Tag:Roberta Mazur
Posted on: January 15, 2009 8:48 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2009 8:55 pm
 

Scouting out a good cause and a cool Saturday

It may be a slow winter for free agents, but Dave Garcia already has signed his 2009 contract with the Chicago Cubs.

No, he's not a candidate to help Lou Piniella's bullpen. And nope, he won't be batting fourth, protecting Derrek Lee.

OK, so he's 88 years old, and he doesn't see so well anymore because of macular degeneration. But it is men like Garcia and hundreds of others who help bring a human touch to baseball and remain an integral part of the game's DNA.

His '09 contract calls for him to continue scouting for the Cubs, although truth be told, Garcia, who will begin his 72nd year in the game, is as much consultant as anything.

"It really is an honor to have Dave with us. He's such an important member of the baseball community," says Gary Hughes, a special assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. "You can't spend five minutes with him -- he'll talk forever. He has so much to say.

"He probably knows more people in the game than anybody. His vision isn't so good anymore, but that's OK. He's got so much information stored."

Garcia, along with longtime Philadelphia advance scout Hank King, will receive the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award in Scouting on Saturday night in Los Angeles at the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation's Sixth Annual "In the Spirit of the Game" gala.

Billed as a dinner and "the world's largest auction of sports and entertainment memorabilia", the gala is the signature event of the foundation started by former agent and current Chicago White Sox executive Dennis Gilbert to aid to scouts who are in trouble financially or who are in poor health (and often, of course, the two are linked).

Garcia and scouts like him, for whom baseball is as important a component of their bloodstream as oxygen, probably give more back to the game than anybody. There is little glory, the pay is low and there is too much time away from the family.

Most work on one-year contracts, and their job security is only as good as those several rungs higher up the ladder.

As Hughes says, "Every time you read the transactions and see somebody on top (in an organization) losing his job or moving on, a bunch of guys below are losing theirs because you're not the new guy's guy."

It's often a nomadic existence filled with too many greasy cheeseburgers and too many lumpy hotel beds. But even if it's not monetary, these guys stick with their jobs because there will be, to them, a big payoff sometime during the day.

"It's very possible that I've seen more professional baseball games than anybody who ever lived," says Garcia, who managed the California Angels (1977-1978) and Cleveland Indians (1979-1982) during different points in his career, says. "I can't prove that."

"He might be right," Hughes says, chuckling. "At least, I don't know of anybody alive who could claim to have seen more."

Garcia, who grew up in East St. Louis, Ill., was a Knothole Gang member for both St. Louis franchises, the Cardinals and the Browns, as a kid in the 1930s. Which meant, when school was out, he could go to the ballpark for free every day except Sunday.

"I've seen every living Hall of Famer play," Garcia says. "And I've seen more dead Hall of Famers play than there are alive."

He'll tell you about watching the 1930 Philadelphia A's with their four Hall of Famers -- Lefty Grove, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and, of course, Jimmy Foxx. He'll tell you about Ducky Medwick and Dizzy Dean and Hank Greenberg.

"If they played from the '30s on, I've seen them play in person," he says. "Not that it means anything to anybody but me. I love baseball more than anything except my family."

His dear wife of 52 years, Carmen, passed away a few years back ("Rita Hayworth never saw the day when she was as pretty as Carmen," Garcia says wistfully). He has three grown children -- two daughters and a son -- who all live near him in the San Diego area.

And, of course, he still has the game.

Because of the macular degeneration he can no longer drive, yet he still is as much a regular at San Diego's Petco Park as the Tony Gwynn statue beyond the outfield fence.

When his eyesight first began to fail, he could drive during the day but not at night. So for two seasons, he would drive to the trolley stop, take the train downtown and watch batting practice before night games. Then he would take the trolley back, drive home (arriving just before dusk) and watch the game on television.

He's since moved, and now his neighbor, a retired Navy man, drives him to every home game. The Padres set them up with a parking pass and set Garcia's friend up with a scouting ticket as well.

"They're very nice," Garcia says. "I'm sure Kevin Towers (the Padres' GM) is responsible for that."

Towers will be presenting Garcia for his award at Saturday night's dinner. Former big league player and manager Buddy Bell was supposed to do it, but a personal matter is keeping him away. Bell, who played for Garcia in Cleveland, remains Garcia's all-time favorite baseball person.

In fact, Garcia was a coach on the Colorado Rockies' staff when Bell managed there a few years ago. But when the Rockies fired Bell in 2002, Garcia quit the same day.

"Buddy Bell is the best baseball kid in my life," Garcia says. "I love Buddy Bell. When they fired him at 3 in the afternoon, I resigned at five after three. I thought it was wrong."

Garcia is fortunate in that he has his three children nearby and collects a big-league pension. There are plenty who scrape by financially, especially those who never had a day in the majors and who aren't quite so high on a club's front-office roster.

