Krause reflects on a life of scouting

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Jerry Krause enters a hotel lobby loaded down by two suitcases, an Arizona Diamondbacks-issued laptop and that look defining any haggard business traveler.

In three hours, he will sit through his second doubleheader in as many nights, the first taking place a plane ride away in Kannapolis, N.C. Dinner will be at a chain restaurant in a strip mall at an hour not conducive to optimal digestion. His upcoming itinerary features the rarely seen Los Angeles-to-Huntsville, Ala., trip — with a connecting flight to boot.

"Who could be luckier than I've been?" Krause says without a hint of sarcasm.

Krause turned 73 in April. Nine years have passed since the general manager for all six Bulls title teams left the franchise under the softening caveat of health reasons. He has scouted for the Yankees, Mets, White Sox and Diamondbacks since, running his resume total to eight baseball and four basketball teams.

Fifty-one years after leaving Bradley University to take a $65-per-week job as a glorified gofer for the Cubs, Krause's excitement for scouting remains — on most days — as bright as the yellow polo shirt he is wearing atop blue chinos.

"What the hell else would I do?" Krause says. "If I didn't work, I'd probably go goofy."

Krause has kept a low profile since his successful and polarizing Bulls run ended. He has stayed mostly silent as he gets alternately vilified or praised. But he accepted the Tribune's request to revisit his Chicago roots, to be watched plying his trade, to tell his story.

This platform is his. It's a one-subject story.

But Krause, as a special assistant in the Diamondbacks scouting department, has ceded the need to be in charge. He is, almost poetically, one of those behind-the-scenes cogs he tried to compliment as Bulls GM when he offered his theory that organizations win championships, infuriating Michael Jordan.

Never mind that history has backed Krause, who never will win a public relations battle with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and any he annoyed during the championship days. Forget, too, that the man who has a banner hanging in the United Center rafters has yet to take his two grandchildren to see it.

On this night, Krause is doing what he believes he was put on this earth to do.

"I don't enjoy the travel anymore; it's hard," he says. "But once I get in my ballpark seat, that's where I belong."

Rooted in hard work

Jerry Krause is, for the first time, talking about his health scare at birth.

A large cystic hygroma, a fluid-filled cyst on the back of his head and neck, affected his breathing and risked infection until doctors removed it. His parents, Paul and Gertrude, weren't as fortunate with their next two attempts at offspring. One boy was stillborn; the other died days after birth.

"My parents never talked about it," Krause says. "They were tough, people of the Depression."

His parents opened and ran a deli on Lawrence Avenue until Krause was in fourth grade. On Sundays, his dad would take him to since-closed Schultz's Tavern, buy him a Coke and together they'd watch Sid Luckman quarterback the Bears.

His parents eventually changed the address to Edison Park and the business to shoe sales, opening Krause's Bootery on Northwest Highway, where it sat for about 30 years.

"They didn't know anything about either business," Krause says. "They said, 'We'll treat people good, and we'll be fine.' I got my work ethic from them."

Krause took to heart one of his father's mottos — patience plus perseverance equals success — throughout his career.

While his parents worked, Krause's love for sports bloomed. He'd play H-O-R-S-E and one-on-one late into the night at Edison Park, and he broke a bone playing catcher in pickup baseball games at Olympia Park. Even then, Krause would get teased about his lack of height and Jewish heritage.

"I had my fights," says Krause, whose father boxed in amateur bouts. "But I learned a lot about prejudice and toughness."

After sports, Krause would stop by his parents' shoe store, take out some garbage, maybe help with inventory.

"But when I came to the age where I could learn something about the shoes, I didn't want to," Krause said. "I really wanted to do my own thing. And my dad let me. He was fine with it.

"I didn't really like the store because I saw they never took a vacation. They were slaves to that store. I said to myself, 'I'm never going to be this way.' But guess what? I ended up a slave to these two games."

'A solitary life'

Jerry Krause is getting agitated.

A woman has settled into the aisle seat in Row 2 behind home plate at Frawley Stadium, blocking Krause's view.

"I gotta see the plate," he says.

