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December 21, 2010

Prospectus Q&A

Six on Scouting

by David Laurila

Scouting is both an art and an inexact science, and it is important to remember that it is also a vocation. It could even be called a lifestyle. The life of a scout isn’t an easy one—you put a lot of miles on your car and the paychecks aren’t very big—but it is a job that many love. There are successes and failures, and no shortage of good stories, but above all the game wouldn’t survive without the men who do the job. In an era of statistical analysis and sabermetric evaluation, scouting remains the heart and soul of baseball.

Spurred by a visit to the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation booth at the Winter Meetings trade show, six baseball notables were queried about the importance of scouts and scouting. Weighing in were a pair of general managers, two scouting directors, a professional scout, and Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda.
 
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Walt Jocketty [Cincinnati Reds general manager]:
 
“For every organization, it all starts with scouting. The success of an organization is based on how well you scout and the players your scouts find for you to bring in and develop. It’s the lifeblood of an organization, especially an organization like ours, in Cincinnati, where we have to rely on player development and scouting. It’s extremely important to have quality scouts, whether it is amateur, international, or pro scouting, to find the right players.
 
“I think that the basics of scouting are the same. What has changed, more than anything, is that it is more specialized. You have amateur scouts, pro scouts, and international scouts, so most organizations specialize more than they did in the past.”
 
Ned Colletti [Los Angeles Dodgers general manager]:

“Scouts know the game and they know people. They are the eyes and ears of the general manager, no matter where they’re at. As you go through major-league coverage, or professional coverage through the minor leagues, or amateur coverage for the draft, you trust and believe in what they say. You trust in their expertise and ability to not only judge talent, but to judge the person within the player.

“The fundamentals of scouting have been there for a long, long time, probably 70 or 80 years. It has changed somewhat with statistical analysis and things like that, so you have more information that you’d have otherwise, and for me it comes down to a lot of different factors. But at the end of the day, you need to know who the [players] are, because if you don’t know who they are you might make a mistake.”
 
Logan White [Los Angeles Dodgers scouting director]:

“You hear a lot of the time, “We can do without scouting,” but a lot of people don’t know what that means; they don‘t really know what scouts do. The importance of scouting is that they find the player and they sign the player, but it’s also a lot of nights on the road and a lot of time away from family.

“Scouts recognize things. There are so many times that a scout has taken a player and taught him a breaking pitch, taught him how to switch-hit, or converted him to another position, which allowed him to make it to the big leagues. This was before he was even in a development program.
 
“We have scouts that work incredibly hard and drive many miles, but then you have, like in any work force, guys who don’t work as hard; they’ll be at the golf course instead. Often those are the scouts that don‘t get things done.
 
“At the area scout level, I wish they were paid more. I think that everybody wishes they could make more money. At the higher-end jobs, guys are fairly well compensated.”
 
Bruce Seid [Milwaukee Brewers scouting director]:

“Scouts have commitment and passion and love for what they do. They’re away from home and their families, so having a family to back them is very important in this industry. It not only takes the scout himself to have a love for what he’s doing, it takes the family, the wife and kids, to understand what each scout does—the time he puts in and the dedication. It’s a unique job in that you’re balancing a passion that you love with a family that you love, and that loves you as well.

“You put a lot of miles on your car as a scout. An area scout is going to put 50,000 miles on his car in a year. Doug [Reynolds] here has been a lifetime Brewer, as a scout. This is his 19th year. Our West Coast cross-checker, Corey Rodriguez, has also been with us for a long time. We have a committed staff and they put in a lot of miles and a lot of hard work.”
 
Mickey White [Texas Rangers professional scout]:

“I’ve been scouting for 25 years, and back when I was with the Reds, they had hired a young scout to take over the Pennsylvania area. I was in New England, kind of next door, so they asked if I could let him ride with me for the first three to five days to kind of break him in.

“The first game that we had to go to… I had called the night before and talked to the coach, because I had seen a pitcher the previous summer at a tryout camp in Maine. The team from Saint Rose was going to be playing Franklin Pierce, in New Hampshire. So we drove up.
 
“The kid was supposed to pitch at 3:30. We got there at about 1:30 and the two coaches, without calling anybody—this was before cell phones—had decided to move the game up to noon, because they were expecting snow. When we got out of the car, the kid I was supposed to see was coming out to pitch the seventh inning. I opened the trunk, pulled my radar gun out, and started running toward the backstop.
 
“It was early spring in New Hampshire, and I didn’t realize that frost line was three-feet deep. As I’m running, I take one step, two steps, and I sink up to my waist in mud. I’m holding the radar gun, so I have to hand it to the scout who I’m supposed to be training how to scout. He has to pull me out of the pit of mud; I was literally up to my waist. After all that, I ended up not liking the kid, so I didn‘t sign him.”
 
Tommy Lasorda [Los Angeles Dodgers special advisor and Hall of Fame manager]:

“Scouting is the bloodline of the major leagues. They have a Hall of Fame for baseball players, they have a Hall of Fame for sportscasters, the press—they should have a Hall of Fame for scouts. These are the guys who go out and find the players. These are the guys that are away from home all season trying to get ballplayers. These are the guys who are the backbone of baseball.

Brian Stephenson is the best scout I’ve ever been around. He’s with the Dodgers, and in my opinion he is, without a doubt, the best scout I’ve ever encountered.
 
“Scouts don’t make a lot of money, and that’s why we have the [Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation]. There are a lot of them who don’t make much money, so if they get sick or lose their job, we take care of them. Dennis Gilbert came up with the idea of doing something so that we could protect scouts. If they lose their job, or if they’re sick, or if they run into a lot of bad bills and don’t have the money to take care of them… this was his idea. This is about our sixth year, and we have helped so many scouts, so many of them with issues about their health. It’s a great, great cause. We have a lot who attend our dinner and every penny goes to protecting scouts. What we do is important, because scouts are the backbone of baseball.”
Related Content:  Scouts,  The Who,  Managers Of The Year,  Scout

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