The concept began on a cocktail napkin outside a bar at the 2002 baseball winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, in an attempt to rescue hundreds of fired baseball scouts with mounting bills and no place to turn.
On Tuesday, with hundreds of former players, front office executives, scouts, trainers and umpires unemployed because of the global pandemic, the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation merged with the Baseball Assistance Team, trying to meet the challenges of an unprecedented demand for financial assistance.
“It is shocking," said former Chicago White Sox scout Dave Yoakum, who created the PBSF with chairman Dennis Gilbert and Arizona Diamondbacks executive Roland Hemond. “I never thought of this scenario in a million years with all of the layoffs. It’s painful to watch."
Yoakum is one of the hundreds of professional scouts who have been recently laid off as the industry has lost about $3 billion last year, according to Commissioner Rob Manfred. In the last week, the Philadelphia Phillies dismissed about 80 employees while the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers cut about 60.
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On deck mat with MLB logo and gear. (Photo: Eric Bolte, USA TODAY Sports)
Many are left with mortgages to pay, health benefits to purchase and everyday costs just to put food on the table.
The stories are heartbreaking.
“Our fund took a big hit last year,’’ said Erik Nilsen, executive director of B.A.T. “The players have been very generous over the years, but with the pandemic and the shortened season, we told them we wouldn’t be collecting. A lot of players are worried about their next move and whether they’ll have a job next season. It’s affected the whole industry."
Just a year ago, the B.A.T. program, which began in 1986, assisted 600 people.
This year alone, the figure has grown to 2,000 people seeking financial assistance.
“The need has definitely skyrocketed," Nilsen said. "We want to make sure there’s a roof over the family’s head, and especially now, make sure there’s food on the table."
The Professional Scouts Foundation, which has generated more than $2 million for financial needs for unemployed scouts, relying on monies raised from their glamorous Beverly Hills, California, annual banquet, now is lending a helping hand to the B.A.T. program with the merger.
“It’s an emotional time," said Gilbert, a White Sox special assistant. “You’re talking about spending your heart and soul in this for the last 17 years. The banquet meant so much to so many people. It was where Baseball met Hollywood once a year, right in the same ballroom as the Golden Globe Awards."
The event, which averaged 1,100 attendees a year, was hosted and co-hosted by celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Michael Keaton, James Caan, Bo Derek, Mary Hart, Jane Seymour, Larry King and Gary Shandling.
It honored 29 Hall of Famers from Hank Aaron to Willie Mays to Sandy Koufax to Tom Seaver to Frank Robinson to Johnny Bench. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield presented the Humanitarian award each year. Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda presented an annual managerial achievement award. Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig presented an annual executive leadership award. It was the Academy Awards for scouts highlighted by the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement and Legends in Scouting awards.
“It was the greatest event in the history of baseball scouting," Gilbert said, “We were there to help scouts, and they knew it. And we ran it with one full-time employee, Cindy Picerni. She was the liaison between us and every team in baseball."
The banquet now is defunct, and perhaps gone forever.
“It’s emotional for me and everyone else involved in the PBSF because of what it represented," Yoakum said. "Dennis turned this foundation like no other, and Cindy was the icon of the foundation. I get goosebumps just talking about what they’ve meant for the scouting community.’’
Now, everyone is in this together, with funds from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation absorbed by the Baseball Assistance Team, trying to keep up with the escalating number of unemployed people in baseball who are in dire financial straits.
“Speaking with Dennis and Cindy, it seems like a seamless transition," Nilsen said. “They’ve done some great work over the years with the relationships they’ve built, giving visibility to the scouts, who really needed it to be honest with you.
“We’ll work together now trying to take care of as many people as possible."
The Baseball Assistance Team, under president Buck Martinez, hope to convey the urgency to players in meetings once spring training commences. The meetings may be socially distanced on the field, or in a conference call, but word needs to be spread as quickly to impact as many as possible.
“We need to get our message across, now more than ever for people to understand the struggles and needs," Nilsen said. "This is such a difficult time for everyone. We’re going to need help.
“This is a start."
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