For example, amateur free agent scouts -- the folks who scout high schools and colleges for clubs in preparation for the annual June draft.

"When the Florida Marlins started in the early 1990s, we started everyone at $30,000 a year," says Hughes, who was an executive with the Marlins back then. "People (in the game) were screaming, 'You're ruining us! You're paying those guys too much!'

"People in the industry were going, 'How can you pay those guys that kind of money?' And that was 17 years ago. I don't know if guys are even starting at $40,000 a year now."

The PBSF was designed to act as a sort of backstop for old scouts who never made much money and who are facing hardship -- or worse -- now.

"We've saved guys' houses three days before they've been on the streets," says Hughes, who also serves on the foundation's board of directors. "We try to help families get back up."

Aside from Garcia and King, five other veteran scouts will receive the Legends in Scouting award Saturday night:

-- Gene Bennett, to many is the Cincinnati Reds. He signed with them as a player in 1952 and started scouting in '58. Among many others, he signed Chris Sabo, Paul O'Neill, Barry Larkin and Don Gullett.

-- Mel Didier, who has worked for several clubs and received his most notoriety for writing the famous scouting report that dissected Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley and contributed to Kirk Gibson's iconic home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

"(Gibson) was armed with an unforgettable scouting report by Mel," former Dodgers GM Fred Claire writes in the forward to Podnuh, Let Me Tell You a Story: A Baseball Life, Didier's autobiography co-written with T.R. Sullivan. "'If Dennis Eckersley gets a 3-2 count against a left-handed hitter, you can bet he will throw a backdoor slider.' The count went 3-2 to Gibson. You know the rest of the story."

-- Epy Guerrero, the long-time Toronto Blue Jays scout who helped break open a new frontier, the Dominican Republic. He signed dozens of players from there, including Alfredo Griffin, Tony Fernandez, Carlos Delgado and Cesar Cedeno.

--Moose Johnson, one of the first national cross-checkers for the Toronto Blue Jays. A cross-checker is, as Johnson so often called himself , a "comparative scout." He criss-crosses the country and personally scouts several of the top players of whom a club's scouts already have turned in reports. He acts as a clearinghouse and final judge, in a sense.

-- Lenny Yochim, who did a little bit of everything for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Several others will be honored as well, including Hall of Famers George Brett and Goose Gossage, former manager Whitey Herzog and the Alou brothers -- Felipe, Matty and Jesus.

"It's thrilling, the things we've been able to do with this thing, the amount of help we've been able to give people," Hughes says.

Aside from this night, and the Scout of the Year program run by Roberta Mazur for the past 25 years, the scouts mostly work in obscurity with little notice. Their reward simply is when some kid they watched when he was 18 grows into a player.

That and, of course, the privilege of spending most of their lives at the ballpark.

Oddly, there isn't even a place for scouts in the Hall of Fame. While players, managers, executive and umpires are honored, and while there is even a wing for writers and broadcasters, the scouts mostly remain in the background there, too.

There was a display about a decade ago entitled "Ivory Hunters" but, when the museum was redesigned, it went down in favor of a few other exhibits.

Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame president, intends to change that soon.

"We think the best way we can represent scouts in Cooperstown is through an extensive exhibit showing their contributions to the game," says Idelson, who is traveling to Los Angeles this weekend for the gala. "I do think that is the best way to let the American public know how important their role is in the game.

"The way we'll do that in time is an exhibit on amateur baseball starting with youth leagues and ending at the minor leagues, bridged by scouting. Our curatorial staff is really excited to tell the story."

Two exhibits are on deck in Cooperstown before the one examining scouts' place in the game's lineage: One featuring Hank Aaron, and one featuring the history of Latinos in baseball. Idelson's hope is that the amateur exhibit including scouts will be up in four or five years.

"In the museum world, things take a little longer than in other sectors of the economy," he says. "It takes time to develop and write the stories, and it takes time to secure the funding."

One thought is that, possibly, the Scout of the Year program could dovetail into the presentation on scouts, when it goes up.

"Roberta Mazur has been terrific with the Scout of the Year program," Idelson says. "She's a heroine."

There are a lot of them here on the fringes of the game. It just takes so much time to meet them.

As for Garcia, he can no longer read things at close range, or write, because of the macular degeneration. "But when I go to the park, I can see the game and I can see the scoreboard," he says. "I think I'm very lucky. I can still evaluate ballplayers, and that's what my job is."

To the point where, when the Padres are on the road during the season, Garcia simply settles in at home. He's got DirecTV, and at 88, he'll still watch two or three games on television a day.

For more information on Saturday night's dinner and auction, or if you'd like to attend, check out the Web site listed above or phone 310-996-1188.

 
 
 
 
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