Bob Nightengale in USA Today wrote an article this week, an article that should be disturbing for anyone who loves baseball.
Baseball’s close-knit scouting fraternity has been besieged by wholesale layoffs this winter, with many pro scouts still unemployed one month before the start of spring training.
Never before has the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation received so many formal applications for financial assistance, said executive director Cindy Picerni, with 20 scouts alone seeking help since October.
The Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, which once employed 58 scouts, has been stripped down to 17, and getting smaller, with scouts advised to start looking elsewhere. The bureau is not closing down, contrary to industry rumors, but director Bill Bavasi acknowledged that changes are being made. The bureau will start focusing more on providing video and medical information on players, Bavasi said, spending more attention on international players.
"It’s just a terrible time for scouts,’’ said Dennis Gilbert, chairman of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. "I’m getting 15 to 20 calls a week from scouts who don’t have jobs. It’s really been difficult for the older scouts.
"This is the reason we started our foundation in the first place. We’re seeing guys who were getting thrown out of hospice care. We found guys living in the streets. Widows who didn’t have enough money to put them into the ground when they died, or lost their homes when they did.
"It’s pathetic. Nobody had anybody or anywhere to turn to. These guys really aren’t trained to do anything else. These guys are baseball guys. We’re here to bridge the gap until they're able to find something in the real world.’’
MLB is awash with money. Mass scout layoffs are penny-wise and pound-foolish in the extreme.
I cut my teeth on sabermetrics and still lean in that direction, but anyone who thinks a successful baseball organization can do without good scouts is wrong, flat wrong. The stats tell us things. Video can tell us things. But there are always, always things that even the best video or the best numbers cannot tell us and never will be able to tell us. You need eyes on the field for that.
A well-run baseball operation must integrate and interpret information from ALL sources, both objective and subjective. For a long time sabermetric evidence was ignored or misunderstood. That's changed in recent years, and that's a good thing. But mass layoffs of scouts in favor of sabermetric analysts is not the answer. You need both.
A good organization, baseball or otherwise, needs young and fresh minds at its disposal, certainly. The younger minds keep the older ones from getting stale and can come up with fresh perspectives. But you need experienced, veteran minds, too, people with institutional memory and a storehouse of knowledge. The older minds are necessary, too, to share certain wisdoms with the younger minds that can only come with experience.
This should not be an either/or thing.
If I were running a team, I'd be hiring more scouts, not firing them. Give me some veteran scouts and give me analytics guys. Give me some guys who can do both. But it isn't necessary for everyone in the organization to do both. Good baseball minds come in all flavors.
Everyone is looking for the next competitive edge. Success comes from synthesis. But you can't synthesize if you rob yourself of different perspectives.