“You are a baseball scout? Man, that’s a great job. How can I get a job like that?”
As I mentioned before, I hear that all the time. Well, today’s the day I answer the question.
My first answer is, “Play pro baseball or be related to a Major League front office executive.”
Sad to say, that is pretty true, but it’s obviously not that simple. And that answer’s probably not going to help you.
Scouts actually come from all over. A lot are former major league and minor league players or coaches. A lot are former college coaches or college players. A lot of scouts were coaching or playing in college when they developed a relationship with an amateur scout (a scout scouting high school or college players). That scout saw something in them, a knowledge for the game with an ability to evaluate talent, and probably helped them get involved in scouting.
Their job probably started casually—and for no pay—with just some tips and updates on players in the area. Then it may have developed into a part-time or “Bird Dog” role, where the want-to-be-scout became the local eyes and ears for the full-time scout responsible for that part of the country. Eventually, the job turned into a full-time role, with the want-to-be-scout becoming the area scout. Every major league team has between 25 and 40 of those guys. They are responsible for scouting all the top high school, college and junior college players in their area (sometimes a part of a state, sometimes multiple states), and filing reports for their Major League clubs.
But other scouts, like me, may have found more unusual paths to their jobs.
They can be former agents, ordinary businessmen, rabid fans, or, like me, a sportswriter. Yes, there are actually a few of us out there who crossed over to the dark side, or crossed from the dark side to the light, depending on which side you are on.
I got involved in scouting after covering minor league baseball for a local newspaper for a long time. Almost like the “bird dog” scenario, my contact with professional scouts began because I was a source for them.
Pro scouts are not allowed to just walk into another team’s clubhouse and start asking questions. They are not “recruiters,” as some people often refer to me. They are free to run into players and develop a relationship with them off the field, but they don’t have clear access to them. So often scouts would ask me questions searching for answers they couldn’t get on their own, usually something simple like, “What kind of a guy is so-and-so?”
And I had a feel for what they were asking. They did not want to know if that player was nice, or friendly, or fun to joke around with. They wanted to know what kind of a baseball guy he was, what kind of competitor. Was he reliable, hard-working, intelligent, that sort of thing.
Over several years (yes, years) my relationship with scouts grew and some of them saw that I had a good feel for the game, for evaluating talent. They started saying things to me like, “Hey, would you ever want to do what I do?” or “Have you ever tried to get a job in the game?”
I had, and it was what I wanted. For I was not the typical sportswriter, in that I was not a frustrated novelist, looking to winner a Pulitzer. Nor was I the dirt-digger, looking for the big scoop or controversial headline. No, I was a sportswriter because I was a curious sports fan. I wanted answers to my sports questions and sports writing was the best way I could find them.
Growing up, I was always intrigued by what made teams win and how organizations could find ways to dominate their sports. When it came to baseball, I became obsessed with how to find and develop talent, and what it took for minor league players to break through and be productive major league players.
So, when I had a chance to enter that world and do it for real, instead of just as an intellectual exercise or curiosity, I took it.
But it wasn’t that simple. It took several years (yes, years) for me to get the break or two I needed to get a job. First part-time, and then full-time. It took a lot of watching, and listening and learning, and writing cover letters and resumes, and hoping and sacrificing.
And all this for a job that doesn’t pay that much and keeps you away from your family for almost half a year.
So, my advice to you, if you really want to get into scouting, is to find a way to be near the game at some level. Coach it, go to as many games as possible, talk to the scouts in the stands without bothering them. Find some way to get close the people who can help you and teach you. See if you can get a job for a minor league team, get an internship, sell programs, something. Find a way to see games, to observe baseball and learn what scouts are looking for. To try to see what they see. That’s easier said then done. It takes a lot of time and will get in the way of whatever life you have.
And while you are doing that you will develop those real contacts, contacts of mutual respect. You develop enough of those, show you are willing to work hard and sacrifice, that you love the game and have a feel for it, and perhaps one of those contacts might be able to help you get your foot in the door.
It’s not easy, believe me, but, if you get there it’s worth it.