Before the word “sabermetrics” existed there was Hugh Alexander. Through six decades, Alexander served as an MLB scout, signing players to the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Bill Littlefield spoke with author Dan Austin, who chronicles Alexander’s experiences in his book Baseball’s Last Great Scout: The Life of Hugh Alexander.
There was much about Hugh Alexander that impressed Dan Austin, who became Alexander’s biographer. He especially appreciated Alexander’s minimalist approach.
“He carried no stopwatches or radar guns,” Austin writes, “nor did he load the car trunk with golf clubs.”
Alexander, who worked for several different teams over the course of a career that saw the business of finding and signing players change dramatically, was a seat-of-the-pants sort of scout who especially enjoyed signing players other scouts felt they’d already landed. Even so, he eventually built a reputation for teaching younger men the business of scouting.
As a young man, Alexander was the sort of player he’d have signed: a fellow who played with intensity and made the most of the tools he had. But while he was working in an oil field between baseball seasons, he lost his hand in an accident. Scouting was his way to remain in the game he loved, and he built a long and productive life around his ability to recognize potential players and convince them and their parents that they should sign with him.Dan Austin’s appreciation of Alexander provides baseball fans with a sense of how scouts discovered and cultivated players before the advent of the Major League Scouting Bureau when, according to Austin, “scouting took a sharp turn toward the political left.” No fan of the Major League Scouting Bureau, which has enabled MLB teams to share scouting information since 1974, Hugh Alexander preferred the days when each scout was an independent agent more likely to give a competitor bad directions than share anything but a flask.