As usual, there wasn't much suspense before the announcement last month of the results of this year's Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. It would have been surprising only if Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan hadn't been elected. One thing never in doubt, however, was that Charlie Barrett, Paul Krichell and Hugh Alexander would not be among the men voted in. As baseball scouts, Barrett, Krichell and Alexander are not eligible for the Hall. To me, that is like saying infantrymen shouldn't qualify for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Scouts are the foot soldiers of baseball, on the front lines in the least glamorous positions, yet their work is fundamental to the game.
Scouts watch for talent the year round, day in and day out, and those who have been at it for decades are among the most knowledgeable people in baseball. As far as Cooperstown is concerned, however, scouts don't exist. Not only are they ineligible for election to the Hall, there is no exhibit in the museum that recognizes their work.
It's not for lack of trying. Every year from 1981 to 1986, veterans' committee member Birdie Tebbetts introduced a motion to change the wording of the eligibility bylaw to include scouts; in particular, it would apply only to those scouts who were working before the free-agent draft was introduced in 1965. And every year the suggestion was turned down by the board of directors, the Hall's governing body.
"Scouts have given so much to baseball," says Tebbetts, who, after a 29-year career as a player and manager, has been a scout for 25 years with the Yankees, Indians and, currently, the Orioles. "There isn't anybody in baseball more closely connected to the game. Baseball can't function without the ballplayers, and scouts are the ones who go out and get them."
The usual reasons cited for not making scouts eligible for election are not convincing, and can easily be dismissed:
1) There are no objective or measurable standards by which to judge scouts. Perhaps, but the same can be said of umpires and baseball executives. Yet it's clear to the managers, players and writers who vote which umps and execs are worthy of the Hall.
2) There are many great scouts, and it would be too difficult to choose. Well, allow me to help out by nominating the three aforementioned. Barrett, who died in 1939, was the chief architect of Branch Rickey's revolutionary farm system with the St. Louis Cardinals. Krichell, who died in 1957, worked for the Yankees for 37 years and signed more than 200 prospects, including Lou Gehrig, Red Rolfe, Charlie Keller, Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. Alexander has done more than a half century of scouting, for the Indians (14 years), the White Sox (five years), the Dodgers (15), the Phillies (16) and, since 1987, the Cubs.
3) Including scouts would dilute the purity of the Hall of Fame. If the Hall had originally been established only for players, this might be a sound argument. But managers, executives and pioneers of the game were included when the Hall was built and dedicated in 1939, and in 1953 umpires were added to the mix. If these other baseball people have a place, so do scouts.
If you want to talk about dilution, take a good look at some of the players at Cooperstown: Frank Chance (six years as a regular, 1,273 lifetime hits); Chick Hafey (six-year regular, 1,466 hits); Jesse Haines (three 20-win seasons, 210 lifetime wins, .571 winning percentage, 3.64 ERA). There are quite a few honorees who fall into this category—good players, but far from great.
Baseball historian and writer Bill James says, "It's hard to justify including a guy who gave baseball five or six good seasons, and excluding someone who's given 50 years. I mean, who's contributed more to baseball, Jesse Haines or Hugh Alexander?"
Part of the problem is that scouts are an almost invisible part of the game. "Their contributions are not really noticed and therefore get overlooked, but they absolutely are deserving of inclusion," says the New York Mets' vice-president, Joe McIlvaine. "It may be a clichè, but nothing is truer in baseball: Scouts are the fiber of the game."
At least one member of the board of directors agrees. "I personally think they should be eligible," says former American League president Lee MacPhail. "I think it would be quite simple for the board of directors to change the wording of that statute."
It's time the Hall gave scouts their due. Until then, how about a decent exhibit honoring the men who beat the bushes to find the talent? That's the least they deserve from baseball's national shrine.
Free-lance writer Jay Feldman is a frequent contributor to "Sports Illustrated."