Baseball scout has a keen eye for talent
The 15-year-old was as thin as a bat and about as smooth as sandpaper. But the scout saw something special in his hands, in his arms. So he carved an infield into a corner of the cow pasture outside his front door and hit the boy 300 grounders a day through the spring rainstorms and the oppressive summer heat.
Three years later, that teenager, Alfredo Griffin, reached the major leagues, beginning an 18-year career in which he would win three World Series titles, a Gold Glove, the American League’s rookie-of-the-year Award and a spot on an All-Star team.
Yet, he might never have made it out of the Dominican Republic without the keen eye and uncommon dedication of scout Epy Guerrero.
“He had a knack for noticing the special player who maybe didn’t have the polish, the people who maybe were a little crude,” said former Philadelphia Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, Guerrero’s boss with the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. “He also had a tremendous work ethic. He was very competitive. He didn’t want to be beaten on a player.”
And he wasn’t, at least not very often. Which is one reason why Guerrero will be among five honored with a Legends in Scouting Award at Saturday’s sixth annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.
Others to be feted will be Hall of Fame players George Brett and Rich Gossage, World Series champion manager Whitey Herzog and brothers Felipe, Jesus and Matty Alou.
Guerrero became a scouting legend by, in more than four decades of work, signing by his own count nearly five dozen players who went on to the major leagues, including Cesar Cedeno, Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez and Kelvim Es- cobar. But his biggest contribution to the game came in the 1970s, when he joined the Dodgers’ Ralph Avila in pushing open the Dominican Republic’s pipeline to the majors.
As a result, the Dominican, which had sent only 18 players to the big leagues by 1967, when Guerrero signed his first player, had about 2,300 players with major league organizations last spring.
Guerrero, 67, was inducted into the Dominican Sports Hall of Fame in October and last month was among four scouts honored during the major league winter meetings, but he continues to feel slighted by the baseball establishment.
He would like to be included in baseball’s Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t induct scouts.
“After 47 years in professional baseball, I think I deserve something,” he said. “Without us, there is no professional baseball. Despite that, we’ve been ignored for so many years.”
Little of what Guerrero has done came easy. He says he once crossed the Panamanian border in the back of a donkey cart in pursuit of a player. Another time, he hiked up the side of a mountain to reach a village that was inaccessible by road.
Then there was the time he risked jail or worse -- “They wanted to kill me,” he said -- by dressing up as a soldier to smuggle a prospect out of Sandinista Nicaragua.
After he was let go by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003, Guerrero became an independent scout, or buscon, finding and developing Latin American players on his own, then negotiating their contracts with the big league clubs for which he used to work.
“It’s important that people know who they are,” Foundation President Dennis Gilbert said of international scouts, who signed nearly 30% of the players on big league rosters last season. “If you’re talking about almost a third of baseball, think of their contributions. Without people like Epy, we wouldn’t have a lot of these great players.”
The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation gala includes a silent auction featuring hundreds of items from sports and entertainment. It is open to the public. Information: (310) 996-1188.