"Can he play?"
This question defines the scouts' world, and it means one thing: Can this ballplayer make it to the majors some day? Always on the move, scouts search ballfields around the world for new prospects, the "diamonds in the rough" with the talent and drive to grow into major leaguers.
Finding the next generation of ballplayers is hard work. Baseball's unsung heroes spend countless hours on the road, in the air and at ballgames. Although they win few accolades and grab no headlines, the passion that scouts have for baseball is unsurpassed, and their impact on the game is immeasurable.
"I knew the only way to get to the majors was through these amazing men who almost had halos over their heads: scouts."
Don Sutton, Hall of Fame pitcher
Don Sutton, Hall of Fame pitcher
Behind Every Player...
...stands a scout and a story of discovery. Baseball's first scouts roamed the country, signing amateur players on the spot. Today's U.S. scouts mine their assigned territories to find top prospects, who are then selected in a draft. International scouts comb the world, while "pro" scouts search for a rival's weakness or an overlooked gem in the minors. Regardless of the era or focus, one thing has remained constant: scouts have been making baseball better, one player at a time, for over a century.
After a Columbia University pitcher/outfielder named Lou Gehrig hit two homers in three at-bats against Rutgers, a Yankees' rookie scout named Paul Krichell signed Gehrig as quickly as he could. Krichell went on to ink future Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri and Whitey Ford, but he remains forever linked with the immortal Gehrig.
In 1954, Roberto Clemente was a raw 19-year-old minor leaguer in the Brooklyn Dodgers' organization when he impressed Pirates scout Howie Haak. Once the opportunity arose to acquire the Puerto Rican outfielder, Haak made sure Pittsburgh grabbed him. Clemente's great success prompted Haak to make Latin America his regular territory for the next 45 years.
In Southern California, high schooler Bert Blyleven's curve ball caught the eye of Minnesota scout Jesse Flores. Flores and the Twins surprised Blyleven when they picked the future Hall of Famer in the 1969 draft; the Braves had followed Blyleven so closely he thought he was headed to Atlanta. The Mexican-born Flores, a former pitcher himself, also signed such future major leaguers as Lyman Bostock, Rick Dempsey and Jesse Orosco.
As a youth, Puerto Rican slugger Carlos Delgado drew great attention from international scouts. Among them was Toronto's Epy Guerrero, who recalled working with Blue Jays GM and future Hall of Famer Pat Gillick to sign Delgado. "Pat tells me he's got no money. I say, 'Find it. It's going to take a $100,000 bonus or Atlanta is going to sign him.' Pat comes down. He's got to ask the owners for money out of next year's budget. We sign him." Soon they saw the Atlanta delegation. "We say, 'Don't bother. We signed him.' They don't believe us - till they go to Carlos's house."
The setting: Game One of the 1988 World Series, with the host Dodgers trailing the Oakland A's, 4-3, in the bottom of the ninth. With one man on and two out, Dodgers pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson worked a full count. But Gibson had an edge: this report from Los Angeles advance scout Mel Didier. Responsible for finding the strengths and weaknesses of upcoming opponents, Didier discovered that with a full count, A's closer Dennis Eckersley favored a particular pitch to lefties. Gibson remembered the report, and his game-winning, walk-off home run launched the Dodgers toward an upset World Championship victory over Oakland.