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O's scout mines diamonds in search of edge

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

"I have a lot of respect for the Detroit manager," Campanis says, "but I think that's a mistake. If you can pick up just one thing, like determine that a catcher can't throw or a guy doesn't like to have a runner go into him at second . . . if you can pick up one morsel that is helpful to your club, I think it's money well spent."

There is no accurate way to determine just how much of an advantage a thorough advance scouting report may provide, but it can mean all the difference in the world . . . or, at least, all the difference in the World Series.

Remember Kirk Gibson's dramatic home run off Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series? It turned the Series against the heavily favored A's, and it might not have happened if the Dodgers had not done their homework.

Gibson said after the game that he was looking for the "backdoor slider" because advance scouting reports indicated that Eckersley almost always threw it when he reached a full count.

Not that it's always so easy.

"It's going to be a tough night," Jones says impatiently as he strains to see a sharp slider cut through the strike zone. "This kid is really bugging me."

The kid is not Brian Anderson, the rookie pitcher Jones is charting for an upcoming game. No, this kid is an actual kid -- a 4-year-old who has crawled up on his seat to peer into the business end of the radar gun that was supposed to clock that same pitch.

"Blocked out," Jones mutters to himself and adds another entry to the pitching chart.

The radar gun is useful in a number of ways. By measuring the velocity of selected pitches, a scout can tell when a pitcher begins to lose the zip on his fastball, whether he has the ability to vary the speed of a particular pitch or whether he has a tendency to overthrow in a tough situation. If a piece of that information helps the Orioles get just one key hit during the season series against the Angels, the three-day trip to California was well worth the expense.

Jones also is wearing a headset, which allows him to listen to the local broadcast of the game and pick up a little extra information. It also allows him to screen out the crowd noise . . . and discourages a steady stream of questions from the curious fans around him.

CyberScout he isn't. The Orioles are a little behind the times when it comes to scouting technology. Many clubs have their advance scouts on line, able to go back to the hotel and feed the information to the front office by computer. Jones will go back and transcribe a dozen or so reports by hand, then get up early the next morning and send them to Oates by overnight mail.

"My main fear in this business is Johnny not getting the report on time," Jones says. But there is little danger of that. Jones stays up long after the game is over to analyze and transcribe the material he has gathered, so he can send the reports first thing in the morning.

The human touch

Somehow, out of the corner of his eye, Jones manages to pick up every relevant development on the out-of-town scoreboard. On this night, the Orioles jump out to an early lead, but end up losing.

"My team lost, so I'm sitting here, feeling bad," Jones says quietly. "All you get to see is the score, so you're wondering what happened. Wondering how bad it was. Wondering if it was something you missed that opened the floodgates.

"Sometimes, I'll advance a team and feel real good, then if they sweep us or take two of three, it's a bummer. I used to take it real personal, but the other guys said that you just can't do that. Still, you wonder, because you know that those are your reports that have been discussed in the pre-game meetings."

It is a hard enough job without taking responsibility for the tough losses, but Jones takes his job behind the scenes as seriously as Oates takes his job in the dugout.

"It's got to be a terrible job," Oates said. "If you think it's bad to be on the road all year as a player, at least you've got friends and teammates with you. [As a scout], you're by yourself all the time. It's not a job I think I could handle."

Jones is not alone on this particular trip. His wife, Tiki, is sitting about eight rows behind him with their 25-year-old daughter, Monica, but not a word passes among them during the game. Business is business.

It is never lonely in the stands. On any given night, there could be a dozen scouts scattered about the seating section behind home plate -- some of them advancing, others evaluating talent for trade discussions. Jones, who has worked for several teams during his playing, coaching and scouting careers, seems to know everyone, but there is little time to socialize.

"You've got to like yourself to have a job like this," Jones says. "Lonely? I've been going away from home since I was 14, and I just turned 60."

Jones knows that he doesn't get home enough, and the emotional baggage that goes with a life on the road gets a little heavier at times. The trip that takes him through Anaheim and Seattle also takes him home unexpectedly when his wife falls ill and has to be hospitalized briefly.

Happily, there are no serious aftereffects, but the Orioles put special assignment scout Curt Motton on the road for a couple of weeks to allow Jones some time with his family. He just recently returned to work, picking up the Milwaukee Brewers in Cleveland RTC to prepare for the Orioles' visit this week to County Stadium.

The future is now

The Colorado Rockies are only in their second season, but they are upgrading their advance scouting system to include both on-site inspection and satellite scouting.

"We put quite a bit of emphasis on it," says Rockies GM Bob Gebhard. "We use Pat Dobson ahead of our ballclub, and, this year, we're getting more involved with satellite dishes and videotaping all of the ballgames. Next year, when we get into our new stadium, we'll even upgrade our video program more."

Scouting by television uplink? Is it conceivable that the advance scout of the future will sit in a little room in his own stadium and get all the information he needs by watching a video monitor?

Perhaps. But Gebhard -- for all the emphasis his club is placing on high technology -- says you can't do everything you need to do by remote control. The human element is critical to successful advance work.

"I've done advance scouting," he says. "You can do it off television, but there are so many more opportunities to get information at the ballpark. You may see a shift in the outfield from at-bat to at-bat that you may want to try.

l,.1l "Some clubs do it without putting a man on the road. It certainly is a lot cheaper. How that translates into wins and losses, I don't know, but if there is any way to get an advantage, you want to take it."

Campanis once envisioned a system that borrowed even more from football, including the practice of placing coaches in scouting boxes high above the playing field.

He once tried to convince Tom Lasorda that the manager of the future would sit in a managerial box and relay his decisions to the field by telephone hookup.

"I told Tommy that," Campanis says. "He said, 'Yeah, but I like to be down there to hug my players.' I said, 'Tommy, we can get a guy for $20,000 a year to hug the players.' "

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