In the 1986 draft, the San Francisco Giants drafted a catcher out of Coastal Carolina University in the second round. Two days after the draft, Giants scouts Mike Toomey and Jim Fairey signed the catcher at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn in Elmira, New York. The player reported to the Class A Clinton (Iowa) Giants to begin his pro career and began perfecting the skills that would lead Toomey to describe him as “an excellent catch-and-throw guy” who possessed “survival skills with the bat.” In his second season of minor league ball, the catcher hit .267 in 98 games, earning a September call-up to San Francisco. The catcher would play 13 seasons in the major leagues with three clubs. His best year came in 1993 with the Giants when he hit .275 in 130 games and won the Gold Glove Award. Who was the catcher?
Ben Cherington, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, got his start in baseball as a summer intern with the Boston Red Sox in 1995. Cherington’s job was to file scouting reports, arrange lunches for scouts, and make sure there was water on the field when prospects came in for workouts. On one occasion, three or four days before the 1995 draft, Cherington was on the field to watch the pre-draft workout of a highly touted hitter from Puerto Rico. Cherington distinctly remembers that the player struggled during his workout and had trouble getting the ball out of the infield. After the workout, Cherington noticed that the player’s magnet had been moved down quite a bit on Boston’s draft board. Unlike the Red Sox, the Kansas City Royals saw a lot to like in the player. The Royals drafted him in the second round of 1995 with the 49th overall pick. The player would go on to play 20 years in the major leagues and finish his career with 435 home runs and a batting average of .279.
Over a career in baseball spanning more than six decades, Roland Hemond has been involved in scouting and drafting a legion of players who had a significant impact on the game. In his role as scouting director for the 1966 California Angels, Hemond drafted a pitcher from the University of California who would win 130 games during a 12-year major league career. As a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1975, the pitcher played the entire season without a signed contract and, in a landmark arbitration decision, was declared to be a free agent after the season. The pitcher then signed to play for the Atlanta Braves in 1976. At the time, the Braves were a woeful but entertaining bunch. Instead of wearing their last names on their uniforms, the players wore their nicknames, which included “Cannon” (Jimmy Wynn), “Bird Dog” (Vic Correll) and “Wimpy” (Tom Paciorek). Braves owner Ted Turner nicknamed his free agent pitcher “Channel.” When combined with the pitcher’s uniform number (17), the nickname made him a walking advertisement for Turner’s cable TV SuperStation.
Veteran baseball executive Roland Hemond got his start sweeping out Bulkeley Stadium in Connecticut before home games of the Hartford Chiefs. Hemond wouldn’t need his broom for long. In relatively quick succession, he became front office intern, scouting report typist, scout, assistant scouting director, scouting director and general manager. By September 1970, Hemond was the general manager of the Chicago White Sox and preparing for his first amateur draft with the White Sox, scheduled for June 1971. The White Sox held the number one pick. Future Hall-of-Famers Jim Rice, George Brett and Mike Schmidt were among the prospects available. Under Hemond=s direction, the White Sox selected another player, a much-heralded catcher who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench for his defense and batting prowess. While playing for Peoria Central High School in 1971, the catcher had slugged a gargantuan home run that traveled out of the ballpark and landed on the second deck of a swimming poolnwell over 400 feet from home plate. Contract negotiations with the catcher proved difficult, however, leading a somewhat incredulous Hemond to tell reporters, “He wants more than $100,000 and he wants it now, not spread over 30 years.” Ultimately, the Sox failed to sign the catcher. It was the first time in the history of the draft that an overall number one pick declined to sign.
The California Angels held the number one overall pick in the 1995 amateur draft. The Angels scouting director, Bob Fontaine Jr., had a difficult decision to make. Fontaine was the son of long-time baseball man Bob Fontaine, who had been a scout, scouting director and general manager. The elder Fontaine had schooled his son well. In 1995, the choices available to Bob Fontaine Jr. in the draft were enticing. There were two right-handed pitching prospects, hard-throwing Kerry Wood and former Cuban star Ariel Prieto, plus a catcher, Ben Davis, whom Baseball America had tabbed as the best high school catcher since Dale Murphy. Ultimately, Fontaine choose a versatile college outfielder who had drawn comparisons to Roger Maris. Like Maris, the prospect was a power hitter, hailed from North Dakota and had been a high school football star.
Before embarking on a career as a baseball scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, Mercer Harris was an infielder in the Cardinals system. His minor league playing career spanned eighteen years, from 1930 to 1947. After retiring as a player, Mercer turned to scouting. While working for the Cardinals in 1952, he signed a pitcher from Morgan, Georgia who would have an unremarkable eight-year major league career. Pitching mostly for the woeful Washington Senators, the pitcher finished his career with 19 wins against 29 losses and a 3.77 earned run average. However, during the 1962 season, the pitcher struck out 21 hitters in a 16-inning complete game victory against the Baltimore Orioles. The feat still stands as the record for most strikeouts by a pitcher in a major league game.
