Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Scout's Honor" by Dad


     Baseball scouts have been, at least since Moneyball, a subject 

of real debate within the greater baseball community. On one side, 

of course, are the stat heads, the sabermetricians who put their full 

faith in increasingly arcane sets of numbers. On the other side sit 

the traditionalists, who believe stats are no substitute for the eyes 

and experience of a veteran scout.

     As a guy who’s been a baseball fan since the 60s, and a stat-

driven roto ball player since the 80s, I don’t come out on either 

side. But I will say that sabermetricians will never be as truly 

funny, as witty and actually, quotably  wise, as scouts have been 

over the long years of their long road trips.

     This line of thought came to me the other day as I was reading

whatever I could find online about a pitcher named Hunter 

Strickland, a low minor leaguer the Giants made a September call 

up. In researching whether to make him a call up on my own roto 

team, I came across this: “The guy throws 98 and would strike out 

an orphan without feeling bad.”

     I’m not sure whether the line was from an actual scout, or 

simply from a blogger, but it struck me as a perfect example of 

classic scout talk.  And there are a few other examples I don’t 

think I’ll forget, even if I’m hazy on some of the specifics. 

To whit:

     Some six or eight years ago, the Nationals had a surprisingly

successful closer named Chad Cordero, the surprise being that he 

did as well as he did without a great fastball or a true out pitch. He 

seemed to succeed on guile and nerve.  All of this was summed up 

by a scout writing, “The kid’s got stones, but his stuff is short.”  

That’s almost poetic in its power and brevity.

     And now a scout on an outfielder whose name I can’t recall, but

whose lack of fielding prowess I’ll never forget. For the 

uninitiated, an outfielder is said to run a good or bad route to catch 

a fly ball based on how quickly and directly he runs to where the 

ball will come down. The straighter he can run his routes, the more 

balls he can reach and catch. Writing about one apparently terrible 

outfielder, a scout vividly and unforgettably wrote, “He runs his 

routes like a guy being chased by bees.” Bad outfield play will 

never be described better.

     Finally, Bill James has written about having seen a scouting 

report on Phil Plantier with the puzzling letters, “TSH.” When the 

scout was asked what the letters meant, he explained, “Toilet seat 

hitter.” Anyone who remembers Phil Plantier will likely also  

remember that he did stand at the plate as if sitting on the john.

    So I guess I have to say that I’m glad there seems to still be a 

place for scouts, because no numbers will ever replace their words.