So the man who begrudgingly admits to having switched name tags on seating assignments to get a better view at long-ago basketball games moves to Row 3. He later asks a pitcher who is charting pitches for his home-field Wilmington Blue Rocks to move.

Now Krause is in his element. He has written the lineups into his dingy yellow spiral notebook and surveyed the park. Even advertising signage on the outfield wall is noted. "What a great name for a mattress company, Sleepy's," he says.

Krause is keeping score and scribbling notes. "Slow swing." "Four-seamer with very little life." Other than to exchange hellos with scouts from other teams, he talks little. And when he does, it's to no one in particular.

"Oh, I know this guy," he says. "I saw him at college in Arkansas." Another time, he offers that he would try to convert the light-hitting catcher with the rocket arm into a pitcher.

He uses a stopwatch to time hitters running from home plate to first base. But he doesn't break out his radar gun until the second or third inning. "I would rather watch a guy pitch first," he says. "Plus, I want to see how fast he's throwing when he's loose and then, later, tired."

Contrary to his dour reputation, Krause likes to sprinkle humor in the reports he writes on each player back in his hotel room. He once summed up a nonprospect by writing, "He reminds me of me: Can't hit. Can't run. Can't throw."

Another of his reports from the 1970s drew an unexpected overnight call from colorful Oakland Athletics owner Charles Finley when Krause worked for that club. "I wrote, 'Fat, friendly Irishman who I'd like to have as a neighbor but not as a catcher,' " Krause says. "He called to say he liked that."

But it's true Krause doesn't reveal much to those he doesn't work for. Though he says he disliked the "Sleuth" moniker former Bulls and current Magic executive Pat Williams hung on him, he admits "it probably fits, especially when I was younger. I was digging like holy hell then."

Later, over dinner, Krause becomes reflective on the subject.

"Scouting is a solitary life," he says. "And I'm stubborn; I didn't talk to other guys. But, hell, when I was young, older scouts never said hello to younger scouts. You had to prove who you were. Then maybe they'd talk to you.

"When I took the general managing thing, all of a sudden, here I am in the public eye. That's a whole different story. People say, 'Do you wish you had treated the media better?' I might've been treated better, but we might not have been able to do the things we did. If I had said something to somebody before the Pippen draft, it would've got out. We were able to do that, and nobody had a clue in the world that we were interested in Pippen. Not one person."

Krause admits that after a bout with pneumonia in spring training, his stamina isn't the same. Air conditioning in his hotel rooms and rain delays at the park make him cranky. So how much longer will he work?

"If I'm not good physically, I won't work because I'd be cheating the organization," he says.

When the Diamondbacks hired him, the news release said Krause possessed a "no job is too small" mentality. Krause likes this.

"Some guys might say, 'That's beneath you.' Screw that. Nothing's beneath you," he says. "You sign a contract, and that means you do whatever they ask you to do.

"I do love that special stuff, though. Go see so-and-so; we have to make a decision in the next four days. That's pressure, but I love it. It gets your blood going."

Trouble at home

Jerry Krause loves the lions that sit outside the Art Institute.

To him, they signify strength, toughness and honor, traits he associates with his hometown. He once elaborated on this in an essay for a class at Bradley, where he continued plans to become a newspaperman. Inspired by the writings of Mike Royko, Krause had been a copy boy at the Chicago Herald-American while a student at Taft High School.

Krause envisioned himself a sportswriter, covering the teams he followed in the city he adored, the Chicago where, through his immigrant parents, he saw hard work rewarded. But during one summer stint on the rewrite desk, Krause had a revelation.

"I knew I could only be fair," he says. "And I didn't want to be fair. I wanted to be great."

Krause had met Yankees scout Freddy Hasselman while learning baseball from Taft coach Jim Smilgoff, whom Krause worshipped. One summer while home from Bradley, where Krause had begun charting plays as basketball coach Chuck Orsborn's student assistant, Hasselman invited Krause to join him on trips to semipro and high school games throughout the small-town Midwest.

Krause had found his calling.

"I don't know how; I just had this recall, this ability to see things," Krause says. "You have a little success a few times, get it validated by those who know more than you, and it makes you think."

