COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—Scouts have long heard about how they are the lifeblood of their organizations. Now they finally have a place in the Hall of Fame celebrating their contributions to baseball.
Most of what scouts do and the value they provide to the baseball industry can't be encapsulated in glass. The knowledge, judgment, work ethic and relationships they bring to their clubs are intangible qualities that make them unique and are difficult to display materially.
The Hall of Fame's "Diamond Mines" exhibit, which opened last weekend, is a small, subtle tribute to scouts—a long overdue honor to those who have dedicated their careers to the game.
“You go to see a play on Broadway and you see the entertainment that’s provided," said Pat Gillick, a senior advisor with the Phillies who has been a general manager in Baltimore, Toronto, Seattle and Philadelphia. "But you never see the people that really are behind the scenes—the producers, the directors, the people who make these things happen, who choose the actors that are going to be on the stage. That’s the same thing with the scouts. The scouts are behind-the-scenes guys. Sometimes they’re forgotten people."
Diamond Mines, which opened Saturday, includes a nod to all types of scouting, with artifacts from scouting at the U.S. amateur level, pro scouting, advance scouting and international scouting. There is scout Bob Zuk's stopwatch from the 1970s that looks more like a compass than the digital versions his contemporaries carry today. Bob Fontaine's bulky radar gun from two decades ago is there. So is a typewriter used by scout Joe Bronzell in the 1970s to file his reports, a briefcase used in the 1990s by Andres Reiner when he was a pioneer scout in Venezuela and various straw hats.
"When I started out scouting it was visual observation," Gillick said. "We had no equipment whatsoever to judge the velocity of a ball or do any video at that time. Basically it was all visual observation of a game, of a player, so we didn’t have these added aides that they have now. I would say a lot of the things they’ve brought in—radar gun, video, things of that nature—I think they’ve been helpful to scouts to do their jobs. Consequently, I think that even makes the scout better. If he can evaluate a player, if he has an instinct for a player, then he can verify certain things either by video or radar gun. It just adds to the whole report that the scout has to file, so I think it’s a more complete way to scout right now."
The Diamond Mines exhibit also includes a free online database at scouts.baseballhall.org featuring more than 14,000 scouting reports on players, including Bob Gibson, Kirk Gibson, Tony Gwynn, Sandy Koufax and Greg Maddux.
“From a fan’s standpoint, there’s always been kind of a mystique about scouting, about exactly what scouts do," Gillick said. "I think this addition, an exhibit in the Hall of Fame, is going to be a very interesting exhibit for a lot of fans who visit this summer and in the future and just see exactly the reports and what scouts do. You go to a game and I think fans wonder, ‘What’s he writing down? What’s he putting down?’
“And they’ll actually get a chance now to see what exactly the reports are and what are the different projections that a scout has to make.”
The opening of the exhibit included a five-person speaking panel of Gillick, Rangers special assistant Don Welke, Diamondbacks special assistant Roland Hemond, Marlins assistant general manager Dan Jennings and Roberta Mazur, the director of the Scout of the Year program. At least a dozen other veteran scouts also attended the event, including Ralph Avila, Mel Didier, Marty Keough, Omar Minaya, Paul Snyder and Art Stewart.
One of the common threads among the speakers was the importance of having humility, open-mindedness and a hunger to learn, both from their own mistakes and from those who came before them.
"When Roger (Jongewaard) hired me in 1988, the first words he said to me: ‘Kid, go make some mistakes,' " Jennings said. "And I look back now, 25 years later, and I go, ‘Now I’m getting it.’
“When I was in 1988, that didn’t really make sense to me because I was going to be right with everything. I was going to be perfect with all my stuff. Until you get out there and determine how difficult it is, how long it is, how 50,000 miles of driving and searching and looking, and the love of what you do, when you get out and actually experience that, then you understand what he meant.”
While the panelists are among the most experienced talent evaluators in the game, they recognized their predecessors for sharing their scouting knowledge with them, particularly in an era before technology made information widely accessible.
“I was fortunate enough to break in with a lot of veteran scouts who took me under their wing and shared with me so many things, so many nights," Jennings said. "It happened in the southeast, it happened in ballparks throughout the country. I tried to utilize that time to pick their brain and to learn. And the good scouts—the scouts who are productive—not only will share with you what they’ve done and where they’ve been successful, but they will also share with you the mistakes that they’ve made, what they learned and try to keep a young scout like myself from doing that."
Hemond said one of his best assets as a baseball scout and executive was his ability to listen. He recalled advice he once heard that he likes to keep in mind: “Don’t trust scouts who don’t change their minds." If a scout came to him with a different opinion on a player than he had in the past, a dialogue about what prompted the change would be just as valuable as the report itself.
"I would say, 'Wait a minute, that’s not what you said before,' " Hemond said. "But then the scout will come to the offense and say ‘Yeah, but he’s changed now.’ He’s picked up better command of his pitches, he’s got a changeup or whatever, or the hitter has become more patient. He puts himself on the line, but he was able to change his mind from what he had seen before. That’s another trait that they should possess: Don’t (compound) your mistake and be so proud like I never made a mistake. Say, 'Wait a minute—this guy has changed.' "
Like any discipline, scouting continues to evolve over time. Yet while the game's context may change, Gillick said the basics of evaluating remain the same.
"The only thing that happens is, as players get bigger and stronger, I think you have to adjust your grading scale," Gillick said. "What was average 25 years ago, 90 (mph) might have been an average fastball, or 89-90 might have been an average fastball. An average fastball now might be 92-93, above-average might be 95 and outstanding might be somewhere between 96-98 to 100, talking just about pitching. I think maybe you have to adjust your grading scale to allow for the increases in velocity. For the most part, the other aspects of the game, fundamentally they’re played about the same way they have been 50 years ago."
And as scouting continues to evolve, the bread-and-butter lessons that baseball's most seasoned scouts learned half a century ago are still essential today.
“Scouting has changed a lot over time, but we still need to carry out some of the old-time values of scouting together with the new things that are going on in scouting," Welke said. "We need to stay old-school cool a little bit too.”