Professional scouts are baseball nomads, solitary individuals who traverse their territory in constant pursuit of players with potential.
It's a life characterized by seemingly endless processions of amateur ball fields and generic hotel rooms, and anonymity in the world at large is virtually guaranteed. Those who embrace such a profession certainly don't do it for the recognition.
But recognition is what these men are finally getting, thanks to the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame (PBSHOF). This unprecedented shrine to scouting was established in 2008 by the Goldklang Group, which operates three Minor League ballclubs -- the Charleston RiverDogs, Fort Myers Miracle, Hudson Valley Renegades -- and the independent league St. Paul Saints. The PBSHOF exists at all four of these team's facilities, with new members inducted each season. Criteria include a minimum of 20 years experience, with selection also based on "quantifiable success in the field, contributions made to the game in other areas ... and involvement to the local community that is honoring them through induction."
Twenty-eight scouts are members of the PBSHOF, including the five who have been (or will be) inducted this season. This year's honorees include Terry Ryan and Dave Yoakum (Fort Myers, March 30), Jax Robertson (Charleston, April 30), Bob Miske (Hudson Valley, July 10), and Ken Stauffer (St. Paul, August 12).
"We felt as operators in this game that it was part of our duty to honor the very men who are responsible for the players in our uniforms," wrote Tyler Tumminia, the Goldklang Group's VP of marketing and communications. "The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. ... MLB GMs, scouting directors and select ownership individuals have not only been supportive but have aided in the selection and contributed to the honors in the name of their organization."
Further support has come from the Topps Company, who partnered with the Goldklang Group on a series of baseball cards featuring scouts. Who knows? Perhaps these efforts will one day result in an even greater level of recognition for these oft-overlooked individuals.
"We would love to have a small part in encouraging the Baseball Hall of Fame to join in our efforts in recognizing scouts as they do numerous other professions," wrote Tumminia.
Currently, Hall enshrinement is limited to four distinct baseball jobs: players, managers, umpires, and executives.
"Scouts have played a very important part in making the sport what it has become," said Hall of Fame senior director of communications Brad Horn. "That said, the Hall of Fame remains committed to honoring just the four classes for the highest honor of election."
Scouts are slated to be recognized in other ways, however.
"Plans are in the works to give scouts a presence in the museum," said Horn. "It is something that is largely unknown from the fan perspective, the role that scouts play. We want to bring to life their contributions, in order to help our visitors understand how scouts have impacted the game."
Class of 2010
The newest member of the PBSHOF is Jax Robertson, who is being inducted at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Ballpark prior to Friday night's Charleston RiverDogs game. A former Minor League catcher, Robertson began scouting for the Yankees organization in 1977 and currently serves as a special assistant to the GM in Pittsburgh. His pride at being selected is mixed with bemusement, befitting someone who never expected such accolades to come his way.
"I'm honored, obviously, but especially grateful that scouting is being recognized as a whole," said Robertson. "We're a group of guys who are always on the road, away from our families, sitting in front of a computer in the hotel room day after day after day. We're not looking for sympathy, but at the same time we're not looking for any sort of personal notoriety.
"We're driven to provide information for our clubs, to offer a voice in the process of coming up with a collective decision," he continued. "We're always working as part of a team, so in a way [the PBSHOF] goes against the grain of who we are as a body of men that doesn't seek individual honors."
Fellow 2010 inductee Ken Stauffer currently works as a Midwest Supervisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, the latest position in a career that began with the White Sox organization in 1979. He, too, expressed a mix of appreciation and modesty.
"There are people in the game who are more deserving of this than I am, but it's great to be recognized," said Stauffer. "To do this job, you need a very understanding family, because you've got to make a lot of sacrifices. I have a wonderful wife and I'm very thankful to her."
While reiterating the hardships and sacrifices of the job, Stauffer also made it clear that scouting offers a powerful appeal to a certain breed of individual.
"It's exciting to go to different places every day, always meeting new people," he said. "I looked at it as the best way to be in professional baseball, because it wasn't going to happen as a player."
The only constant is change
The scouting profession has changed greatly since Robertson and Stauffer began their professional odysseys in the late 1970s. Stauffer recalls with fondness "the crusty old veterans" of that era, individuals who roamed huge swaths of territory with great autonomy.
"Back then, you could still try to hide a player," he said, referring to the practice of scouting a player in secret in the hopes that no other organization would discover him. "It was so much different then. ... Today so much of the information is already in front of us. You could probably do the Draft just based on [pre-Draft player] showcases."
"Modern technology has made things so much easier," he added. "It used to be that I'd get to a hotel and call the front office to let them know the number where they could reach me. Now, a guy will be throwing 95 [mph] in Texas, and, three minutes later, it's all over the West Coast."
Robertson remembers scouts in the '70s "walking into the Draft room with [player] names written on matchbook covers," a visual that conveys how much more individualistic and low-tech the profession used to be.
"Scouting today has evolved in that few decisions are made based on one man's opinion," he said. "Now such things are based on multiple eyes and opinions. ... I can't say I do a whole lot differently when it comes to how I make personal evaluations, but the business is improving each year when it comes to recognizing different ways to reach a decision."
The publication of Moneyball in 2003 dramatized and popularized baseball's trend toward statistics-based player evaluation, putting scouts on the defensive with its portrayal of the profession as out-of-touch and operating on little more than gut instinct.
"I don't think it's an either-or proposition," says Robertson in regard to the stats vs. scouts debate. "What those outside of the industry don't realize is that we've been using stats forever, and each year we're learning new ways to come up with statistical data and how to use it."
There's still something to be said, though, for simply trusting one's instincts.
"I'm a supervisor now, and I tell my guys that sometimes you're just going to have a feeling about a player," said Stauffer. "You can't explain what it is, exactly, but you just know he's gonna have a chance."
Of course, it is every scout's goal to discover players who go on to long and successful careers. Robertson in particular has a standout player on his résumé, signing Don Mattingly in 1979. But both Robertson and Stauffer downplay their role in scouting and signing big-name players.
"It's just a joy to follow any of your players. You live and die with their stats, and, if they make it to the Major Leagues, it's an even bigger excitement," said Stauffer, "especially the guys chosen down past the 10th round of the Draft."
Robertson emphasizes that his favorite signees aren't necessarily those who went on to the most distinguished careers. One player he uses as an example is Danny Schmitz, currently head coach at Bowling Green University.
"[Schmitz] was a little gamer, a low-round Draft pick out of Eastern Michigan [University] who got to Triple-A," said Robertson. "Did he make it to the bigs? No. But he reached his ultimate potential as a player and that's all you can ask for."
Trust yourself, and the rest will follow
The scouting profession will no doubt continue to adapt and evolve in the 21st century, forced to respond to the unceasing onslaught of technology as well as organizational and industry-wide shifts in player-development philosophies. But the job will always remain the same at its core, with the primary qualification being the ability to recognize and evaluate baseball talent.
It's a challenging career, to be sure, one that will continue to appeal to those with strong characters and the ability to persevere.
"The best piece of advice I could give to someone interested in scouting is to form your own opinions, and live and die with what you think is right, not what anyone else thinks," said Robertson. "That's how you develop yourself. You'll make mistakes, learn from them, reload and fire again."