O's scout mines diamonds in search of edge

May 22, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Anaheim, Calif.--The crowd at Anaheim Stadium is surprisingly sparse for a breezy, beautiful Southern California evening, but Orioles scout Deacon Jones is wedged tightly into his seat, surrounded by the tools of a largely unknown and unappreciated trade.

There is a radar gun sitting temporarily idle at his feet. Next to it a briefcase bulging with half-finished pitching and hitting charts. He is balancing a clipboard on his lap, trying to work while everyone around him is at leisure.

Welcome to the wonderful world of advance scouting. The nights are long and the road trip never ends, but Jones goes about his tedious routine with the enthusiasm of a true believer.

"If I were going to go to battle with you," he says between pitches, "I would want to know as much about you as possible."

This is baseball's version of Spy vs. Spy. Almost every major-league team has an advance scout, shadowing the competition a few days ahead of each series. On this April night, Jones is charting the California Angels, but he soon will move on to Seattle to scout the Mariners, then pick up the Oakland Athletics in Boston.

He is looking for tendencies -- patterns that can dictate how a pitcher, a hitter or even a manager may react in certain situations. He also is looking for giveaways -- unconscious movements or unprotected signs that may telegraph a prearranged play, such as a pickoff move or a stolen-base attempt.

"I'm looking for anything that might give my manager an edge," he says.

Manager Johnny Oates is a stickler for preparation. He reads the reports religiously and periodically spends time on the phone with Jones reviewing the information.

"I think, over the long haul, what I'm looking for are tendencies of opposing players and managers," Oates says. "We have a pretty good idea of the guys who have been around, so he's concentrating on pitchers we don't know much about and hitters we don't know much about, as well as changes that [established] players have made."

Jones logs every pitch on an individual chart that enables him to specify the type and location of the pitch as well as the count in which it was thrown. The hitting chart includes spaces for each at-bat and a field diagram where Jones can log the direction of each batted ball.

If that sounds complicated, it is just half the battle. He also watches for the positioning of the defense for each batter and listens to the local broadcast of the game to pick up other information that might be helpful.

Somehow, he manages to do all of it and still produce meticulously neat charts that include color-coded entries and surprisingly in-depth instant analysis.

"I stay very motivated, because Johnny uses this stuff," Jones says. "He is very organized, and he gives me good feedback. That keeps me motivated. People ask me how I can do so much, but it doesn't bother me. I feel like I'm contributing."

This was not always standard operating procedure. The history of everyday advanced scouting apparently dates only to the early 1950s, when the Brooklyn Dodgers began sending an advance man to the Polo Grounds or to Philadelphia to scout the teams that were on their way to Ebbets Field.

Former Dodgers executive Al Campanis claims some credit for the concept, which he said sprang from a conversation in 1950 with then-general manager Buzzie Bavasi.

"I had played football at NYU in between baseball seasons, and after that I coached the backfield at City College," Campanis remembers. "I told Buzzie that on Saturdays I used to advance scout the opposition. You go and see the team you're going to play and come back and give a report on how to play them.

"I said, 'Why don't we do that in baseball?' He looked at me and said, 'Do you think you could do it?' In those days, there were only seven other teams, and you could see them by going 10 miles to the Polo Grounds or driving two hours to Philadelphia."

Bavasi gave the go-ahead, and a new system of scouting was born. The Dodgers began covering the rest of the league regularly and -- perhaps not coincidentally -- had tremendous on-field success during the 1950s and '60s.

"Before that, everybody just went out and played the game," Bavasi says. "They didn't pay any attention to that kind of thing. But we had 27 minor-league clubs. In order to support those clubs, we had to win."

It wasn't long before other teams began to catch on. The Chicago Cubs were the next club to use an advance scout, and it soon became a common practice to send a scout to spy on the competition.

There are only a few teams that don't regularly do advance work now. The Montreal Expos pulled their advance scout off the road a few years ago to save money, and Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson doesn't incorporate advance scouting information into his managerial strategy.

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