While working for the Cubs, Krause befriended Slick Leonard, a veteran on the NBA's Chicago Packers/Zephyrs. Leonard took over as coach when the franchise moved to Baltimore for the 1963-64 season, and he hired Krause as public relations director.

Krause didn't know the first thing about public relations. It didn't matter. He'd write some press releases and then go scout, which was Leonard's plan all along.

Krause had early success drafting Jerry Sloan and Earl Monroe for the Bullets, and his career gained traction. He ran a minor league baseball team in Portland, Ore., then returned to scout for the Bullets. He worked year-round, also scouting baseball for the Cleveland Indians.

To this day, he won't say if he prefers scouting baseball or basketball better. Scouting is scouting.

Williams hired Krause to scout for the Bulls in 1969. Krause hit on Clifford Ray in the third round in 1971 but missed on Jimmy Collins over Nate Archibald in 1970. He moved on to gigs with the Phoenix Suns and the A's.

"You couldn't do it now," Krause says of scouting two pro sports. "It was crazy then. I remember going from the baseball draft to the basketball draft a couple weeks later."

In 1976, Krause's dream job brought him home. The Bulls hired him, at 37, as their director of player personnel. Even his no-nonsense, hard-working parents celebrated.

The party didn't last long. First, in true Sleuth-like fashion, Krause fell in love with unheralded Centenary center Robert Parish, who had been playing in virtual obscurity with the school on probation. Then Krause got into a "he-said" mess with legendary DePaul coach Ray Meyer, who claimed Krause offered him the chance to succeed Dick Motta as Bulls coach.

Krause denied this, but the ensuing furor caused public embarrassment for the franchise. After Krause, under ownership pressure, drafted Indiana All-American Scott May over Parish, Chairman Arthur Wirtz gave him a choice: resign or be fired.

Krause resigned, publicly humiliated in his hometown. Days later, a boyhood friend died of a heart attack while playing softball at 38.

"That was a low point," Krause says softly. "People think all the stuff with Michael and getting booed while we were winning was tough? That was nothing compared to that year."

Student of history

Jerry Krause enjoys visiting the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo.

In fact, he likes it so much that he has been there three times. Krause has been welcomed to the White House with Bulls championship teams by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but he holds special regard for Truman.

"He was one of the most unpopular presidents in history when he left office," Krause says. "Fifteen years later, he was regarded as a genius."

The analogy is so obvious, it's shocking Krause acts surprised when asked the follow-up question: "Do you feel you relate to Truman in that aspect?"

Krause stammers before finally smiling.

"I supposedly have gotten smarter since I left, right?" he says.

Krause can surprise, though. His fishing interest has been well-documented, mostly in derisive fashion when that link formed the friendship with Tim Floyd that undercut Jackson. But Krause is also an avid reader who devours anything on Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

Krause also is sentimental, tearing up when recalling galvanizing moments from his 51-year career or talking about his grandchildren. He takes cruises and has attended plays in London with his wife, Thelma. He thinks it's important to have close friends outside of sports.

As Krause is detailing one friendship, a middle-aged man approaches his breakfast table. He identifies himself as Clark from Chicago.

"Mr. Krause," Clark says, "thanks for all you did. We were spoiled."

The exchange leads into a discussion of the dynasty, and suddenly Krause is repeating the line that so bothered Jordan.

"Here's a ticklish phrase: 'You've won six championships.' No, the organization won six NBA championships," Krause says. "I never have considered that I won anything. I say that and get ripped for it, but it's true. Organizations win championships. Organizations lose championships too.

"No player ever won six world championships. He was part of a team. Who put you there? Who helped develop you? Who scouted you? Who coached you? You played all nine positions in baseball? You played all five positions in basketball? Wow, you must be pretty good."

'A proud Chicagoan'

Jerry Krause is a survivor.

Devastated by losing the Bulls job in 1976, he plunged back into two-sport, year-round work. He landed scouting jobs with the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Lakers, for whom he suggested drafting relatively unknown guard Norm Nixon.

Bill Veeck brought him home again.

Acquaintances since the 1960s, the charismatic White Sox owner invited Krause to lunch at Schaller's Pump in the fall of 1978. Twelve hours later, with his job duties mapped out on a tablecloth, Krause had been hired with a handshake.

