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Helping baseball's scouts in a post-'Moneyball' world

The statistical revolution sparked by the 2003 book and the ideas of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane cost some scouts their jobs. A charitable foundation has helped many; its annual fundraiser is Saturday.

January 13, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane attends the premiere of 'Moneyball' at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane attends the premiere of… (Warren Toda / EPA )

In the front offices of major league clubs, the statistics-vs.-scouts debate ended long ago. No club today could imagine winning without tapping the resources of the increasingly sophisticated statistical tools available as well as the experience of scouts trained to look at a kid today and project his tomorrows.

Yet that debate was very much alive in 2003, sparked by the book "Moneyball," and by author Michael Lewis' portrayal of how Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane and assistant Paul DePodesta challenged the hegemony of the scouting community.

"Billy had his own idea about where to find future major league baseball players: inside Paul's computer," Lewis wrote. "He'd flirted with the idea of firing all the scouts and just drafting the kids straight from Paul's laptop."

The response from some owners was all too predictable. The A's won, at less cost, with fewer scouts. In the winter following the publication of "Moneyball," 103 scouts lost their jobs, according to veteran baseball executive Roland Hemond.

There was some small consolation in the timing. Hemond was among several baseball lifers concerned about how the sport treated scouts — the talent seekers living in chain hotels and eating fast food all summer, for wages so low that a savings account might be an extravagance.

The lifers decided to set up a foundation to assist scouts in need. Dennis Gilbert, a onetime minor leaguer and former agent to the likes of Barry Bonds and Bret Saberhagen, said he would provide the seed money.

"We were taken aback that Dennis would take on a venture like that," Hemond said. "Without him, we don't have the foundation."

The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation launched in 2003, just in time to help that post-"Moneyball" wave of unemployed scouts. The foundation offers emergency financial assistance to scouts and their families in times of need, from paying a mortgage bill to covering funeral expenses.

The foundation's ninth annual gala takes place Saturday at the Century Plaza Hotel, a star-studded fundraiser with guests including Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Frank Robinson, Dodgers star Matt Kemp and Commissioner Bud Selig.

Gilbert, the driving force behind the gala, is a special assistant to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Gilbert, a lifelong Angeleno, is heading one of the groups bidding to buy the Dodgers.

"Dennis would be a great owner," Reinsdorf said. "Dennis is a great person. He'll have a lot of competition."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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