In the long and colorful history of nicknames in baseball, is there a better nickname than that of John Franklin Baker?
You may have heard of him as Home Run Baker, a Hall of Fame third baseman who played the first seven years of his 13-season career with the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-1914.
In the 1911 World Series he was given the nickname after hitting a go-ahead homer off the Giants’ Rube Marquard in Game 2 and a game-tying homer off Christy Mathewson in Game 3. Both Marquard and Mathewson wound up in Cooperstown, as did Baker, who would earn three World Series rings. He would hit clutch homers, to be sure, but never a bunch of homers.
He led the American League in home runs three times, but never hit more than 12 in a season.
For all of that, he might have been a better scout than he was a player. He was the manager of the Easton Farmers in the Eastern Shore League in 1924 when a high school dropout named Jimmie Foxx joined the team. Baker liked what he saw, tipped off his old manager and A’s owner, Connie Mack, and the A’s signed Foxx almost immediately. In 1925 Foxx was in the big leagues for the start of a 20-year career.
Without that inside knowledge from his former player, Mack wouldn’t have landed a man who would go on to hit 534 homers and win three MVP awards. When Foxx retired after the 1945 season, only Babe Ruth had hit more homers. He would remain second to Ruth for a quarter of a century, from 1940 until Willie Mays passed him in 1966.
Home Run Baker not only hit a few home runs when it counted, but he discovered someone who hit homers all the time.
We bring this up because there is news out of Southern California that the Angels are decimating their scouting staff as part of a 200-employee purge. It’s a cost-cutting move with baseball shut down. At the behest of owner Arte Moreno, who despite giving out the occasional big contract remains extremely tight with a buck, the Angels will furlough at least 17 area scouts on June 1, which is nine days before the major league draft begins.
Area scouts, who make the first contact with prospects as often as not and who build relationships long before the draft, are among the most poorly paid cogs in the machine of any baseball franchise, but they can return huge dividends. That will be particularly true this year, when the draft will consist of just five rounds instead of the usual 40.
All the players not drafted will be free agents. Those post-fifth-round signings will be more problematic with the area scouts gone.
And while there may not be a 500-homer guy left after the first five rounds are complete, scouting is enough of an inexact science that you never know. Would it be worth a scout’s salary many times over to land a Nolan Ryan (12 round), an Albert Pujols (13 round), a Dave Parker (14 round) or a Jose Canseco (15 round)?
And we should point out, Pujols has 656 career homers as we wait for the 2020 season to start. (Foxx is now 19 on the all-time list).
According to The Athletic, Angels scouting director Matt Swanson will run the draft helped by five regional scouting supervisors and four national cross-checkers. Those nine will be furloughed after the draft.
The Angels’ move is shortsighted and stands in start contrast to teams like the Blue Jays, who have guaranteed employment to their staff through Oct. 1, although some of the better paid of the 500 persons impacted will take pay cuts.
The Blue Jays have brought in minor-league coaches and analysts to help with their draft preparation.
Which team do you think is likely to come out of the draft better prepared for the franchise’s future?
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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