The association reinvigorated Krause, and it also proved fortuitous when Veeck sold the franchise three years later to Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf. When Reinsdorf led an investing group that purchased a controlling interest in the Bulls in February 1985, he replaced Rod Thorn with Krause six weeks later.

Remarkably, Krause owned his same dream job again nine years later.

This start went only slightly better than his disastrous 1976 stint. Krause hired Stan Albeck as coach. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, creating the first of many territorial spats between him and Krause.

Jordan wanted to play as quickly as possible. Krause, Reinsdorf and doctors opted for a more conservative approach.

"I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if Michael had been hurt permanently," Krause says. "That injury drove a wedge between him and me for good."

Happier times followed. Krause's surprising hire of Doug Collins as coach worked to a point, and then, after a loss to the Pistons in the 1989 Eastern Conference semifinals, came Collins' equally surprising dismissal — and the ascension of Jackson.

"I called Phil, sat him down in the office and said, 'Here's what it is. Go get 'em, Big Fella,' " Krause says. "Then I told him, 'Go back to Montana, let the media firestorm die down and this sink in.' "

What did Krause see in Jackson, whom he had hired as Collins' assistant out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association?

"I saw Bill Fitch," Krause says. "I saw Red Holzman. I saw a different breed of cat. I saw a drive in him. He tried to get a coaching job in the NBA for four or five years, and everybody turned him down. Everybody thought he was crazy. I was the only one who didn't think he was too crazy. I thought he was a little goofy. But I also thought he'd be a great defensive coach.

"I told Jerry what I saw. He said, 'OK.' And the rest is history."

Six championships in eight seasons. An NBA-record 72-10 season. Grant Park championship rallies serving as defining touchstones for Chicago sports fans.

"I remember we landed at O'Hare after we won the first title," Krause says. "Descending on the city, it was the most beautiful sight. I remember that feeling that it was your town, the town you grew up in, and you had provided it some happiness. I'm a proud Chicagoan. I really love this city."

Fans spewed venom at Krause for what came next. The courtship of Floyd during Jackson's tenure and, ultimately, Floyd's hiring. Anemic 17- and 15-win seasons. Draft busts such as Marcus Fizer and Dalibor Bagaric. The controversial Elton Brand-for-Tyson Chandler trade.

"No college coach can do it because the game has changed too much," Krause says of hiring Floyd. "I thought Tim was the one guy who could because he had the background with (Don) Haskins. He had recruited underrated players and made them much, much better. He was a great teacher. I'd watch him teach in practice.

"You know what it came down to? I knew him too well. I went fishing with him 10 times and lost my objectivity. I really thought we were going to win again. That's still disappointing to me."

Clear connections

Jerry Krause still drives around his old neighborhood occasionally.

On this visit, he is walking on the same Taft baseball field where he warmed up pitchers, first met Hasselman, soaked up all Smilgoff could teach him. Planes fly low overhead on their descent to O'Hare. Krause looks up, and he's reminded of a vision he once had.

That June 12, 1991, night the Bulls finally broke through to defeat the Lakers and win the franchise's first NBA championship, he celebrated and finally retreated to a quiet hot tub with his wife. He looked at the sky.

"And I saw my dad," he says. "And I saw Veeck. And I saw Freddy (Hasselman). And I saw Coach Smilgoff. And they were saying, 'Damn, that kid won the damn thing!' And they were all having beers."

He tried to share the moment with Thelma, but she just laughed, said he was crazy.

"But I saw them," Krause says, his voice rising. "To this day, I can't figure it out. It was very emotional. I was crying. Those were important people to me."

And this anecdote, perhaps more than anything, defines Krause. For all his bluster and brazenness, his ability to analyze all and annoy some, he is a team player at heart, always seeking perfection, always craving connection.

When Krause buried his father on the city's Northwest Side, he noticed a grave site nearby that said, "Here lies the heart and soul of a newsreel cameraman."

Krause isn't sure if he wants to be buried or cremated. But if it's the former, he wants to be near family. And he's sure what his gravestone will read.

Here lies the heart and soul of a scout.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

Twitter @kcjhoop

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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