Jim Nill, Assistant General Manager, Detroit Red Wings, agrees that predicting how a player will develop, and if he will at all, is one of the toughest parts of amateur scouting. The varying development cycles of prospects, not only physically but mentally and emotionally, too, all make amateur scouting a head spinner.
–The Art of Scouting, Shane Malloy: John Wiley & Sons (2011), p. 17.
Many of my difficulties with Shane Malloy’s The Art of Scouting are in evidence in the passage from the book quoted above. These criticisms relate to matters of both style and substance. Malloy’s effort is stricken by so many technical issues, for example, that one might seriously question whether anyone at Wiley & Sons was tasked with editing the manuscript. Proper names are – maddeningly and inexplicably – italicized throughout the book. I know of no other work of literature in the English language that observes this convention. Don’t even get me started on the haphazard manner in which punctuation is deployed; commas in the above-noted passage, typical of the work on the whole, appear to have been applied with the degree of care and precision that one generally associates with the use of a potato gun. Content-wise, did I really just read a (tortured) sentence that struggled to relate to me a piece of un-information, namely that one of the hardest parts of amateur scouting is predicting whether an amateur player will be any good in the future?
Whatever, right? Nobody reads a hockey book for the writing. It’s ultimately about the hockey content, isn’t it? For the record, I disagree. I can think of at least three hockey books off the top of my head that I consider to be enjoyable primarily on account of the writers’ craft. The writing need not play a starring role, perhaps, but without skilfull storytelling and clarity of expression the reader’s immersion in any subject material is inhibited. The importance of a certain amount of technical merit is underscored by its absence, when (as in this book) that is the case. Frequently awkward and almost juvenile, Malloy’s text is from an aesthetic perspective frankly something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Obviously, though, the marquee feature of a book about scouting, especially one that is subtitled “How the Hockey Experts Really Watch the Game and Decide Who Makes It”, is the promise that a light will be shone on the obscure habits and arcane methods of the (mostly anonymous) bird dogs in scouting circles. In this regard, it must be said that – as perhaps the passage quoted above might suggest – Malloy’s book fails almost as spectacularly and almost as completely.
The concept of the book is, in my opinion, a strong one; it is in the execution of that concept that this book falters. Malloy is, according to the jacket on the book, a columnist and broadcaster who has been covering hockey prospects “for the past decade.” He is apparently a co-host of Hockey Prospect Radio on Sirius Satellite Radio, though I have never heard of either the show or the author. I gather that he has been involved in scouting for some time. His concept was to take what he had learned about hockey scouting and complement it with the wisdom of others; as a member of the scouting fraternity, Malloy was able to interview his peers and hoped to get them to talk about what exactly it is that they do for a living. I was very excited by the notes on the book jacket (a work of “tremendous substance” according to Doug Wilson; an inside look at what scouts do, per Bob McKenzie); I thought that I might enhance my ability to watch hockey critically by reading about what exactly it is that the scouts look for when evaluating talent.