Nations claim MLB plays favorites with Bureau scouting info
By Alan Schwarz
PHOENIX--Hours before World Baseball Classic competition began in North America, competition for scouting reports was getting hot itself.
Team USA, and to a lesser extent the teams representing Puerto Rico and Canada, are receiving old scouting reports and live scouting assistance from the Major League Scouting Bureau to prepare for tournament games. This relationship surprised officials from several other teams, some of whom called it unfair and said it appeared Major League Baseball--the primary organizer of the WBC and operator of the scouting bureau--is helping some nations but not others.
Officials from USA Baseball and the scouting bureau said they have worked together since 1999, and that bureau reports and assistance were available to any WBC team with active major or minor league players. But Venezuela general manager Mike Perez and Dominican Republic manager Manny Acta both said they were not aware of this resource.
"I didn't know that," said Perez, whose Venezuelan federation hired four scouts for the tournament. "I think a fax or e-mail should have been sent. Maybe we didn't ask them. They didn't tell us anything, so we assumed it (scouting) was needed, and got our four. They could have said, 'Why do that if we have the scouting bureau?' "
Acta's Dominican team has two scouts--Dodgers scout Angel Santana and former minor league pitching coach Marcos Garcia--advancing the Venezuela, Italy and Australia clubs in the Dominican's pool in Orlando. He said he would demand the bureau reports immediately.
"It's unfair," Acta said. "We should have the same rights as everybody else. We're part of MLB, too."
Paul Archey, MLB's top official overseeing the WBC, said tournament organizers made no specific provisions for scouts, other than providing two tickets a game for scouts working on each team's behalf.
"Everything that we did with this tournament, we tried to be as equally fair to everyone in every case, although in player availability the rules were written to favor teams with fewer major league players," Archey said. "(Scouting) wasn't something that we put out there, to go to the scouting bureau. It wasn't a tournament resource."
Owned and operated by Major League Baseball since 1974, the Major League Scouting Bureau employs 34 scouts who typically prepare reports on amateur and professional players for all 30 major league organizations. In 1999, several high-ranking MLB officials who were helping to assemble the U.S. roster for an Olympic qualifying tournament requested the bureau's assistance in scouting potential international opponents. The bureau has done this for USA Baseball ever since.
Bob Watson, MLB's vice president of on-field operations, helped assemble Team USA in 1999 and is reprising his role as general manager for the WBC. He characterized the bureau's working on behalf of USA Baseball during that time as "part of their duties." He said it was incumbent on other national teams to request bureau assistance.
"That's their fault. That's not my fault," he said of other teams not knowing of the resource. "You know what? I think if I was in their shoes I'd probably say the same--'Oh, I didn't know.'--Well, hang with 'em. You didn't know."
Watson said Team USA manager Buck Martinez and his coaches have consulted player reports compiled over the past five years. "We got their library," he said. "(When) we got the 60-man rosters, they went back and got the reports."
Puerto Rico--whose general manager, Lou Melendez, is MLB's vice president of international operations--and Canada also asked for and will receive bureau reports. According to several sources, no other countries asked for bureau assistance.
"What would happen if more clubs did ask? If we could handle it, we would," bureau director Frank Marcos said. "Japan has people here scouting--they're not looking for anything from us. I don't know about the Dominican Republic or Australia. If it's their own coaches watching games, I don't know."
Mexico GM Alejandro Hutt said he was surprised to see two bureau scouts at his team's exhibition games this weekend, reporting on his players. Mexico and the United States opened Phoenix pool play Tuesday.
"It's obviously a source that the USA is using that doesn't make the competition fair for everyone," Hutt said. "They should have provided the same chance for everyone.
"We didn't talk to anyone about it. But obviously if they were there you have to think that they're doing that for the USA team, not for Canada or the South Africa team."
Informed that Puerto Rico and Canada were also receiving bureau assistance, Hutt said, "Nobody has told us that we would have that choice for information."
