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Scully, Palmer, others to be feted 'In Spirit of the Game' Saturday in LA

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

I don't know about you, but I can't think of anything better than listening to the sound Vin Scully's voice on a cold January night in the dead of winter.

Which is just one of several dozen reasons why the annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation's “In the Spirit of the Game” fundraiser has become a must-stop event during the game's offseason. Especially this winter.

On Saturday night at Los Angeles' Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, Scully will receive the Bud Selig Executive Leadership Award, presented by, yes, Selig himself. And, not only that, several Hall of Famers and other notables will be in attendance both as award recipients and presenters during the premier West Coast event on baseball's winter calendar.

This year is the 10th annual event, and the brainchild of Dennis Gilbert, the former agent and current special assistant to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Gilbert has become sort of a Forrest Gump-type figure over the years -- from his front-row seats at Dodger Stadium to his insurance business (the late Michael Jackson and Madonna are former clients) to his living next door to the legendary Stevie Wonder.

But baseball always has been his first love (aside from wife, Cynthia, of course) -- Gilbert is a former minor-league player -- and the sport's ground-level figures have been his passion. Which is where this whole idea to raise money for indigent scouts started. And over the past decade, the PBSF has raised close to $4 million for dozens of out-of-work and retired scouts, helping them pay their mortgages, health insurance and, in extreme cases, even quietly helping with funeral costs.

"We've saved guys' houses three days before they've been on the streets," long-time scout Gary Hughes, currently with the Red Sox, told me a couple of years ago.

“In the Spirit of the Game” is mostly a celebration, a night of story-telling and, especially, toasting men who have been the lifeblood of so many organizations without getting any of the accolades.

The stories don't get much better than they do on this night, which is one reason it will be a treat to see Twins general manager Terry Ryan, along with former Pirates GM Larry Doughty, receive the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ryan enjoys the spotlight about as much as you probably would enjoy having your fingernails trimmed with a blowtorch. So while he almost certainly will use his speech to deflect attention and give credit to others, his presence no doubt will provoke the others to tell stories about him.

Such as the time he was on the road scouting sometime back around 1989 and attempted to return a rental car somewhere in Illinois after six days. The bill was much higher than he anticipated.

The attendant explained that, because he only had the car for six days, he didn't qualify for the weekly rate. Only the daily rate.

“That's ridiculous,” Ryan said.

“That's the way it is.”

“Fine, I'll keep it.”

So he did, and he spent the next couple of weeks driving instead of flying. Matter of principle. He drove and drove and drove. Several thousand miles later, he phoned the rental company and said he thought he should change the oil.

“No, don't do that,” he was told. “We'll worry about that.”

“You sure?” he asked.

Yes.

So he drove some more.

“I don't think I did too well by that car,” Ryan told me last spring. “They maybe should have taken me up on my offer."

Then there was the time, also in the ‘80s, when he was speeding to another high school game in Louisiana. Looked up and saw flashing lights behind him.

The cop told him the ticket would be $28, and he could pay right then.

"All I've got is $28," Ryan pleaded. "Can I give you $25, so I'll have $3 left to get into the game?"

The cop was willing to deal, and Ryan made it to the field with the $3 admission fee in his pocket.

Then a massive storm hit, and the game was canceled after just two innings.

Sitting with Ryan this spring, he shook his head.

“Man, that was a tough place to find,” he said. “But no one ever wants to make a trip and miss a guy, because then it's a wasted trip and you've got to double back.

“We didn't have GPS back then or cell phones.”

Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Fergie Jenkins will be among those receiving awards on Saturday night along with Don Mattingly, the Hairston family (Jerry Sr., Jerry Jr. and Scott), as well as Scully. Hall of Famers Tommy Lasorda and Dave Winfield are among the presenters, as is actor Harrison Ford.

Ford plays former Dodgers executive Branch Rickey in the upcoming film “42.”

The dinner, which typically draws a crowd of about 1,500, is nearly sold out. But if you're anywhere near Los Angeles on Saturday, you're starved for some terrific baseball stories and you're interested in supporting a good cause, some tickets remain and you can call 818-224-3906 for more information.

And if you can't make it, MLB Network will telecast it later this month.

 
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