If the worth of scouts can be measured by their real estate in Cooperstown, some baseball legends have every right to be offended. The scouts' exhibit—tucked away in a corner of the Baseball Hall of Fame under the outdated label of IVORY HUNTERS—consists of a few old stopwatches, radar guns and indecipherable note cards. Meanwhile writers and broadcasters, who rely on scouts for the inside scoop, not only share a more elaborate alcove but notable scribes and announcers also receive special honors during Hall of Fame weekend.
"Everyone but batboys and bus drivers gets more recognition than we do," says Phil (the Ancient Mariner) Pote, a septuagenarian Seattle scout, who describes himself and his colleagues as "the backbone of baseball." Pote's pressure has spurred the Hall to draw up plans for a bigger, more fan-friendly scouts' exhibit with an interactive component allowing visitors to search for bird dogs by name and by the players they signed. A construction date for the display hasn't been set, though, much to the chagrin of Pote, who points out that history's most storied scouts—those leather-skinned sweet talkers who supped with the families of future superstars in the era before the amateur draft disabled scouts from brokering deals with prospects—are getting up in years. "If these baseball power people don't get off their butts on this issue," says Pote, "these old-time scouts will go down like unknown soldiers."
One of them is Dick Wiencek, 74, who had to convince dubious A's management that his Claremont, Calif., neighbor, a nearsighted, redheaded pitcher turned first baseman named McGwire, was a sound first choice in the 1984 draft. "It's not in my nature to toot my own horn," says Wiencek, "but ask anyone—teams are only as good as their scouts."