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Sunday, October 8, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Their cheers might have been drowned out by the noise coming out of Nationals Park Saturday night after Bryce Harper’s eighth-inning two-run home run to tie Game 2 of the National League Division Series, setting the stage for Ryan Zimmerman’s game-winning three-run homer three batters later.

But if you listened closely enough, you heard cheers around the country from those in the baseball industry who make their living in hotel rooms at Super 8s and Rodeway Inns, in places like Bozeman, Montana, and Clayton, Alabama.


You heard the cheers of the grunts in this business, the ones who watch thousands of high school, American Legion and college baseball games, looking for the next Anthony Rizzo or Michael A. Taylor.


AUDIO: Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo with Thom Loverro


Baseball scouts are rooting for the Washington Nationals. They’ll be rooting for Max Scherzer when he takes the mound for Washington in Game 3 today at Wrigley Field, with the best-of-five series with the Chicago Cubs tied, 1-1.

You might have also heard a good number of boos as well around the country from those in the baseball industry who make their living in offices in places like New York or Los Angeles or Miami.

You heard the boos of the suits in this business, the ones who meet with mothers and fathers in those small towns like Bozeman and Clayton to convince them to let them represent and protect their sons in this business of baseball.

Baseball agents are rooting against the Washington Nationals.

These are tough times for the grunts, the scouts who have been the foundation of player development in baseball — the treasure hunters who stake their reputations on the future success or failure of an 18-year-old kid. Those scouts who look at that kid and maybe see a Ryan Zimmerman or Kyle Hendricks four or five years down the line.

The scouts who make those decisions face-to-face, after conversations with these kids, their parents, their coaches and others who may offer some insight into the makeup of a boy and how he may develop into a man on and off the baseball field.

They are being pushed aside by the geeks, the ones with video and numbers who look at scouts and see dinosaurs, the ones — like many of you, probably — who believe you can judge talent with your keyboard and computer screen.

Several months ago, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston Astros laid off at least eight scouts and reduced the work for others as well. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said they were not cutting back scouting. Luhnow told reporters they were “reconfiguring within and across the three scouting departments — international, domestic and pro.”

That “reconfiguring” likely means video replacing humans, with decisions being made in corporate offices instead of baseball field in small towns.

This is the trend. Two years ago, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, which once employed 58 scouts, was down to 17 and getting smaller.

“It’s just a terrible time for scouts,” Dennis Gilbert, chairman of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, told Nightengale. “I’m getting 15 to 20 calls a week from scouts who don’t have jobs. It’s really been difficult for the older scouts.”

In case you don’t know by now, Nationals team president and general manager Mike Rizzo worked his way up to that job through scouting. And his father, Phil Rizzo, is a longtime respected baseball scout.

The Nationals use analytics. Believe me, the army of numbers geeks Rizzo has are never far from his side.

But scouts still have the key voice in the Nationals organization. Scouts are still the heart of their very successful player development system.

This is why baseball scouts are rooting for the Washington Nationals this postseason. They represent the value of the jobs they do.

Not everyone is rooting for Washington. There are denizens of another level of the baseball industry food chain who would love to see nothing more than the Nationals fall on their collective faces.

Baseball agents not named Scott Boras are rooting against the Washington Nationals.

There’s a lot of resentment within the industry about the power and influence Boras has with the Nationals — specifically the owners, the Lerner family. It has led to a Boras-heavy Nationals roster — Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Wieters, Stephen Drew and Oliver Perez.

The relationship with Boras has been, for the most part, good for the Nationals and certainly good for Boras, whose current Nationals clients have earned $363 million to date and are on the books for another $370 million. The success, access and influence, though, that Boras has over Ted Lerner and company has garnered great resentment among other agents who don’t get invited to the owner’s Palm Springs home every winter.

The soul of baseball is at stake with the success or failure of the Washington Nationals this postseason.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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