Over the last several years, it’s undeniable that front offices across Major League Baseball have become more analytically driven. As a result, many that cover and follow the sport have wondered about scouts and their place in the modern game. While Moneyball and the success of organizations like the Houston Astros have certainly validated the concept of valuing analytics, the common sentiment you’ll hear is that a blend of the subjective evaluations and the objective data is the best approach to building a winning baseball team.However, that has not stopped every club from downsizing their “old school” scouting departments in favor of “new school” analytics or simply as a means to reduce expenses.
In response to their terminations following the 2020 season, two former scouts for the Detroit Tigers have filed a lawsuit against the club alleging age discrimination.
Gary Pellant, 68, and Randall Johnson, 67, filed the suit last week in U.S. District Court in Detroit, claiming a shift toward analytics was accompanied by a "false stereotype" that older scouts lacked acumen for newer scouting tools.
In recent years, baseball as a whole has incorporated more and more technology into the player evaluation process. In the past, “analytics” consisted of merely a radar gun and/or a stopwatch. Today, services like Rapsodo, Statcast, KinaTrax, Pitchf/x, etc have certainly expanded the way professional and amateur players are scouted.
They claim wrongful termination and post-termination employment interference in violation of the Age Discrimination and Enforcement Act of 1967 and violations of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a Michigan law that took effect in 1977. They also alleged disparate treatment age discrimination and/or disparate impact age discrimination in violation of the Elliott-Larsen act.
The complaint stated that "Plaintiffs are among hundreds if not thousands of employees to be separated from employment with defendant in the last eight years as a result of a decision by the defendant and the MLB to replace older employees with younger employees.” In addition, the scouts said that they were among four Tigers scouts over 60 who were terminated and that remaining scouts ranged in age from early 20s to early 50s. The suit said 51 of at least 83 "older scouts" were let go among the 30 teams.
This comes after seventeen former MLB scouts sued the league, its teams and commissioner Rob Manfred this past June in U.S. District Court in Denver. They alleged violations of the ADEA along with laws in 11 states and New York City.
Moreover, the lawsuit noted that after Manfred took over as commissioner in 2015, "MLB endeavored to begin heavily recruiting younger scouts, at the same time intentionally pushing out from the older scouts with prior knowledge, qualifications, expertise, and training, based on a false stereotype that older scouts lacked the ability to use analytics and engage in video scouting with the same acumen as younger scouts."
Given this is not the first lawsuit filed by fired scouts, it will be interesting to see how these cases develop. Were these terminations truly related to the scouts age and stereotypical inability to adapt to the times? That is the major question. Regardless, the apparent trend of scouts being terminated for potentially discriminatory reasons is something to monitor moving forward. MLB and its clubs should be interested in how the courts view this case.
Brendan Bell is a 1L at Arizona State Law School and can be found on Twitter @_bbell5