On Saturday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum unveiled "Diamond Mines," a terrific exhibit dedicated to scouts accompanied by an online database compiling more than 14,000 scouting reports.
Better yet, for folks in the vicinity like me, the Hall hosted a panel discussion on scouting with some pretty big names in the field -- the venerable Roland Hemond and Pat Gillick, along with Dan Jennings (Marlins VP of player personnel), Don Welke (Rangers scout and senior special assistant), and Roberta Mazur (Scout of the Year program executive director). A number of scouts -- a couple dozen, perhaps -- were also in attendance and saluted for it. All in all, it was a terrific way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning.
My paper has an overview of the exhibit, and Ben Badler at Baseball America gave a full report from the panel discussion. With those articles covering the bases, I'll drill down into a story told by Mazur that caught my ear.
I had an interesting experience when I was working with the California Angels, and Larry Himes was the director of scouting. We had a young scout we had just hired out of the San Fernando Valley by the name of Kevin Malone.
Now he turns in this report -- they grade it 20 to 80 on the report -- and everything is below average. And Larry Himes had a teacher mentality -- he'd go through the report, and he'd check it with red pen. If he didn't like the answer, or if he questioned something, he'd check it with a red pen.
So he's looking through this report that Kevin Malone sent in ... on Robin Ventura.
And he looks and he goes, "Everything's below average." And he puts a big "NP" at the top of the report: "Send this back to him!"
I don't know how the other scouting directors operated, but that's how Larry Himes operated. And, of course, we all know what happened to Robin.
The Malone report isn't among the seven pre-draft reports available in the database about Ventura, but there are five others from the Angels in the run-up to the 1998 draft. The scouts generally agreed on a high floor for his bat, but they didn't much care for his other physical attributes. They're fascinating to read, because you get an idea of just how stark and brutal these evaluations are:
- HEAVY IN HIPS & DEAD LOWER HALF SLOW BODY & ACTIONS (link)
- SOFT APPEARING BODY LARGE HIPS/LEGS COORDINATED ACTION PLAYS VERY LETHALGICALY (sic) (link)
- WIDE BIG BONED FRAME BIG HEAVY LEGS FLESHY IN BUTT AREA (link)
- AT BEST A FRINGE ML PLAYER ... ONLY TOOL IS HIS ABILITY TO HIT BUT OTHER TOOLS SHOULD LIMIT HIM TO A BACKUP (link)
The Angels had the eighth pick in 1988, two spots ahead of the Sox. They could have drafted Ventura, but instead went with Jim Abbott (who has one scouting report that reads, "LARGE PHYSICAL FRAME LARGE SLOOPING SHOULDERS ONLY HAS LT HAND").
Two spots later, the Sox -- whose GM was the Angels' former scouting director Larry Himes -- happily took Ventura with the 10th pick.
It's a fun story to trace back to the reports, and there are probably hundreds of others like it. But reading these evaluations, in their black and white and ALL CAPS glory, makes it easy to cherry-pick unflattering adjectives and judgments that look poor in hindsight. That it's so ripe for mockery makes Rob Neyer wonder if its public existence will be short-lived:
I meant to get into this and didn’t, but my guess is that a LOT of players are not going to like what’s in their scouting reports. And so it’s at least modestly brave for the Hall to make them public. My advice, though, to interested researchers? Get everything you can soon, because I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Hall eventually withdraws some of the reports, at least from the Web.
Hopefully the value and insight provided by the reports outweighs any embarrassment suffered by the parties involved, because the database gives us the ability to understand a process that's at the center of a big-league operation. I'm not only talking about the reports themselves, but the potential for human error behind them. As Jennings said:
"When Roger (Jongewaard) hired me in 1988, the first words he said to me: ‘Kid, go make some mistakes.' And, you know, I look back now, 25 years later, and I go, ‘Now I get it.’
"When I was in 1988, that didn’t really make sense to me because I was going to be right with everything. I was going to be perfect with all my stuff. Until you get out there and determine how difficult it is, how lonely it is, how 50,000 miles of driving and searching and looking, and the love of what you do, when you get out and actually experience that, then you understand what he meant."
Plus, these reports are only snapshots of what a scout happened to see at one time, or one brief period. The player could change, or the scout could see something he didn't see before. That's why Hemond said one of the most important pieces of advice he ever received was, "Don't trust scouts who don't change their mind."