Al Percolo is a Major League Baseball scout with the New York Yankees who attends a game at a small college to see pitcher Tommy Lacy. Al gets himself invited to dinner at Tommy's house and convinces him and his Catholic parents that Tommy should sign a contract with the Yankees, which he does. Just as Tommy is about to make his major league debut, Al's latest discovery suffers an extreme case of stage fright. It leads him to vomit on the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium.
After this embarrassment to the organization, Al is banished to the Mexican countryside. While attending a game in Mexico, he gets his first look at Steve Nebraska, a young American with a consistent 100+ mph fastball and hits home runs on seemingly each at-bat. Steve is very popular with the fans, especially females.
Al notifies the Yankee brass of his find, but he is fired and told not to bring anyone back. He takes Steve back to the United States with him, becoming his unofficial agent. Steve freaks out in the middle of the terminal at Newark International Airport when he momentarily thinks Al is missing.
Al arranges an open audition at Yankee Stadium in front of representatives from every Major League Baseball team. A bidding war ensues after Steve strikes out Keith Hernández and homers off Bret Saberhagen. Nebraska signs a $55 million contract with the Yankees.
Difficulties arise as Yankee management demands that the eccentric Steve be psychiatrically evaluated in order to ensure he will not turn out to be as unstable as Al's earlier finds. Al picks a psychiatrist named H. Aaron and expecting a quick evaluation, followed by a massive payday for both Steve and himself. The doctor finds Steve to be a deeply troubled young man, severely abused as a child that he's blocked almost every memory of his early life.
Al begs the doctor to grant a positive evaluation, promising her that Steve will undergo therapy before beginning his professional career. She gives her reluctant consent.
When the Yankees reach the World Series. Steve is contractually obligated to pitch in Game 1, despite not being mentally prepared to do so. By the night of the big game, Steve ends up atop Yankee Stadium, refusing to come down to pitch. Al pleads with him to play. His conscience gets the better of him and Al offers the kid a chance to walk away from it all, no strings attached. The scout's loyalty convinces Steve to face reality and pitch.
Steve pitches a perfect game, striking out 27 St. Louis Cardinals batters on 81 consecutive strikes. Steve hits two solo home runs in a 2-0 Yankees victory. Though the Yankees win the game, it is never made clear who won the Series, but for Al and Steve, a perfect game is a perfect ending.
The film was based on a Roger Angell article which had been optioned by Andrew Bergman's producing partner. Bergman wrote his script for Peter Falk to play the scout and Jim Belushi to play the player. "There were honestly five different versions of this movie," says Bergman. "The original version was, he found this guy in Mexico who’s the second white man ever to receive these injections, the first being Babe Ruth. And it was this political guy on the run. It was a completely different kind of movie."
Falk was not available then Walter Matthau was going to make it with Michael Ritchie. The project did not proceed until years later with Ritchie directing and Albert Brooks playing the scout. "That wasn’t my conception at all," said Bergman. "The original conception was much more bananas. The Scout still has glimmers of the original, but not doing the original is high up on my very large list of regrets, because Peter was born to play that guy. He’s so obtuse and that tunnel-vision thing he had was just great.”
In a July 1999 interview with Gavin Smith in Film Comment, Brooks said that The Scout was originally intended for Rodney Dangerfield. "It was lying around, never going to get made, and I said I would like to do that."
Brooks said that he contributed to a rewrite of the script because "it was written very silly." The version he worked on, he said, "did not end like 'Rocky' with that bullshit big ending." But according to Brooks, the studio forced Ritchie to change the ending.
Bob Costas, Tim McCarver, Tony Bennett, John Sterling, Keith Hernández, Bret Saberhagen, George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, Ozzie Smith and Bobby Murcer, among others, play themselves in the film.
The Scout was a box-office flop. Reviews were predominantly negative, with TV Guide stating, "'The Scout' feels like a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth." Variety also negatively reviewed the film, saying that Brooks and Ritchie "never quite commit to either of the movie's disparate chords -- bailing out of the batter's box in terms of the psychological drama and, after some amusing moments at the outset, generally steering clear of broad comedy." Time magazine's Richard Schickel praised the film, writing, "The Scout is the best comedy-fantasy about baseball ever made, which goes to show that if Hollywood keeps trying, eventually someone will get it right." The film holds a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews.