Paul Krichell was a catcher whose major league career with the St. Louis Browns consisted of 85 games in 1911 and 1912. Cy Slapnicka was a righthander who, in 1918, got his only major league win. Hardly Hall of Fame material, you might say. Yet these two men represent the best of a breed, those detectives-salesmen-psychologists known as scouts.
Each man is legendary in baseball circles, Krichell for discovering Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto and Tony Lazzeri in his 37 years as a Yankee scout; Slapnicka for finding such future Indians as Bob Feller and Herb Score in his nearly 30 with Cleveland. But Krichell and Slapnicka won't have their contributions recognized in Cooperstown anytime soon. The Hall's board of directors has reaffirmed twice in the past two years that scouts are ineligible for membership.
Says William T. Burdick, secretary of the Hall, "It is not so much to exclude scouts as it is the feeling that the Hall should be for the players." Maybe so, but rest assured Branch Rickey isn't enshrined for his .239 career batting average, nor are any of the other 24 managers, owners, commissioners, executives and umpires for their feats on the playing field.
The public certainly hasn't put any pressure on the Hall for the inclusion of scouts. Most people probably never have considered the issue; to them, a scout is the good-field, no-hit utility infielder who couldn't find any other job when he retired 20 years ago. Not helping the scouts' cause is the fact that their profession has been reduced to merely judging talent since the free-agent draft began in 1965. The skills of peddling the team to a boy and his parents are no longer needed, the way they were when bird dogs would flock to the living rooms of top prospects to pitch them on the virtues of their team. That's too bad, because the Krichells and the Slapnickas could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.
"We used to stage mock signings," says Al Campanis, the Los Angeles Dodgers vice-president of player personnel. "When [Manager Tommy] Lasorda was just starting as a scout, we put other scouts with him in a room. One acted as the mother, one as the father, and another the player. They had Lasorda in a tizzy."
The hard sell wasn't always needed, though. In baseball's dark ages, before computer stats and jets, a scout discovered his treasure on what came to be known as "ivory hunts." "The professional scouts went into the mountains in the Southeast and covered those mill teams and semi-pro teams," says Birdie Tebbetts, a former player and manager who scouts for the Yankees. "It was so disorganized. But they found Tommy Bridges, Schoolboy Rowe, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons." Scouts still scour the bushes for prospects, of course, but oftentimes their "finds" are lost to another club during the draft.
Tebbetts is an advocate of including scouts in the Hall. He has served for three years on the Hall's Veterans Committee, which elects non-playing personnel, players retired 25 or more years and those from the Negro leagues, and sponsored the unsuccessful resolutions to make scouts eligible.
The issue will be considered again in August, when the board meets in Cooperstown for the annual induction ceremony. But the outlook isn't good. "Over the last 10 years, there have been many changes in the Hall's rules," says Hall of Fame President Edward W. Stack. "The board is afraid the public is becoming confused."
Krichell, who died in 1957 at the age of 74, spanned both the early days, when scouts had to rout out the talent, and the post-World War II era, when they waved fistfuls of money at every .230 hitter in Podunk. Krichell persuaded a sometime pitcher at Columbia University ( Gehrig) to stick to first base and, later, a too-small first baseman ( Whitey Ford) to become a pitcher. In between, he signed Charlie Keller, Red Rolfe, Johnny Murphy and Leo Durocher.
Slapnicka, who died two years ago at the age of 93, didn't generally have much to say, which is why the speech he gave in 1936 to his co-workers in the Indians' front office was so astounding. "Gentlemen, I've found the greatest young pitcher I ever saw," he said. "I suppose this sounds like the same old stuff to you, but I want you to believe me. This boy that I found will be the greatest pitcher the world has ever known." In addition to discovering Feller in Van Meter, Iowa, Slapnicka supplied the Indians with many of their best players for years, including Score, Earl Averill, Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner.