Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Scout's Honor

While browsing hot MLB Winter Meetings rumors on my Twitter feed tonight, I came across this note from SI's Jon Heyman:

"Legendary Twins scout from New York Herb Stein has died. Signed Rod Carew, Frank Viola, many others. Great man.."  

Herb Stein was 92.

He had an incredible run.  Herb was hired as an amateur scout by the Washington Senators in 1952.  He would spend 42 years as a scout for the Senators and Minnesota Twins before being unceremoniously kicked to the curb by Terry Ryan and Mike Radcliff in 1995.

The most famous of his 100+ signings happened in 1964, when he and fellow scout Monroe Katz discovered a 17 year old Panamanian kid playing sandlot ball in the Bronx.  Legend has it that Rodney Cline Carew was given a top-secret workout by the Twins at Yankee Stadium.  After being awed by his already sweet swing, Twins brass whisked him away before the Yankees noticed him.  Upon graduating high school, Stein signed Carew to a pro contract.  Less than three years later, the future Hall of Famer was in the big leagues to stay.

Stein struck gold again in 1981, when he convinced the Twins to spend their second round draft pick on a lefty from St. John's University.  Six years later, Frank Viola was the World Series MVP.  The year after that, he was the American League Cy Young Award winner.

(Fun Fact: On August 4, 1985, Carew notched career hit number 3,000.  The pitcher who gave it up: Viola.)

In all, eight of the players signed by Stein made it to the big leagues.  Among them were 1991 World Series hero Gene Larkin, 1991 World Series third baseman Scott Leius, and longtime Twins coach Scott Ullger.

For all his success, there were disappointments along the way.  After all, there's only so much a scout can do.  In 1991, the Twins held the third overall pick in the June amateur draft.  Stein was extremely vocal in his opinion that the Twins should use that pick on a talented, skinny New York kid who spoke very little English and had not graduated high school.  The Twins decided to go with the "can't miss" Stanford-educated power hitter.

From Becoming Manny by Jean Rhodes and Shawn Boburg:
Stein pushed the Twins to take Manny Ramirez with their third overall pick.  But he was rebuffed by his bosses - a source of bitterness even today.  The Twins chose Stanford first baseman David McCarty, who wound up hitting 36 career home runs and batting .242 in eleven major league seasons of part-time duty.

The 1994-1995 strike left a broad and grotesque stain across all aspects of Major League Baseball.  No doubt, uncertain front offices were feeling the heat.  That is not an excuse for the way the Twins regime handled Herb Stein's dismissal.  Early 1995 was an especially trying time for the Twins, though.  Following the 1991 World Championship and a 90-win, second place finish in 1992, the club fell on hard times in 1993.  They finished 71-91 that year, fifth place in the AL Western Division.  They were sitting in fourth place in the brand new, five-team AL Central Division when the strike ended the season.  Then things started falling apart for real.  Kent Hrbek abruptly retired.  Two-time World Series architect General Manager Andy MacPhail left to become President and CEO of the Chicago Cubs.  Scouting Director and Director of Player Personnel Terry Ryan was promoted to MacPhail's position.  During this time of economic uncertainty across baseball, and given the dwindling interest in and unfriendly stadium revenue situation of the Twins, the first order of business was to cut organizational payroll.

Stein wasn't the only guy to find himself on the chopping block, but he was probably the highest profile.  New Scouting Director Radcliff (now the team's Vice President of Player Personnel) gave the 77 year old Stein his figurative walking papers on November 10, 1994, in the form of a brief, emotionless mid-afternoon phone call.  Stein claimed to have tried contacting Carl Pohlad to beg for his job, but never received a response from the team owner.  When inquiring about a possible severance package from the job he held for four decades, Radcliff allegedly told him, "Nobody ever paid to see a scout.  No scout has ever gotten a severance package and no precedent will be started now."  In an interview with the New York Daily News in February of 1995, Stein said, "I've always been a Twin.  I devoted my life to the club.  I can't believe they would do this to me."

I don't know if there ever was reconciliation.  The decade of the '90s represented a giant, pus-filled cold sore for all of baseball, and it was easily the darkest period in Twins history.  The Twins have done a remarkable job - especially in the inaugural year of Target Field last season - of bringing back and honoring figures from their past.

I, for one, hope they do something special in 2011 to preserve the memory of one of their great baseball men.

Godspeed, Herb Stein.

1 comment:

  1. Daniel, thanks for the wonderful words regarding my father. It is true that some of his accomplishments were not appreciated as they should have, but a good number were. It is great to know that he was able to touch many people during his long life, especially those he may have never met. If there is anything you and others can do in Minnesota to promote and preserve his legacy it would be greatly appreciated by my family. Thanks again.