John Manuel, of Baseball America fame and fortune, writes that scouts weren't terribly impressed about the Cape Cod League All-Star Game. Seems a number of the quality arms in the league couldn't pitch due to a variety of factors. That left a series of less than top flight pitchers for the scouts to evaluate. Our scouting friends were so up in arms, pardon the pun, that they will probably complain back to their Major League employers who will take the summer wood bat league to task for not providing them with the talent they anticipated seeing.
My thought is that the scouts should complain about their employers as they are part of the problem. This is going to run over a sacred cow or two, but let me pose a philosophic question anyway. Do we really need the Cape League? Or wood bat summer leagues, in general, for that matter?
Yes, the college players do need a place to play during baseball's peak time of the year. From that perspective, I understand the need for all the summer leagues. Yet, why should MLB scouts get so up in arms over one all-star game? What has made these summer leagues so important? The reason is simple--wooden bats.
When the college kids leave campus, they leave all the metal bats behind. In the summer, scouts get to evaluate both hitters and pitchers in a setting that more closely resembles MLB action. Thus, when the kids they want to see play against each other don't participate, scouts get a bit edgy. They have a very small window to look at the nation's collegiate stars in this environment. When your livelihood comes from making proper recommendations, it's understandable that you get cranky when your opportunities to evaluate are hampered.
Let's also realize that MLB is footing a portion of the bill in many, if not most, of the summer wood bat leagues. MLB is helping cover the cost of the bats, presumably, so they can judge their prospective future employees in the optimum setting. Again, not having your best players play comes off as biting the hand that feeds you. Which leads me back, in part, to my original question.
What if MLB decided to stop funding the summer leagues and sent the money to the NCAA? What if, instead of a few weeks of wood bat action in the summer, college players got to play with wood bats all year long? I'm not looking to destroy the summer wood bat leagues, but I am curious why they can get money from MLB and the NCAA cannot? Even if their is some archaic rule in the NCAA that prohibits such a move (and who would believe the NCAA has archaic rules on the books?), if MLB offered the money, couldn't the NCAA really just re-write the rule?
Such a move would really be a win-win for both MLB and the NCAA. MLB would get several extra months, if not years, to evaluate talent using and facing wooden bats on a regular basis. Wouldn't this create plenty of scouting chances? Might proper evaluation lead to less drafting errors and save money--in theory anyway? (Hey, I'm selling a concept here, play along.)
The NCAA also gains as one of the biggest complaints I hear about the college game from general baseball fans is the "ping" of metal bats. It doesn't faze me, obviously, but it clearly keeps some from embracing the game. If attendance and interest rose in the college game, players in the NCAA might become more recognizable and fans might get more interested in things like the MLB Draft. Again, how this hurts anyone is beyond me.
(As an aside, I also figure some minor league teams might get a bit anxious at the thought of the NCAA using wood bats. Some kids, although not a significant amount, might opt for two years of college baseball (minimum) instead of heading off to the big league farm system straight from high school. From strictly a budgetary standpoint, would having fewer minor league franchises save MLB money? Again, this is just a thinking-out-loud moment.)
I realize that if MLB stopped funding the use of wood bats in college, the summer leagues prestige may fall. Some would probably fold. While I'm not looking to crush this cottage industry, I think it's time to take another look at this entire set-up. Clearly, the best case scenario would be one where MLB steps up to the plate and funds both the NCAA and the summer wooden bat leagues so they can evaluate the players from March until August.
Providing your potential future workforce with the tools of their job at a younger age? Expanding the game's popularity at lower levels? Getting more time to evaluate players? Why, again, is this not a good idea?
Update (8/2/06): I emailed someone with far more knowledge about this subject than I--which I realize could be just about anyone--and learned that one possible issue may be Title IX. The theory is that because of Title IX, if MLB tossed money at the NCAA and equal amount would have to go to women's athletics. That does provide a rather large obstacle. I'd say an unnecessary one, but that might get me in trouble.
There is also the matter of whether or not there really is enough wood bats out there to supply all of D-I. I'm going to be the last guy to encourage stripping our forests to make bats, so if it's even debatable, it's probably not a good idea. I would like to think that some of these companies are actually re-foresting (if that's the proper term for planting more trees), but I don't really care to ponder that, either.
The last point is one of the bat manufacturers and their "relationship" with the NCAA. I leave that statement for you to read between the lines.