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 the “new school” analytics. In fact, a group of 17 former scouts filed a class action lawsuit against MLB this week alleging age discrimination, understandably upset about the ongoing trend.
The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Denver, asserting that “older scouts” have been “blacklisted” for re-employment in MLB and contending that the league used analytics as an “ongoing pretext for coordinated and systematic discrimination based on age.” It’s worth noting that the plaintiffs range from age 55 to 71, and most held scouting positions in the game for at least 30 years.
Some important context to introduce is that many of these scouts were let go in 2020 amid COVID-19, when MLB and its clubs obviously lost significant revenues. The suit alleges that MLB used the pandemic as an opportunity to terminate an entire class of older employees more susceptible, on the basis of age, to the COVID-19 virus.” With the 2020 season wiping out all ticket revenue and significant television revenue, scouts may have been the first cuts in MLB front offices looking to reduce expenses.
Rick Ingalls, a scout for nearly four decades, told the Los Angeles Times that “we believe the commissioner and the owners colluded to eliminate veteran personnel because of salaries.” The lead attorney representing the plaintiffs, Robert Goodman, also told the Los Angeles Times that the scouts gained their “inspiration” from MLB’s settlement with minor league players who sued over wage-law violations earlier this spring. The suit also contains other interesting allegations that MLB terminated the use of the “scouting wire” platform that allowed scouts to get hired and that clubs relied on a false stereotype that only younger scouts held a strong understanding of analytics.
MLB quickly released a statement responding to the lawsuit, reading as follows: “We do not comment on pending litigation, however, we look forward to refuting these claims in court.” While they settled with the minor leaguers, that statement reads that the league might not take the same approach in this case. The class action complaint claims that “it is estimated that there are over 100 Older Scouts within all such classes” that could potentially join and that upwards of $100 million in damages is on the table.
There has certainly been no shortage of legal news in baseball recently. The minor league wage violations and ensuing CBA, the potential challenge to baseball’s antitrust exemption, and the Diamond Sports bankruptcy saga are just a few examples of the intersection of baseball and the law. As always, stay tuned to both the Conduct Detrimental podcast and website for the latest coverage of all things sports law.
Brendan Bell can be found on Twitter @_bbell5.