when we drafted Ryan Klesko. I was fortunate enough to be very involved with the signing on that day. We signed him on Father's Day of 1989 in Bobby Cox's suite. It was a day that I'll never forget. And Bobby Cox, when you want to talk about who has influenced this organization, he has been tremendous. Back then he was the General Manager of the Atlanta Braves. We were trying to sign Ryan Klesko. There was an issue of a certain amount of money to try to sign him. They wanted a little bit more and Bobby said, "You know we need to call Paul Snyder and ask for permission." Well did that strike you kind of funny? Here's the GM calling time out to call Paul Snyder. Again that comes back to that family organization that we have. Several years later in 1997, right after the draft I took my family to Atlanta to see the new ballpark and to get to know each other again, and we walked into the stadium and went down to where the scout's seats are during batting practice. I happened to see Bobby. He looked up and he waved and he came right to the screen. He said, "John how are you doing?" I said, "Great." He said, "Are we going to be able to sign our second round pick?" Now here's the manager of our club, who has been in the World Series so many times and he's in the middle of a pennant race, and he wants to know our second round pick who was a high school left-hander by the name of Joey Nation out of Oklahoma City. That just indicates how much these people are into this organization as a family. Bobby is outstanding.

SHANKS: You mentioned LaRoche. Did you see him?

FLANNERY: Yes I did. Brian Kohlscheen took me to see him in a very abbreviated look. As you know he was under control of another club that year. So we had to scout him with a very hands-off type approach due to the rules of baseball. But Brian had some time in between games and he said, "Come on let's go watch this kid hit." We've all thought that as a pitcher that was probably going to be his ticket to the big leagues. In fact, I was in Richmond last year when Rochy was there doing well and he happened to go down to the bullpen and do a bullpen with Guy Hansen. His stuff was outstanding. Guy was just trying to figure out how he could talk Bobby into making him a legit two-way guy. It was good. His fastball, curve ball, and change were all above average. He looked like he knew what he was going on that mound.

Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team is in your local bookstore. Bill Shanks can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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