Howard Herman: Scouts finally get recognition

Sunday May 12, 2013

The Baseball Hall of Fame has players, managers, general managers and even broadcasters enshrined within the walls of the Cooperstown, N.Y. building.

It wasn't until last Saturday that baseball scouts got their day in the Hall.

The Museum debuted a new interactive exhibit, "Diamond Mines," on the second floor of the Hall. The exhibit features three-dimensional artifacts such as radar guns and stopwatches and, as well as scouting reports and exhibits showcasing the interaction between scouts and prospects. It will run for the next two years

"It's such a wonderful testament to the invisible people that contribute so much to the game," said Paul Ricciarini.

The Pittsfield native is one of those "invisible people," as he is a professional scout for the Houston Astros organization. Ricciarini has worked in scouting and player development with Houston since 2004. He has also scouted for the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds -- where he started his career in 1975.

Ricciarini is one of three Pittsfield natives in the active scouting business. He criss-crosses the country watching minor league talent, and frequently bumps into Tom Mooney or Bill Mele. Mooney is currently a scout with Milwaukee and Mele works for the Yankees.

It's men like the Pittsfield trio who find the players we watch on TV. Mooney, as has been documented in this column, signed Ken Griffey Jr. when he was a scout with Seattle, and was the Houston scout who recommended the Astros take Jeff Bagwell when the Red Sox traded for Larry Andersen in 1980.

It was Mooney who had seen the Double-A third baseman and thought he would project into a major league player.

For scouts like Ricciarini, the job is both a lot different than it was in 1975, and the same.

Ricciarini and other scouts have computers and advanced metrics to help them in their evaluations of players. But when it comes right down to it, the eye will make truth-tellers or liars out of statistics.

"To me, it's just a different language but it's directed to the same conclusion -- who are the best players and why are they the best," he said. "There's a lot of numerical data.

"A lot of it is basically validation of what we see with our eyes and what experience has taught us over the years."

Billy Beane's scouts in Oakland were the first to use a more statistically-based formula in the "Moneyball" scouting plan. Some teams have followed suit.

Houston is a team that is converting to more statistically-based scouting, but Ricciarini said that general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff are still trying to figure out the best combination of stats and scouting.

"We're aggressive in analytics," said Ricciarini. "There's a certain place for it to balance out what a scout sees between the lines."

More than 12,000 scouting reports from 400 scouts and 4,000 players are now available in an interactive database at There you'll see several different reports on, for example, Dalton native Turk Wendell, who had a lengthy big league career. Ricciarini signed Wendell out of Quinnipiac for the Braves.

"It was a culmination of a lot of hard work," Ricciarini said, referring to the exhibit in Cooperstown. "I was hoping to be out there for [last] Friday's dedication.

"To be acknowledged in an incidental way ... it's overwhelming."


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