When the news broke in Seattle that the baseball Mariners were gutting their scouting staff, I shook my head and wondered, who the heck is making this decision? The latest purge of baseball experts, has to be the work of owner Jeff Smulyan, who probably doesn’t know the difference between a baseball and a potato. Trust me, the GM may claim responsibility for this debacle but nothing this big gets done without the input and approval and this one has, “Greedy Business Decision” all over it. Smulyan founded Emmis Broadcasting Corporation, that was named one of Fortune magazines 100 best companies to work for. Wow, I wonder what all those ex Mariner scouts think about that award?
The Mariners said the dismantling of their scouting player development system, is being done to cut costs because of the lack of revenue, during this make-believe baseball season.
A veteran scout from the Reds told me today, “The owners feel the 30 scouts on their payrolls, are costing too much money and they as an organization, can do a better job using their analytics department to evaluate players.
It cost around $2 million dollars for those 30 scouts. That’s an average of about $50,000 per scout, including expenses and benefits. That’s not a lot of money for people who find the players to make the owners rich. There are players out there like Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez and Roberto Clemente. Teams need scouts to find them. Our own Alex Santos (Mount St. Michael Academy, Bronx, NY) doesn’t get signed by the Astros without scouts following him from when he was fourteen years old.
In the middle of this “Lack of profit” time for baseball, the Dodgers gave Mookie Betts the second richest contract, $325 million over years. A cool $30 million a year. All teams are making money during this crisis. The reason they wanted to get baseball started again with a uninteresting 60 game schedule, was because all that TV money was waiting for them to collect. I believe the Mariners could find $2 million in that shoebox they keep in the trainer’s room for miscellaneous expenses.
Baseball clubs have been terminating player development people, coaches, and many others who posses baseball knowledge, at an incredible rate for the past few years and it is not because of financial problems. The push to use more and more algorithms and analytics to find and develop players, has fogged the minds of the people at the top in organizations. As far as I know, there is no analytical mumbo jumbo for a player’s makeup. Numbers can not tell you if a player has guts, heart and desire. Only another human being can see that.
Analytics can not see that a prospect can throw 98-100 mph but couldn’t hit a 55 foot tractor trailer from 60 feet 6 inches. Today the analytics department will suggest signing that player. A veteran scout would not. When you see one thing at a game, scouts see three. That’s valuable information from an experienced knowledgeable professional.
The loss of these true baseball men and women will only hurt the game. Yes baseball is a business and the new breed of owners and GM’s have brilliant corporate minds. But baseball, the game, is played on the ballfields not in the boardrooms.
The great scout Mel Didier while working for the Dodgers, famously gave the left handed hitters his advanced scouting report on the Oakland A’s pitchers before the 1988 World Series. He told them, “If Eckersley gets you at 3-2 and there’s a runner at second or third base and it’s the tying or winning run, he will throw you a backdoor slider on 3-2. Don’t forget that because that’s what he will do as sure as I am standing here breathing.” Kirk Gibson was listening and the rest is history. Experienced scouting my friends.
Last year the Washington Nationals showed us how good scouting can win a World Series. Their advanced scouts gave the GM, manager, coaches and players the information needed to first get to and eventually beat the Astros in the World Series. The Nationals use a mix of analytics and boots on the ground scouting with a heavy lean towards the scouts eyes and experience. It works. Always did. Little secret, they had as many as 4 scouts with binoculars, searching the stadium at home and away Astro’s games, for any possible stealing of signs way before the story broke of the Astro’s cheating.
No one knows their names, they travel thousands of miles a year and are not home that much. They don’t make much money compared to the rest of the organization but they have a passion for the game and are the reason we get to see amazing athletes do what they do. They are the ones looking every day for that diamond in the ruff. Hopefully they will not become a thing of the past.
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