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Charlie Blackmon’s unlikely path: A new book charts the careers of some MLB outliers

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Smart, Wrong, and Lucky: The Origin Stories of Baseball’s Unexpected Stars

Jonathan Mayo

Truimph Books, 256 pages

The idea came from an oral history of Charlie Blackmon that Jonathan Mayo was writing for during the pandemic.

Mayo, one of the site’s draft and prospects experts, interviewed Blackmon, who remembers the conversation like this:

I had told him my story, and he told me — and I’m sure he might have said that to, like, 12 other people — that hearing that story, he thought it was super interesting. And he’s like, ‘“Oh, that’s a great idea, maybe bring some of these stories to light.” So I think he rounded up a handful of really amazing stories, my history and experience of getting to the big leagues being one of them.

As it turns out, Mayo did not say that to “12 other people,” and the idea for Smart, Wrong, and Lucky: The Origin Stories of Baseball’s Unexpected Stars absolutely grew out of that conversation.

“It was in the process of working on that story,” Mayo said, “that one of the scouts I talked to for that started saying, ‘Well, you know, there’s this guy who this happened to, and you should talk to this guy about how they got this guy,’ and it kind of went from there.”

Mayo understood, then, that he had stumbled onto an important story: the coincidences that allow some outliers to become Major League Baseball players and the scouts and front offices who find and believe in them.

“I realized that there are countless numbers of stories, like these of guys who were undervalued or underappreciated in the draft, and who went on to far exceed expectations. So I kind of went from there,” he said.

Mayo first had to determine the best subjects for his project, and to do that, he began by looking at draft classes and finding the players who led MLB in WAR but were drafted in the fourth or fifth round. And he talked to scouts, which was easy in his line of work.

Ultimately, he settled on (in order) Joey Votto, Shane Bieber, Jacob deGrom, Mookie Betts, Charlie Blackmon, Ian Kinsler, Lorenzo Cain, and Albert Pujols. (Dave Dombrowski penned the foreword.)

Smart, Wrong, and Lucky looks at the role hard work, luck, and belief played in the careers of a group of players who went would become some of MLB’s best.

Sounds interesting. What’s the book about?

It’s an inside like at how the sausage gets made as MLB teams put together their MLB draft strategies.

“I will say that it is definitely a love letter to the scouting industry,” Mayo said.

He understands the the best player evaluation involves analytics and scouts getting out to see players at work. As such, Smart, Wrong, and Lucky is a book about stories.

“They are, to me the the lifeblood of the game and also, perhaps the game’s best storytellers,” Mayo said.

There’s a lot to like here: It’s carefully researched, detailed, and interesting. For example, Jacob DeGrom really wanted to play shortstop. Yes, one of the greatest arms of our time felt like his best place was at short, and it was sheer luck that a Mets scout found him in a rare relief pitching job. Lorenzo Cain really did not touch a baseball glove until he was a sophomore in high school and cut from the basketball team. Albert Pujols’ trip to MLB remains a baseball odyssey.

Smart, Wrong, and Lucky gives readers a view of the game seldom seen by those on the outside.

Can you give us some details about Charlie Blackmon?

I can.

Probably my favorite line in the book is in his chapter: “So I told Rusty Greer — who was our coach out there — I told him I was a two-way player, which wasn’t true.”

Yes, that’s Blackmon in 2007 describing his sales pitch (to that Rusty Greer) in the Texas Collegiate League.

On one hand, it’s a great story, one that Rockies fans have probably heard before. On the other, now that we’ve all seen Shohei Ohtani play, the audacity of Blackmon’s claim becomes clear.

Here’s my second-favorite passage, describing the pre-beard-and-mullet pitcher at Young Harris College:

“Halfway through my sophomore year we were struggling hitting and our coach brought some of the more athletic pitchers out just to shock-and-awe scare the offense,” Blackmon recalled. “And they let some of these pitchers hit BP to let our offense know they are replaceable. I had a pretty impressive BP so I got to DH a little bit my sophomore year. But I did not play a position. I was not really a hitter.”

That image of a coach trying to embarrass a moribund offense by telling them a pitcher could outhit them — and that pitcher goes on to win a Silver Slugger? Well done.

Then there’s the passage describing the first time Greer watched Blackmon doing his post-game sprints and began to re-envision the pitcher as an outfielder — you’ll have to read that for yourself, but it’s good.

Mayo explains the providence involved in Blackmon’s career:

The thing that I love the most — and people who have now watched him play for years, it totally tracks — he kind of talked his way into the lineup when he was playing summer ball, just because he wanted to play more. When you think about a kid who hadn’t really swung the bat in three years, telling Rusty Greer, a long-time major leaguer, “Yeah, sure, I hit.” It was kind of amazing to me, and then he ended up hitting in the middle or at the top of the line-up and ended up playing centerfield for that team. But if it hadn’t been for that, we never would have heard from Charlie Blackmon because he probably would have gone back to Georgia Tech. Maybe he would have managed to pitch some, but his elbow was a problem.

Rockies fans will enjoy this section and learn some new things about Charlie Blackmon and the Colorado Rockies organization, too.

Should I read it?

Absolutely. You’ll learn a lot — and not just about Charlie Blackmon.

Plus, it has Blackmon’s endorsement.

“That was a great book,” he said. “[Mayo] did a great job.”


I’ll turn the attendance update over to Patrick Lyons this week:


How pitching guru Brent Strom would fix the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field | Call to the Pen

This one is a couple of weeks old, but I wanted to share it as we watch the end of another unsuccessful Rockies season. Strom’s contention that the Rockies have approached pitching incorrectly merits attention. “I think they should have been looking for high fastball pitchers that create hop and balls that aren’t going down as much,” Strom said. “That’s how I would make the advantage here of pitching at Coors.”

Albuquerque becoming safe haven for major-league hopefuls after Rockies’ coach laid foundation | Denver Gazette ($)

Warren Schaeffer changed the Isotopes’ culture in Albuquerque. As Luke Zahlman writes, “I want to build a culture when I’m managing that is conducive to guys being able to succeed,” Schaeffer said. “I think when there’s any kind of toxicity going on in the clubhouse, it drastically decreases (a) guy’s chances of succeeding. When you have guys around you that all believe the same thing, it’s easy to go to work and easy for guys to buy into.” With the end of the season approaching, it makes sense that fans would wonder about Schaeffer’s status with the Rockies going forward.


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