Go Pro Baseball Wise: MLB Scouting Bureau

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Many professional baseball players may owe their baseball careers to the reports of scouts from the Major League Scouting Bureau.

"No matter what his position, all scouts like a player with what we call 'baseball smarts,' if we have to give it a name. Most of them don't have it early on in their pro baseball careers. It's something they develop as they go through the Minor Leagues"
— Dick Wilson,
former Minor League Player and Manager; former Professional Scout, 35+ years
Major League Scouting Bureau

Scouting is the backbone and foundation of professional baseball. Scouts scan the country in search of amateur players who will hone their skills and carry the tradition of the game into the future.

These scouts are generally former players whose own tools didn't carry them to the Major Leagues. However, they have the unique ability to recognize talent in young players, evaluate it, and predict future potential.

This is no easy task. Think about it. How many elements are involved in hitting the ball? Let's see…..physical coordination, of course, then there's timing, bat speed, arm extension, and, well…you get the idea. What about the elements of running? Does the guy have soft hands on defense? What about his throwing arm? Is it strong? Accurate? Looking at pitchers is an entirely different matter with dozens of factors to consider. Good scouts have an understanding of all things required to be a successful baseball player. OOPS, almost forgot the major ingredient, the one that is the most difficult, if not impossible to evaluate. Heart.

Today there are thirty Major League baseball organizations and each one has its own Scouting Department with an average of 16 professional scouts each (480) covering the USA, plus a small fleet of international scouts. This business of "beating the bushes," as they say, is not only expensive but also very tough on the scouts themselves.

Joe L. Brown, former GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates: "I was involved in the founding of the Major League Scouting Bureau in 1974.

Here's a little baseball history about the Bureau. It became obvious a number of years back, before things got completely out of hand with the economics of baseball and salaries like they are today, that some changes were needed. Those of us who were operating baseball…that is, general managers and employees, not owners… had to find some way to keep expenses down or clubs, particularly those called 'small market clubs,' would have problems. That is, we wouldn't be able to compete economically in the acquisition of talent unless we cut expenses. I'm talking about teams like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and a few other teams in smaller cities.

We agreed we could do this in one of two ways. We could reduce the cost of finding players…scouting…or we could reduce the cost of developing players…the farm systems.

We came up with the idea of an independent scouting program. It had been tried several times before but didn't work out. Pittsburgh was involved with several other clubs in a kind of combine. We had two teams in the National League and two in the American League. We exchanged all scouting reports. But that didn't work out all that well because scouts had loyalty to their particular club. If they were getting paid by a particular club, they wanted that club to win. So, perhaps subconsciously they didn't report on all players as fully as they should, or they didn't indicate a player was as good as he really was, or, in some cases, they didn't even send an official report to the other clubs.

But it became obvious we needed better coverage, and the more scouts you have, particularly competent scouts, the better coverage you have.

And it became obvious that the best way to do it was if you had an organization that covered the entire United States that worked for everyone. So at first, participation by the specific clubs was voluntary. While we tried to sell all the clubs on this idea, not all of them were initially involved in the Bureau. Clubs paid a membership fee to belong, which was our operating budget. We had a scouting director and a full slate of scouts, whose loyalty was to the Bureau because the Bureau was their employer. It was then up to the Director of the Bureau to make sure that all participating members got all the reports and other information on players they scouted.

It was good. It was helpful. And many of the clubs were able to cut back on the number of their own scouts. But, what happened was, there were a number of clubs that were violently opposed. I think some scouts feared they would lose their jobs. But any scouts who had ability found jobs, mostly through recommendations, with the Bureau. We knew that to make it work we needed good scouts and we asked all clubs in the Bureau to provide us with good scouts. We didn't ask for their very best scouts because, obviously, they wouldn't give them up. But we developed a staff of competent and experienced scouts who do a good job for the players out there and for baseball.

Ultimately, it became an industry-wide Bureau with the passage of legislation in the 1980's making it mandatory for all clubs to contribute money to the Bureau. At this time we have 60 scouts [at the time of this interview]. Most organizations out there don't even have thirty professional scouts. So you can see what we add for them.

I remember a few years back when Pittsburgh had thirteen geographic areas in the United States. Each one of them had an area scouting supervisor and under him maybe one or two part time assistant scouts, a network of bird dogs and friends, and that was it.

Now, when you get into the Bureau, we have probably 40-50 areas, which means each area is smaller. This means each area gets better and more thorough coverage, which is better for the players and the clubs looking for them. Fewer prospects out there are missed. It's better for the scouts because they can cover areas more thoroughly without spending so much time on the road.

In a nutshell, then, I feel the main success of the Bureau is its thoroughness. We have so many scouts out there who can see more games, and more players all over the country. For example, in states that are tough to scout like Montana or the Dakotas, which are so rural that there's very little high school baseball, we cover their very fine American Legion programs. Utah used to be the same thing. Players like Vernon Law, Cy Young Award winner with Pittsburgh, and Harmon Killebrew, now a member of the Hall of Fame, both came from Utah.

We now provide a variety of services and here's how we work. As soon as scouts compile their information and mail in their reports to the Bureau's main office in Southern California, this data is processed and sent to all organizations immediately. Today, with advances in computers and all that, scouts are able to send information the same day they see players. Timing like this may not seem so crucial, but it IS CRUCIAL when you get down to the last month before the draft.

We also run an average of 55 tryout camps a year all over the country, which we advertise well in advance. Of course, all information compiled in this way is sent to all the organizations.

We have also started a program of taking video tape of players we feel may go early in the draft to give organizations a chance to see the players in motion and in game situations before making their decisions."

Kevin Saucier, former Major League pitcher; scouting supervisor, Major League Scouting Bureau 20+ years: "Believe me, you have to be pretty thick-skinned to be a Bureau scout. As with every other scout, we're not always going to be right and there's always somebody out there ready to take a pop at us. They'll say we've got the guy too low or too high or whatever. But we send reports to all organizations and they all look for different things. I love this job!"

Larry D'Amato, professional scout, 25+ years: "Sometimes, people takes things way too literally. We all knew the purpose of the Bureau to cut operating costs of the participating clubs. But it was laughable in Oakland when Charley Finley was running that organization. He only had one scout and depended on the Bureau for everything related to scouting. One scout!"

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