Eligible for the amateur draft in 1981, this player was passed over by all 26 major league teams, despite a favorable evaluation by scout Billy Blitzer, who was then working for the Major League Scouting Bureau. The player would go on to play for 16 seasons in the major leagues, during which he hit 287 home runs and was named to six all-star teams. The player played his high school ball less than two miles from Yankee Stadium but drew little attention from scouts other than Blitzer. Blitzer attributed the lack of interest to the fact that the player rotated among several different positions in high school, filling in wherever his coach needed him to play.
Drafted by the Washington Senators in 1969, this player began his professional career amid much fanfare. The Senators’ chief scout, Jack Sheehan, gushed that the player had the best power of any 18-year-old he had ever seen. Washington’s manager at the time, Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams, was even more effusive, calling the player “the best 18-year-old hitter I’ve ever seen.” The player made his major league debut with the Senators on July 20, 1970 but was sent back to the minors after hitting only .167 in six games. At the time of the demotion, Williams said the Senators were sending the player back to the Triple-A Denver Bears “to heat his bat and cool his head.”
From 1961 to 1974, former major league pitcher Randy Gumpert was a scout for the New York Yankees. In 1970, Gumpert recommended that the Yankees sign a pitcher from the University of Pittsburgh. The Yankees used their 30th pick in 1970 to select the pitcher, who made his major league debut on September 5, 1972. The very next day, the pitcher began classes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. For the next six years, the player pitched for the Yankees and, later, the Pittsburgh Pirates during the baseball season and attended medical classes during the off-season. He received his medical degree in 1977 and retired from baseball after the 1982 season to work full-time as an orthopedic surgeon.
In 37 years as a scout for the New York Yankees, Paul Krichell signed more than 200 players who went on to play professional baseball, including Hall-of-Famers Lou Gehrig, Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. One of the players whom Krichell signed for the Yankees was an infielder who would win the American League batting championship in 1945 with an average of .309. The feat was particularly notable because, in the years between 1910 and 2019, only one American League batting champion (Carl Yastrzemski, 1968, .301 average) has finished the season with a lower average.
Veteran scout Ray Bellino played 13 seasons as an infielder in the minor leagues. His glove was his calling card. A defensive wizard but weak hitter, Bellino struggled to hit above .220. His defense carried him to Triple-A, where he played for six seasons. Bellino retired as an active player after the 1964 season without ever reaching the majors. After his playing days, Bellino managed in the minor leagues for four seasons and then embarked on a lengthy career in scouting. The most notable player whom Bellino signed was a pitcher who was the ninth overall pick in the 1994 draft. While playing for the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1994, this pitcher faced basketball Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan five times during Jordan’s season as an outfielder with the Birmingham Barons. The pitcher reached the major leagues in June 1995 and would spend ten seasons in the big leagues.
Atley Donald had a 29-year career as a scout, working from 1946 to 1975. Before turning to scouting, Donald enjoyed an eight-year career as a pitcher with the New York Yankees. Working primarily as a starter, Donald compiled a career record of 65 wins and 33 losses. He was a key contributor to three consecutive pennant-winning Yankee teams, 1941 to 1943. During his time as a scout, Donald signed pitcher Ron Guidry and catchers Clint Courtney and Jake Gibbs, among others. Donald also signed a player who, on April 6, 1973, became a footnote to history as the first-ever designated hitter in the American League.
One of three brothers to play in the major leagues, this player hit 351 home runs and batted .292 during his 15-year career. Like his two brothers, the player was signed by veteran scout John Ogden. A former major league pitcher, Ogden had cultivated a strong friendship with the player’s mother. During his playing days, Ogden had pitched to Babe Ruth. According to Ogden, this player was the only batter he ever saw who hit a ball as hard as Ruth did. The player was once asked to compare playing on artificial turf with playing on real grass. An avowed horse enthusiast, the player replied, “If a horse can’t eat it, I don’t like it.”
In 13 major league seasons, this Brooklyn Dodger had a lifetime batting average of .324. In nine of his seasons, he hit .300 or better. After his final season, the player became a scout and, for a period of 20 years, he scouted for several different major league teams. In spite of his outstanding credentials as a hitter, the player is best remembered for his role in a play in which the Dodgers ended up with three runners on third base.
With one out and the bases loaded, the player hit a ball off the right-field wall at Ebbets Field. The player touched first base, then second, and headed for third. As he approached third base, he found two other teammates already occupying the base. The incident gave rise to a popular joke in which the straight man says, “The Dodgers have three runners on base.” The comedian then replies, “Which base?”
This former pitcher played for 18 seasons in the major leagues and was a five-time American League all-star. No slouch at the plate, he had 81 runs batted in and hit five home runs during his career, including a grand slam against the New York Yankees in 1960. After his playing days, he was a scout for the Oakland Athletics and discovered outfielder Jose Canseco while Canseco was playing for Carol City High School in Opalocka, Florida.
Yankees scout Dick Groch, assigned to scout in the Midwest, watched [this player] participate in an all-star camp held at Western Michigan University. Though Yankees officials were concerned that [this player] would follow his girlfriend and attend college instead of signing a professional contract, Groch convinced them to select him, saying, “the only place this kid’s going is to Cooperstown!” Who is this player?