Dodgers put a low price on decades of experience
After spending the last couple of weeks choking on the McCourt divorce numbers -- $6,000 a year for birthday parties? -- Dodgers fans can finally relax.
Your favorite team has figured out how to pay for it all.
They’re taking it out of George Genovese.
“I was like, ‘What did I do?’ ” said Genovese, 87, a crooked grin rising from beneath his thick glasses and shock of gray hair.
Genovese, perhaps baseball’s most notable living amateur scout, was sitting in the aging easy chair in his tiny North Hollywood home recently when he received a solemn phone call from one of his Dodgers bosses.
He was thereby informed that his annual part-time salary was being slashed.
From $18,000 to $8,000 -- a 56% pay cut.
Genovese nearly fell over his new cane.
“I knew with the divorce there might be trouble over there, but I never thought it would be like this,” he said.
Genovese was told his salary was being whacked because of “budget cuts,” and, sure, why not?
Ten grand, and Jamie now doesn’t have to worry about skinny jeans.
Ten grand, and now Frank can go the extra mile on that Gulfstream.
“I love the Dodgers, I’ll always love the Dodgers, but I was like, ‘C’mon,’ ” Genovese said.
At the time, he was far more upset than he will ever admit today, so he immediately began doing what he has done throughout his 70 years in baseball -- coaching, coaxing, finagling, selling.
He tried to talk the Dodgers into only cutting his salary to $12,000.
“That’s $1,000 a month, an easy figure, makes sense to me,” he said.
The Dodgers said no.
They had also slashed his annual expenses from $5,000 to $2,000, so Genovese tried to talk them into an extra $1,000 there.
“Do you know what gas costs?” he said. “What’s an extra $1,000 a year for gas?”
The Dodgers said no.
Genovese eventually hung up the phone, sighed, and waited for delivery of the same sort of thick envelope that has held him captive for more than half a century.
It was his contract, and when it arrived he did what he always does. He signed it.
“What else am I going to do?” Genovese said. “Baseball is my life.”
What a life it has been.
His first baseball buddy was Stan Musial. His first baseball mentor was Branch Rickey.
As a 5-foot-6 shortstop from Staten Island, N.Y., Genovese was undrafted but fought his way through 22 years in the minor leagues and one at-bat in the major leagues, playing and managing sandwiched around three years in the Army.
He has been around so long, he has hit off Don Drysdale, managed Manny Mota, and convinced Al Campanis to move West with the Dodgers.
He has become so ingrained in Southern California, where he has lived for more than 60 years, he still wears a Hollywood Stars Pacific Coast League championship ring from 1949.
“Not many people recognize it anymore,” Genovese said. “Even I hardly recognize it anymore.”
In 1964, he found fame as a San Francisco Giants scout, spending the next 30 years signing the likes of Bobby Bonds, Dave Kingman, Chili Davis and Jack Clark out of Southern California high schools and colleges.
“His record of signing Giants out of our area was unbelievable,” said former Dodgers general manager Fred Claire. “There were years when he seemed to have the entire team.”
When the Giants were looking for places to cut during the 1994 labor strife, he was a victim, a move so wrong-headed that then-owner Peter Magowan flew to L.A. a couple of years ago to personally apologize.
He was a free agent for all of 10 seconds when Claire snapped him up.
“He is a wonderful baseball man, we had to have him,” Claire said. “He had the combination of age, experience and ability that was unsurpassed.”
Genovese has been with the Dodgers ever since, helping Claire on everything from high school scouting to pro evaluation, and later working with one of the general manager’s successors, Dan Evans.
“No matter how long you’ve been around, if you watch an entire game with George, you will learn something new,” said Evans, who is now the president of Pasadena-based West Coast Sports Management. “For me, he’s the greatest scout of all time.”
Even today, as a part-timer, he is as sharp as ever, attending local games, meeting and greeting players and parents, and lending advice to any Dodgers decision maker who might listen.
“I don’t know who listens to me anymore,” he said. “I’m not sure anybody does.”
Genovese doesn’t use a computer, and fears his handwritten notes are being ignored, as several of his prospects have been drafted by other clubs.
He also doesn’t use a stopwatch or the newfangled equipment of younger scouts, and fears his old-fashioned approach is being used against him.
“I know this is a different era, but baseball is baseball, isn’t it?” said Genovese, who has yet to sign a Dodger who has made it to the major leagues but has tipped other scouts on hundreds of local players he knows better than anyone.
Some will argue that the Dodgers are being charitable by continuing to employ an 87-year-old man. But like Evans said, scouting is different. Age is an asset. Experience is irreplaceable.
Logan White, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager in charge of scouting, said, “I try to use George the best I can, but I know everybody always wants to be used more.”
White did not deny the pay cut, saying only, “I can’t go into details about it, but I’m taking a different path here and making changes in the whole staff. I can tell you it has nothing to do with the divorce or with finances. We’re just trying to improve our local feel.”
But what can feel more local than a North Hollywood guy whose name is attached to scouting’s highest honor, the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation’s George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award?
“I’m here if they need me,” he said. “I’m always here if they need me.”
Until then, Genovese will drive around town in search of a ballgame, ignored but unbowed, his biggest crime being that he is not a fancy swimming pool or a Four Seasons hotel room.
“I’m just a baseball guy,” said George Genovese, scouting superhero, the Eight Thousand Dollar Man.