The annual January dinner of the New York Pro Baseball Scouts Association has nicely served in recent years as the unofficial opening of the 2024 MLB season. At last Friday's Jan 19 gathering at Leonard's Palazzo (formerly Leonard's of Great Neck), guest speaker David Cone set the proper tone early on. "We need the human touch more than ever," he declared.
Cone shared warm memories of the Kansas City Royals area scout Carl Blando who signed him after high school in the KC area. Like all the best scouts,
Blando kept tabs on his signee as he worked his way up the ladder. When Cone bought a fancy car with his $17,000 bonus and didn't report the money to the IRS, Blando helped get him out of tax troubles.
Carl Blando lived until 2018 and was part of a great Royals scouting tradition that saw them become a contender faster than any expansion team under the leadership of Art Stewart and others. I was glad to devote a chapter to this story in my recent book on scouting, BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES.
David Cone, now an effective broadcaster after his long successful career in the majors, noted, "My whole education was the minor leagues." He said that he missed almost two full seasons because of a knee injury incurred when he was running in from the mound to try to block home plate.
Longtime scout Jim Cuthbert was presented with the Jim Quigley Service to the Game award (I was blessed to receive the honor in the name of former scout Quigley in 2010). A Brooklyn native who became a walk-on catcher for St. John's of Queens, Cuthbert described himself as someone who started with no connections in the game beyond being an ardent listener of Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN 660 AM in NYC when it went on the air nearly 40 years ago.
Cuthbert worked his way up the scouting ladder to become an advance scout for Terry "Tito" Francona's Cleveland Indians. He was in awe of one of the giants of the game, but Francona assured him, "Your work [your scouting reports] is your ticket into my office." After recently working for the Marlins, Cuthbert begins a new position in 2024 with the Royals. (Francona, plagued by illness, has now retired and will be replaced by rookie manager Stephen Vogt.)
The Turk Karam Scout of the Year award-winner was Matt Hyde, longtime northeastern area scout for the Yankees. "Show up and do your work," Hyde advised. "If you do what you love, you'll never have to work a day in your life." He added, "The lessons never stop."
Hyde is also a Michigan Wolverine as well as a Yankee, and Rich Hill, a Massachusetts-bred and fellow Michigan grad, came to honor his homeboy. Now 43, Hill has played for 13 MLB teams but not ready to retire. He is not in a hurry to sign for 2024 because he wants to see his 12-year-old son play his final season of Little League. (Fans often forget how much players miss in their family lives because of the demands of the long long season.)
Along with Red Sox scout Ray Fagnant, an earlier winner of the Karam award, Matt Hyde has run a summer program that since 2012 has brought high school and young college prospects to the Northeast for several days of clinics and then a concluding game at a top-level pro ballpark. Hyde listed the remarkable number of players who have gone on to pro careers: 102 have made the majors, 57 were first-round draft choices.
Hyde introduced to the audience Jen Mead, widow of Yankee scout Kelly Rodman who passed away in 2020 at the unconscionable age of 44. Mead runs The Kelly Rodman Baseball Foundation and the final game of the summer clinic program is called the Kelly Rodman Memorial Classic. For more on this worthy enterprise, check out email@example.com
Rodman had been a huge advocate for Yankee shortstop Anthony Volpe, the team's number one draft choice in 2019. "Kelly is the angel in the outfield looking down on me," Hyde quoted Volpe. (Readers of this blog will know how much l like the 1950 original film of that name - I spoke about it at last spring's Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the Hall of Fame).
l am very pleased that the story of Hyde and Fagnant's program and Rodman's inspiring exhortation to players, "Be Great Today!", made for the closing story in BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES.
NOW . . . HERE'S A MISCELLANY ABOUT RECENT EVENTS:
**Shame on those Chicago Bulls fans who on Fri Jan 12 booed the presentation of the Ring of Honor to the late Jerry Krause, the mastermind behind the Bulls' dynasty in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Krause was instrumental in the Bulls' drafting Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and trading Charles Oakley to the Knicks for Bill Cartwright (who BTW was from Elk Grove California near Sacramento and was a fine baseball player until one of his scholastic basketball coaches made sure he stuck to the hard court game.)
Because Krause never stroked the press, he was scapegoated for the Bulls' fall from grace after the retirement of their key players. The boorish behavior earlier this month brought Krause's widow Thelma to tears, an awful stain on what should have been an elegiac evening. Krause finished his career scouting for Yankees and then Mets and always said that he loved baseball even more than basketball.
**The news yesterday Tu Jan 23 of Adrian Beltre's election to Cooperstown was no surprise. His numbers certainly were overwhelming - 3161 hits, 477
HRs, and he and Derek Jeter are the only Hall of Famers in the 3000 hit club to win 5 Gold Gloves.
Todd Helton and Joe Mauer's enshrinements - Mauer during his first year of eligibility - are a little more problematic. Helton had been scrutinized for playing home games in Denver's Coors Field, but ultimately his overall stats made the case for him: 2131 hits and an OBP (On Base Plus Slugging Percentage) of .855 higher than Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, and Dave Winfield. In a very rare accomplishment in recent years, Helton also finished with a positive walk:strikeout ratio, 1335:1173.
Minnesota's Joe Mauer played only 7 years behind home plate before concussions forced his switch to first base where he never supplied the power expected of that position. From the same St. Paul, Twin City of Minneapolis that has produced three other Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris and Dave Winfield, Mauer was a home town hero who never played for another team. Helton, who also starred in football at U of Tennesee, was a lifelong Colorado Rockie.
It says here that if playing for one team only is now considered a valid reason for selection, maybe the chances for Don Mattingly and Thurman Munson have been enhanced. In any event, kudos are due Josh Rawitch, top executive at the Hall of Fame, for making the announcements on MLBTV in both Spanish and English.
Before I sign off, let me mention three passings in recent weeks not connected to baseball but these octogenarians lived lives worth remembering.
**Gus Alfieri, 87, on Jan 1, former St. John's basketball player and author of a fine biography of his coach, LAPCHICK (Lyons Press, 2006). Alfieri became a legendary coach at South Huntington, Long Island's St. Anthony HS and longtime director of a summer All-American Basketball Camp. If Joe Lapchick, an Original Celtic (long before the Boston pro team took the name) and Knicks coach, said nothing else in his life than "Peacock today, feather duster tomorrow," I would say he led a life well-lived.
**Paul Chevigny, 88, on Dec 11, NYU law professor and noted civil liberties and civil rights lawyer. His book GIGS (Routledge, 1991) contributed to the end of the restrictive cabaret laws. He dedicated it to "Thelonious Monk, JJ Johnson, Billie Holiday, and Buell Neidlinger, and all the other good musicians who had a problem with NYC cabaret laws."
**Jay Clayton, 82, on Dec 31, improvisational vocalist with a lyrical gift. Her live rendition of "Young and Foolish" (from the 1950s musical set among the Amish, "Plain and Fancy") was as beautiful as anything I ever heard. (I first heard the tune on Bill Evans' early album "Everybody Loves Bill Evans." Barbara Cook performed in the original production of "Plain and Fancy" but she doesn't mention the song in her informative and often very moving memoir "Here and Now" (2016).
That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it and stay positive, test negative.