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Draft Too Chilly for Chong’s Liking : 36th Round Selection From Chatsworth High Turns Down Orioles

Times Staff Writer

In the major league baseball draft earlier this month, Chatsworth High’s Chae-Ho Chong was picked by the Baltimore Orioles. Smiles all around. Trouble is, he was taken in the 36th round, the 836th selection overall.

Baltimore scout Ed Crosby claims that the Orioles really do have an interest in the 17-year-old.

“We had enough interest to draft him,” Crosby said, “which is an honor really, so we think he’s got some talent.”

Still, Chong’s position in the Orioles’ draft makes it clear that in their minds, he’s no world-beater.

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“I think their interest is very lukewarm,” said Chatsworth baseball Coach Bob Lofrano. “They have met with him, but it’s not like they’re that interested.”

During their meeting, Crosby said he reviewed Chong’s strong points and weaknesses. As expected, the 5-11, 200-pound catcher rated well offensively. He batted .407 his senior season on a team that lost in the City semifinals. Defensively, though, he was told he needs work.

Said Chong: “The scout was pretty honest with me, maybe too honest. He kind of hurt my feelings. He didn’t say anything encouraging. Mostly we talked about money.”

More accurately, in Chong’s case, the lack of money.

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Lofrano, in fact, has advised Chong not to sign with Baltimore. “He’d be nutty to sign. If they offer you $100,000, then OK. But with Chong--no way. When they draft you that low, you get about $100 and a bus ticket some place.”

The Orioles honorably offered travel expenses to Bluefield, W. Va., with no bonus money and $700-a-month salary to play for their rookie league team there.

Chong said, “No, thanks,” figuring he’d play college ball. Besides, he’d always wanted to study to be a doctor anyway, in case baseball didn’t work out.

Although no major colleges have contacted him, Chong said Valley, Canyons and Oxnard colleges are a few of the JCs that have shown interest.

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“That would be a good way for Chae-Ho to go,” said Lofrano. “A lot of major colleges like players to go to a junior college to see what they can do and, then if they work out, sign them later.

“And the major leagues are now keying on the major college players, kids that are 21 or 22 years old.”

Clearly, the fact that Chong was selected in the 36th round just out of high school does not exclude him from making it to the big leagues. It’s been done before.

Professional scouts and college coaches agree that judging top-caliber talent among high school, junior college and four-year college players is anything but an exact science. Players develop at different stages. Some never do and some surprise everybody.

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Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets was a 42nd-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bob Horner was a 22nd-round selection out of high school, but elected to go to Arizona State and wound up as the No. 1 pick of the Atlanta Braves.

In 1977, Tim Wallach, fresh from Saddleback Junior College, was awarded a $25-a-month scholarship by Cal State Fullerton baseball Coach Augie Garrido basically because nobody else wanted him. Two years later, Wallach, after being named NCAA player of the year, signed with the Montreal Expos and received a $95,000 bonus.

Larry Corrigan, an assistant at Fullerton adds: “I know a junior college coach who saw Cory Snyder play at Canyon High and afterward he said he wasn’t good enough to play on the junior college level. Snyder went up to Brigham Young the next year and hit about 25 homers.

“You’ve got to realize that judging baseball talent is the world’s greatest guessing game. It’s a free-for-all.”

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Eventually, it is possible that Chong, who was born in Seoul, Korea, will get a shot at professional baseball. “I tell you,” said Crosby, “he looks like he has potential. He could be a decent player . . . down the road.”

And Crosby has a bus ticket, if Chong wants it, to send him on his way.


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