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Judging Talent for 'The Show' : Baseball: Scout Chuck McMichael's opinions can make the difference between success and failure for young players, as well as for the Royals.


Chuck McMichael's tastes are simple.

After spending 10 years combing the country in search of the next Bret Saberhagen or Bo Jackson, McMichael longs for nothing but the barest necessities.

"Great bat speed, good runners and the sun--that's what I enjoy," says McMichael, a scout for the Kansas City Royals. "I wish I had more time to fish and hike and do the other things I like, but baseball won't allow it."

McMichael, a former Southern Section Player of the Year at Hoover High, is on the road more than 200 days a year for the Royals, watching and evaluating ballplayers who aspire to careers in the major leagues.

In the past 10 years, McMichael, 34, has risen from part-time area scout in Southern California to Phoenix-based national cross-checker for one of baseball's most highly regarded organizations. As a national cross-checker, McMichael's main responsibility is to determine in what order prospects should be drafted.

Last weekend, as he perused the talent on display at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium during a series between the Bruins and USC, McMichael reflected upon his baseball career, which began at Hoover and has included stops at the University of Arizona, La Verne, the minor leagues and, finally, in scouting.

"I'm usually hanging around with guys (scouts) that are between 50 and 65--and that's a tremendous benefit," McMichael said. "These guys in scouting and player development are the heroes of the game with 15 to 30 years of experience that I can draw from."

McMichael, a left-handed pitcher-center fielder, was named 4-A Player of the Year in 1975 after he compiled a 16-2 record and led Hoover to a Southern Section title.

Chosen in the 10th round of the free-agent draft by the New York Mets, McMichael opted to attend Arizona and was a member of the Wildcats' 1976 NCAA championship team.

In 1977, he was 6-2 with a team-low 3.00 earned-run average. Then he injured his knee playing summer ball in Alaska. The injury forced McMichael to redshirt his junior year and, after surgery and rehabilitation, he transferred to La Verne to complete his final two seasons of eligibility before signing with the Royals as a free agent.

McMichael played in the Gulf Coast Rookie League in 1980, then compiled a 7-1 record and 3.43 ERA at Charleston in the Class-A South Atlantic League in 1981.

When his contract for the next season arrived during the winter, McMichael expected to learn of his promotion to a higher Class-A league, or even a Double-A team. Instead, he received a player-coach contract.

"I called back to Kansas City and said I still thought I was a prospect," McMichael recalled. "They basically told me, 'Well, we think you're a prospect--a prospect as a manager.' "

The news only managed to drive McMichael out of baseball and into his father's contracting business. However, about six months after spring training ended, McMichael was back on the phone to the Royals.

"I told them, 'Hey, I made a mistake, what can I do?' " McMichael said. "That's when they mentioned the scouting thing."

Under the tutelage of veteran scouts such as Al Kubski, Rosie Gilhausen and Guy Hansen, McMichael's career advanced quickly.

"It was pretty obvious from the start that he had a good chance to be a good scout," Hansen said. "He had the ability to take what he saw and put it on paper, giving the cross-checker a good vision of what he was coming to see."

Today, McMichael is on the receiving end of those reports, thereby necessitating long separations from his wife, Janice, and their five children, as he double-checks the work of area scouts by seeing high school, college, minor league and major league games as well as visiting the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. It's an inexact science for even the most experienced scout.

"I wish we could sign 1,000 kids and have 900 clubs and let everybody play, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way," said McMichael, who lists San Francisco Giants first baseman Will Clark, Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and Milwaukee Brewers infielder Gary Sheffield as the best prospects he ever saw.

"We think we know what we're doing and I think we do a good job," he said. "But the fact of the matter is there's guys that go in the first round that never get out of A ball and there's guys who go in the 40th round that get to the big leagues in three years."

Despite the uncertainty, the long hours and the time away from home that scouting demands, McMichael has no plans to leave baseball again.

"I enjoy getting out and seeing the game," he says. "I giggle every morning when I get up and think they're paying me to do this."

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