It’s voting process for Hall-of-Famers may be dysfunctional, but last weekend, the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum got something right, opening its new “Diamond Mines” exhibit dedicated to the scouting profession. The exhibit features artifacts such as radar guns and stopwatches that served as scouts’ tools of the trade for decades. I like the idea of the exhibit, but what really has me excited is the searchable database of scouting reports. These scouting reports are fascinating artifacts, and we’re incredibly lucky to suddenly have thousands and thousands of them. I encourage you to just dive in. I’ve been lost for hours so far.
The stuff is not perfect. My first search of course was for “Willie Mays.” I wanted to see the PDF of the actual report filed by Eddie Montague, the Giant scout who, sent to look at Birmingham Black Barons first baseman Piper Davis in 1950, instead had his attention riveted by the Barons’ nineteen-year-old center fielder. “My eyes almost popped out of my head during batting practice when I saw a young colored boy swing the bat with great speed and power.” Montague compared Mays’s hand quickness to that of a young Joe Louis, and, after commenting on the youngster’s throwing, fielding and running, Montague concluded that Mays was “the greatest ballplayer I had ever seen in my life.”
The database doesn’t have the report filed by Hank DeBerry, the Giant scout sent to Minneapolis in May 1951 to see whether Mays, who at the time was hitting .477, was ready to join the big club. DeBerry, a former major-league catcher, sent back a report unparalleled in big-league history, a report that was to remain valid for almost twenty years. “Sensational,” DeBerry wrote, “Is the outstanding player on the Minneapolis club and probably in all the minor leagues for that matter. . . . Hits all pitches and hits to all fields. Hits the ball where it is pitched as good as any player seen in many days. Everything he does is sensational. He had made the most spectacular catches. Runs and throws with the best of them. . . . When he starts somewhere, he means to get there, hell bent for election. Slides hard, plays hard. He is a sensation and just about as popular with locals as he can be — a real favorite. This player is the best prospect in America. It was a banner day for the Giants when this boy was signed!”
Instead of those, all I found for Mays were advance scouting reports from the late 1960s and 1970s, when Mays was in his decline, not the proto-god he was in 1951. A fair number of the site’s reports, particularly the advance scouting reports, are rudimentary to the point of worthlessness, and the user interface could still use a lot of work. But as quibbles go, these are barely worth mentioning.
Of those I did find, here are some of my favorites:
GOOD BODY, ARM & STUFF GIVE HIM A CHANCE. TOOLS TO WORK WITH, BUT HAS A LONG WAY TO GO. DEDUCTED PTS FOR LACK OF CONFIDENCE AND CONTROL
That scout nailed it.
Here’s one about John Burkett:
A LITTLE SHORT. CAN’T HELP.
Burkett would have a 15-year career, with seven years of an ERA+ over 100, would make two all-star teams, and win 22 games for the 1993 Giants.
And a funny one on Bill Mueller:
LITTLE GUY. DONT SHOW THE DESIRE YOU LIKE TO SEE, HAS TOOLS, SPEED AND ARM
Maybe the best part of that report on Mueller is that the scout projects his future hitting ability as a “3” on a “1-8″ scale. “3” is “Well Below Average.” Mueller, in eleven years, finished with a 109 OPS+ and a batting title.
George Foster when he was a Giants prospect in the Cal League:
CENTER FIELDER. PLUS ARM AND PLUS OUTFIELDER. DIDN’T IMPRESS MUCH WITH THE BAT. ONLY 4.3 RUNNER, AND DIDN’T SHOW ANY AGGRESSIVENESS ON THE BASES. SUPPOSE TO HAVE HAD BACK TROUBLE TWO DIFFERENT TIMES IN PAST TWO YEARS. IF HIS HITTING PICKS UP HE MIGHT HAVE A CHANCE.
I don’t know what this guy was talking about; Foster’s hitting had been great throughout his minor-league career. The Giants of course traded Foster, before he got a chance to prove anything at the big-league level, in one of several disastrous trades in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
What about Shawn Estes???
GD ARM THAT WILL GET BETTER. YOUNG LHP WHO HAS A CHANCE TO BE 4 OR 5 STARTER IN ML OR POSSIBLY A SETUP MAN. WILL HAVE 3 AVE TO AA PITCHES THAT CAN GETS PEOPLE OUT. AGG AND GOES AFTER PEOPLE.
Yes, when I think about Estes as a pitcher, I think about how he just came right at the hitters.
Here’s a White Sox scout on one of my favorites, Kirk Rueter, when he was still an Expo:
LOT OF CONTACT AND NEEDS DEFENSE. . . . REALLY CAN STRUGGLE IF CONTROL IS OFF AND HAS GAMES WHERE HE IS IN AND OUT OF TROUBLE CONSTANTLY. PITCHES UGLY BUT WINS. . . . SEEMS TO PITCH WITH MIRRORS BUT GETS JOB DONE.
The four scouting reports available for Woody show that scouts liked him for the same reasons we all did: He knew his capabilities, and pitched to his strengths, using craftiness and control to just get by. It was so much fun pulling for him.
You can catch a glimpse of organizational philosophies, too. Remember how long it took for the Twins to promote Justin Morneau to the big club even though he was the best first baseman in their entire organization even at Double-A? Well, here’s Twins’ scout Herb Stein looking at Barry Bonds at Prince William in the Single-A Carolina League in 1985:
A COMPLETE PLAYER. SHOULDN’T BE MOVED TO [SIC] QUICKLY.
Bonds was playing for the Pirates the next year, with a 103 OPS+ and lots of votes for rookie of the year.
… and the last one I’ll bore you with is Rod Beck, may he rest in peace:
EVERYTHING WAS HARD. DID NOT SEE ANY OFF SPEED PITCHES. HEAVY AROUND THE MIDDLE – MIGHT HAVE A WEIGHT PROBLEM LATER ON.
This is baseball crack, and I can’t get any work done in the office.
The story the Hall of Fame is telling is that it has done a great thing for scouts, paying tribute to their hard work, and that is certainly true. But the Hall of Fame has done something even better for historians, and I’m grateful to them for it.
Special Note: I looked for Hunter Pence, but none of his old scouting reports are available, confirming that he is indeed only here temporarily, until he is beamed back to his home planet.