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THE BABE RUTH OF SCOUTING

This is about the death of a baseball scout. Tony Lucadello never tired of the search. Throughout his forty-year career, he managed to retain a sense of fierce pride in his reputation as organized baseball's premier scout. During the years he worked to uncover prospects for the Chicago Cubs, and later the Philadelphia Phillies, Lucadello found more players who made it to the big leagues than any of his contemporaries. Here are some names: Mike Schmidt, the Phillies third baseman, led the National League in home runs six times and was most valuable player twice; pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, a Cy Young award winner, lasted nineteen years and compiled more than 3,000 strikeouts; pitcher Mike Marshall, also a Cy Young award winner, was the first of the Iron Man relief pitchers who appeared one season in 106 of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 164 games. In addition, there were Toby Harrah, who played third for Texas and Cleveland; pitchers Tom Underwood, Dave Roberts, Dick Drott, and Jim Brosnan; infielder Todd Cruz and outstanding hitters like Larry Hisle and Alex Johnson. To find them, Lucadello roamed Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and lower Canada. He drove thousands of miles every spring and summer, covering not only farm communities but big-city ghettos as well. And because Lucadello consistently not only found but managed to sign the best players, they began calling him "The Babe Ruth of Scouting." But then, when Lucadello reached seventy, the Phillies front office informed him suddenly that there was a club policy against his continuing. He was too old to work for the team anymore. In order to cover his territory, Lucadello had lived in tiny Fostoria, Ohio, most of his adult life. Although he was what you might call a natty dresser and drove a company car, which he kept polished and washed at all times, he never became a wealthy man. Lucadello, who discovered ballplayers who became millionaires, never made more than $27,000 a year. Faced with the sudden end of his career, the proud scout turned into a tragic character reminiscent of Arthur Miller's Willy Loman. Before his death, Lucadello, in a series of interviews, put together a book called Diamonds in the Rough with sportswriter David V. Hanneman, who worked in the neighboring town of Findlay. The book succeeds in explaining to us, in Lucadello's own language, how he was able to find and evaluate the players with big league potential. He tells us where he liked to sit at the game to get the best view. "About ten feet down the line, on either the first or third base line, is the key spot," Lucadello wrote. "If I'm really interested in a ballplayer, one I think has major league potential, I want to see his face, especially his eyes, when he's up at the plate. If someone asked me the key when I'm scouting, I'd say the face. "The face can fill in the intangibles no batting average or pitching record ever can. It will tell me whether a ballplayer really loves the game, whether he's aggressive or not, and whether he has the desire to go with his ability. The face tells me if a hitter is stiff or relaxed, whether a pitcher is confident in his pitches or has doubts. It's all there right in front of me." To Lucadello, this was the prime spot in the ballpark. "I can see the front of the hitter (or his back if he's left-handed) so I know how he holds his hands, how he moves his feet, and how that bat crosses his body. "The pitcher is also right in front of me so I get the full view of his motion and immediately know what his ball does--whether it moves or is flat, whether his fast ball sinks or his curve hangs. I can also see the catcher and his actions and the front of the infielders." Lucadello never remained in one spot. He moved progressively, if possible, to seats behind first and third base down the foul line halfway to the outfield. And he also liked to sit beyond the outfield fence, at the points between the outfielders. It was Lucadello's belief that 87 percent of the game of baseball was played beneath the waist. There were more grounders than fly balls. The good pitchers always try to spot the ball below the waist and above the knees. Then there was also the necessary skills of running and footwork. He judged talent on four major factors: speed, throwing arm, hands, and ability with the bat. But he never made a move without first taking into consideration a player's background, character and commitment. Mike Schmidt, the all-time Phillies great now on his way to the Hall of Fame, is a case in point.

Lucadello first saw Schmidt play when he was a high school sophomore in Dayton, Ohio. Schmidt had weaknesses at the time. He was a woefully inconsistent hitter. That kept other scouts away. Lucadello, however, was certain he'd develop into a good ballplayer. For years he watched Schmidt without letting anyone know he was interested. Lucadello didn't want to alert the other scouts who always tried to learn who Lucadello was chasing down. He never even contacted Schmidt's high school coach or his parents. Lucadello knew that Schmidt was headed for Ohio University, which had a good program, and that he'd be able to get to him later. For the four years that Schmidt played at Ohio U, Lucadello kept in constant contact with his coach but never approached Schmidt. During this time, most scouts were leery of signing Schmidt. They thought he had bad knees. Both had been operated on while he was still in high school. However, Lucadello made it his business to know how hard Schmidt had worked in the weight room to bring those knees back to full strength. So in the end, it was Lucadello who convinced the Phillies front office that Schmidt was worth making their second-round draft choice, as well as spending the extra money it took to sign him. Lucadello was sitting on top of the world, basking in a lifetime of superior accomplishments in a tough field. Then the Phillies told him he was too old. He was being fired. Hanneman, his co-author, recalled how hard Lucadello still worked. "One time, in Tony's final season, he started the day out down in Kentucky at an American Legion game. He moved to Cincinnati and then drove up through Fostoria to Toledo and on to Detroit, all in the same day." Hanneman was working at his newspaper job in Findlay when he heard that Lucadello had been found shot. His body was discovered by some young players on the ballfield at Meadowlark Park over in Fostoria where Lucadello lived. "It must have happened at about three in the afternoon just before the kids arrived," Hanneman says. "At first, we couldn't understand who would want to shoot Tony. Everybody liked him. Then, the police found the gun and realized what happened. "Earlier that day, Tony brought a .32-caliber pistol with him to the store and bought some shells for it. He told the clerk he was carrying the weapon because he was driving into some scary territory and wanted protection. "But he took the gun down to that ballfield where he'd been a thousand times before. And he stood just down the line from home plate which he always said was his favorite place to watch a game. "He put the pistol in his mouth and fired." Lucadello died hours later in the hospital without regaining consciousness. Lucadello, who discovered ballplayers who became millionaires, never made more than $27,000 a year. "If someone asked me the key when I'm scouting, I'd say the face."

He started out in Kentucky at an American Legion game. He moved to Cincinnati, Fostoria, Toledo and on to Detroit, all in the same day.

GARBAGE IN? GARBAGE OUT!... v6-06-90

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Tom Fitzpatrick