Late Bloomer from Biola : Cardinals’ Worrell Was Fast, but He Always Gave Up Hits

Times Staff Writer

Cardinal scout Steve Flores comes from a family of scouts.

His father, Jesse, a former big league pitcher from Guadalajara who threw a screwball and has been called the first Fernando in L.A.'s Spanish-language papers, has been a scout for the Twins for the last 23 years. Steve’s brother, Jesse Jr., has scouted for the Twins for 15 years.

So, naturally, it was by sheer accident that Steve Flores discovered Todd Worrell, the Bible student who pitched his way into the World Series record book by striking out six consecutive Kansas City Royals in Game 5 Thursday night.

It’s true that Flores went to Biola to see a baseball game. But he didn’t go to see Biola, or Worrell, for that matter. He was there to check out Tony Woods, an infielder from Whittier College, Biola’s opponent that day.


He spotted Worrell warming up on the sideline. “He was throwing pretty good, nice and loose,” Flores recalled. “I clocked him on the radar at about 87, 88 m.p.h.”

After the game, Flores stuck around to talk to the 6-5 pitcher. “He was a very nice young man,” Flores said. “I told him I really liked the way he threw, and then he said something I’ll never forget.

“ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you saw me on a bad day. My arm’s kind of tight.’

“I thought to myself, ‘OK, right.’ ”

But Flores filed Worrell’s name in his memory, and about a month later, when he had a day off, he went to see another Biola game, against Southern California College, another Division III-NAIA school.

This time when Flores aimed his radar gun at Worrell, it registered 94 m.p.h.

“I looked at another scout who had a gun and he looked at me, sort of like ‘What did you get?’ ” Flores said. “The funniest thing, though, is that they were tattooing him.”

By then, the Dodgers, like other major league teams, were aware of Worrell.

“I think we had the same kind of interest in him that other clubs had,” said Ben Wade, the Dodgers’ director of scouting. “He had an outstanding arm, but every time (scout) Jerry Stephenson went to the ballpark, he always was getting hit.

“We still liked the kid--he had a great arm--but he wasn’t much of a pitcher then. He threw harder than anybody around, but he was always getting hit.”

Wade was watching on TV Thursday night. “He’s not getting hit anymore, is he?”

Worrell didn’t even pitch much until his junior year, according to Biola Coach Charlie Sarver, who spent a season in the early ‘50s with the Reno Silver Sox, a Dodger farm team.

Sarver used Worrell primarily as a catcher when he was a junior. The only pitching he did was in long relief, Sarver said. Even as a senior, Worrell played in the outfield between starts.

“One day he made a head-first dive into the fence,” Flores said. “I said, ‘Oh my God, we just lost our best arm.’ ”

Worrell got up intact, however, and after his senior year at Biola, he showed up for a workout conducted by Flores and his Minnesota bosses.

“It was almost like he was too good to believe,” Flores said. “He was like Joe Hardy (the hero in ‘Damn Yankees’) coming in and saying, ‘I can do this.’ After he pitched, he hit a ball at least 100 feet over the fence. We were kidding that maybe we’d make him an outfielder.”

The Cardinals, who were picking late in the first round, projected Worrell as the fifth-best player in the 1982 draft. He was still there when it was their turn, and they grabbed him.

Worrell progressed through the minors erratically, and at one time the Cardinals questioned his toughness.

“The boy never had pitched seriously before in his life,” Flores said. “He didn’t know when to come inside on batters, when to brush a guy off then throw the good breaking ball outside.

“It wasn’t like we were doubting him, it was more like when is he going to take to it.”

Worrell began this season as a starter at triple-A Louisville, and wasn’t converted to a reliever until July, when he blossomed. And he didn’t become a big-leaguer until Aug. 27, a few days before rosters were frozen.

“Todd told me, ‘There’s nobody in the world that can stand up to me for an inning or two or three,’ ” Sarver said. “ ‘They’re not going to get me.’ That told me something right there.”

Flores was sitting in the stands in Busch Stadium when Worrell came out for the sixth and seventh innings Thursday. “Whenever he pitches, my hands get sweaty,” Flores said. “He’s that close to me. I felt total gratification. My God, I didn’t make a mistake.”

Sarver, back home in Orange County, watched on TV. “It was a real thrill to see that young man become part of history,” he said.

The coach had only one complaint. He said that Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog shouldn’t have pinch-hit for him. “Todd’s a great drag bunter,” Sarver said. “I wonder if they know that.”

The world is only beginning to know Worrell, whose brother, Tim, is a freshman pitcher at Biola.

“Hey, don’t tell anybody that,” Flores said. “Maybe he’ll be a late bloomer, too.”