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Some Thoughts about Baseball Player Makeup

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Some Thoughts on Baseball Player Makeup

As the 2012 baseball draft approaches, one of the key factors that teams must assess for potential draftees is "makeup." This is the essential baseball term for a player's personality and character. The general assumption is that a player with good makeup has a better chance to turn his physical tools into baseball skills than a player with poor makeup. You have to have the tools of course; having great makeup doesn't magically turn a poor prospect into a good one, but when other things are equal, a player with good makeup has a better chance to maximize his ability than a player with poor makeup.

This seems obvious enough. But what exactly are good makeup traits for a baseball player?

I've been having a running conversation with a scout friend for a couple of weeks about this issue, and we've come to the mutual conclusion that "good baseball player makeup" is not necessarily the same thing as "good human being makeup." There is overlap, but they aren't quite the same thing. Here are my thoughts on the matter.

First, let's break "makeup" down into some component personality traits.

Work Ethic and Drive to Succeed: Obviously a player who works hard has an advantage over a player who doesn't. This overlaps both baseball and real life.

Aggressiveness/Asshole Factor:
Generally speaking, I think a player who is aggressive has an advantage over a player who is too passive. I would argue that while Leo Durocher's "nice guys finish last" statement is a bit of an exaggeration, it is important for baseball players not to be too nice. Players who are slight assholes, in my view, can have an edge over players who are too nice.

That said, there has to be a balance here. The level of assholeness has to be strong enough to be of benefit, but not so strong as to make the player a lousy teammate, uncoachable, or just impossible to be around. The asshole factor also needs to be combined with the strong work ethic mentioned above.

Generally speaking, a player who is intelligent has an advantage over a player who isn't. Some players are just too dumb to pick up instruction. Obviously you don't want that.

However, I think it is entirely possible for a baseball player to be too intelligent for his own good, to over-think things. For example, the most recent issue of Baseball America has a quotation from West Virginia manager Rick Sofield, regarding Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Josh Bell. "Josh is the complete package. He doesn't have a lot of experience and he was kind of thrown into the frying pan. Sometimes, he's a little too bright, in that he worries about things he can't control."

Many highly-intelligent people internalize things too much and worry themselves into bad places. This can be overcome with experience and emotional maturity, but it takes time and not everyone gets there.

Putting it all together, my theory is that the ideal makeup for a baseball player is a guy who works hard, is aggressive and something of a slight asshole (but not a terrible one), and possesses above-average (but not exceptional) intelligence.

This is just a general guide. There are outliers in either direction, of course; some exceptional players are saints and some are really awful people (Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb). As with any human population, most are in the middle somewhere. But as my scout friend put it, the guys who want on your baseball team are not necessarily the guys you want your daughter to marry, or the kid you want as your own son.

What do you think of this theory? What other factors play into this in your opinion?