Major League Baseball held its amateur draft earlier this week and the reaction across the board regarding the picks in the draft reminds me of one thing when it comes to talent evaluation: nobody knows nothing.
And when I refer to nobody, I am referring to Mr. (or Ms.) Armchair Scout. These are the people who believe because they watched a couple innings of a prospects college game they know more than scouts who have been in the business for 40-plus years.
Baseball scouts might have the hardest job in sports management. They are on the road for countless weeks taking in amateur baseball games at facilities that are 20 years past being in disrepair while also staying at luxurious places on the road like the Bedbug Inn and the Cockroach Suites.
These scouts eat, drink and sleep baseball but hey, I'm sure the person sitting at home on their couch flipping between a rerun of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and a first round ACC baseball tournament game knows more.
Baseball scouts have gotten a bit of a bad rap since they were portrayed as out of touch anchors in baseball front offices in the somewhat overrated "Moneyball" movie (sorry, but "Moneyball" pins most of the success of the 2002 A's on the play of Scott Hatteberg and David Justice without mentioning the 2002 A's had a once-in-a-generation shortstop in Miguel Tejada as well as three top-end pitchers Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder.)
Baseball fans might get to see a few of their team's draft picks games if the said pick played college baseball. If a team drafted a player straight out of high school, it is highly unlikely anyone outside of the grizzled traveling scouts saw any of that player's games.
If you believe the scouting services, Pittsburgh did well in its first couple rounds of the draft taking four players ranked in the Top-40 of most scouting service guides. But remember, nobody knows nothing.
Quick quiz: How many No. 1 picks in the amateur draft were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Answer at the end.
I can understand how NFL and NBA fans can think they know what kind of a prospect they are getting in the draft because they have likely seen that player's games on television. But still, seeing a game on TV is not the same as spending hour after hour evaluating the player and all of his strengths and weaknesses.
Years ago, former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora held a press conference and a question was asked about something that happened during the game and Mora responded; "You guys really don't know when it's good or bad, when it comes right down to it. And I'm promising you right now; you don't know whether it's good or bad. You really don't know, because you don't know what we're trying to do, you guys don't look at the films, you don't know what happened, you really don't know. You think you know, but you don't know, and you never will, okay?"
As a journalist, I try to remember that quote whenever I think I know more than I do. Sure, I can think I know what the best strategy is but in the end, I am just an observer.
There was also some proverbial gnashing of teeth from the Pirates faithful on social media platforms that no matter what the team did in the draft it won't matter in the end because the franchise wouldn't be willing to pony up the cash when the draft pick's first contract expires in a few years.
I can understand a Pittsburgh baseball fan's reluctance to embrace a franchise whose owner has been the Lucy VanPelt to the fans' collective Charlie Brown. But I think until baseball puts a salary cap and a salary floor in place, small market teams like Pittsburgh, Oakland, Minnesota, etc. have to enjoy the good times and weather the bad.
The unfortunate part of the Pirates fans' history is a track record of three winning seasons in a 20-plus year window. All of the Pirates shortfalls can't be blamed on Nutting since he didn't join the Pirates ownership ranks until the early-2000s. A lot of the Pirates' problems before Nutting took over as majority owner in 2007 were a combination of bad luck and bad investments.
When Kevin McClatchy bought the team from the Pittsburgh ownership group in 1996 there was a new-found enthusiasm around the team. McClatchy's optimism about pulling Pittsburgh out of its baseball funk coupled with the Pennsylvania legislature approving funding for a new baseball-only park on the North Side gave Pirates' fans hope.
McClatchy identified the Pirates' core and ponied up long-term contracts to outfielder Brian Giles in 2000 and catcher Jason Kendall in 2002. Pittsburgh inked Giles to a six-year, $45 million deal while signing Kendal to a six-year, $60 million deal in 2002. Moreover, the Pirates gave Giles an $8 million signing bonus while giving Kendall a $4 million signing bonus.
McClatchy's heart was in the right place in signing Giles and Kendall but it turns out neither player's heart was in being part of the Pirates' organization. Reportedly, Giles and Kendall were not the best clubhouse guys and would tell new Pirate players "welcome to hell" upon the players' arrival to the clubhouse.
Those expensive contracts were an albatross for the Pirates' franchise leading to the trade of up-and-coming youngster Aramis Ramirez and established star Kenny Lofton to Chicago for a box of balls, some hot dog buns, magic beans and Bobby Hill in 2003. The Giles and Kendall signings also led to Nutting coming in as a minority owner and eventually taking over as principal owner in 2007.
I know it is a hard reality, but taking the conservative approach is probably the best bet for small market owners until the economics of baseball are overhauled. However, as Major League Baseball gets farther and farther away from the sport I grew up with due to rule changes and new ways of thinking, the less I seem to care about the sport.
Trivia answer: Three (Harold Baines drafted 1977, Ken Griffey, Jr. drafted in 1987 and Chipper Jones drafted in 1990).