MLB and the union are staging the World Baseball Classic with the blessing and assistance of the International Baseball Federation and its member national federations, such as USA Baseball. Both MLB and the union have maintained that while they are based in the United States with primarily American employees, they would exhibit no favoritism toward any team.
At least in the cases of the United States (Watson) and Puerto Rico (Melendez), having an MLB official as GM helped them to know about the Major League Scouting Bureau's role with Team USA and the aid it could provide.
"If I was aware of that," Acta said, "I would have a stack of reports of all the clubs right here. I'd like to get information on Australia and Italy."
Marcos said the national teams that requested assistance for the WBC, not the bureau, were paying the travel and hotel expenses for bureau scouts.
"We work for Major League Baseball," Marcos said, distinguishing between MLB and USA Baseball. "I can't differentiate among different countries. If we were requested to provide information, I don't think we could say no."
Archey said aside from the scouting bureau, all teams enjoyed advantages based on their specific personnel.
"(Venezuela manager) Luis Sojo was the third-base coach for the Yankees last year. Who knows how to pitch Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter better than him?" Archey said. "In every competition you have advantages and disadvantages."
Bureau scouts Jim Walton and Carl Moesche, who attended Mexico's weekend exhibition games against the Diamondbacks and Pima (Ariz.) Community College, met with Martinez, Watson and other Team USA coaches and officials Monday night to go over written and video reports on the Mexican team.
The two scouts will then report on the two other teams in the U.S. pool, Canada and South Africa, in other games. Walton has scouted international competition for the bureau for years and is considered an expert on many foreign players who might be relative unknowns to Martinez and his staff.
Martinez said the reports will be standard, featuring assessments of players' speed and throwing arms, batters' typical hit locations, pitchers' repertoires and managers' patterns of calling for bunts, steal attempts and the like.
"This will help me quite a bit, to know who can throw and who you can challenge--it'll definitely come into play," said John McLaren, Team USA's third-base coach. "Scouts are a big part of our game, I don't care what competition you're in. Any advantage you can use during a game, that's what we're looking for--any kind of edge whatsoever . . . Besides the great talent we have on the team, tendencies--how to play hitters, how to pitch hitters, what to expect from their pitchers--is going to be a big part of it."
Two other bureau representatives, Paul Mirocke and Mike Larson, are scouting the Orlando and Puerto Rico pools, respectively, with Team USA planning to review their reports before later-round games. Another scout with significant international experience, Larson will also share his reports with Puerto Rico team officials in San Juan.
"I think any little piece of information can help you," Melendez said. "To have a resource available and not utilize it, it's a waste."
Walt Burrows, a Canadian and the bureau's Canadian supervisor, is preparing separate reports on teams in the Phoenix pool for Team Canada. Sources said Burrows was the only bureau scout working on Canada's behalf.
Team USA players downplayed the significance of the scouting information. Lefthander Dontrelle Willis, who will start Wednesday against Canada, said, "I'm a guy where I just show and go." Third baseman Chipper Jones said hitters would do their own scouting.
"You learn the most from the guys in the dugout," Jones said. "Each and every guy who comes back, you pick their brain--what was that pitch, what's his best pitch, this, that and the other. Scouting reports usually go in one ear and out the other, because when you're out there 60 feet away from them, you're not thinking about a scouting report. They help to a degree in that they give us a repertoire and the variety of pitches we can look for, but we want to know specifics."
Watson, however, raved about the bureau's role in helping Team USA win the 2000 Olympic gold medal in Sydney. Asked how much credit the bureau deserved, he said, "All of it. They gave us all the information on Japan, Korea, Cuba. All of the countries there we had a full scouting report--do's, don'ts, video, the whole bit."
Mexico's Hutt said he would seek out MLB officials to ask why bureau information and manpower are being used by some teams while Mexico and other team officials were not informed of the opportunity.
"I think right now the best thing we can do is concentrate on our team," Hutt said. "We've been doing a big effort to have the best team possible, to have the best preparation, to have the best atmosphere. We will have to ask those questions at the right moment. Whenever we ask them, we'll find out what the answers are."