Domingo Martinez, 1993 Topps, #810
“Scouting is professional baseball’s personalized way of renewing itself, from year to year and generation to generation. It reaches to the social roots of the game, to small towns and skinned infields, and to the psychological roots of the game, to seasonal optimism and persistent dreaming. The players’ dreams of glory are no more compelling than the scouts’ dreams of discovery, of seeing the crystal through the carbon, the future shining through the present.”
- Kevin Kerrane, Dollar Sign on the Muscle
Earlier this month the Baseball Hall of Fame opened Diamond Mines, an exhibit dedicated to celebrating and recognizing the contributions of scouts to baseball. Scouts live on little money, spend weeks and months on the road away from their families, and are unseen and anonymous to the general public. Their reward? Finding that diamond in the rough. Being the first to recognize the potential for greatness in what is essentially a child.
The history of the game is filled with stories of scouts hearing a special crack off a players bat. Or seeing them run speeds that get faster and faster with each re-telling. Or wandering into a field that could sometimes barely be called a diamond, to see a kid throwing a ball into a chain link fence and being able to see the potential to spin a curve six or seven years down the road.
For fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, one name has always been synonymous with scouting- Epifanio (Epy) Guerrero, who passed away yesterday. The man whose name rose above the anonymous cloud of “scout.” We all know the players. Tony Fernandez, George Bell, Carlos Delgado, Alfredo Griffin, and on and on and on. The scouting network Guerrero developed in the Dominican Republic and the rest of Latin America helped elevate an expansion team to a division champion in less than a decade.
And the stories behind their signings are just as legendary, like paying for Tony Fernandez to have knee surgery as he signed him to his pro contract. Or finding Sil Campusano sleeping on a dirt floor in a shack with a caved in roof after a hurricane. Guerrero gave Campusano a $3,500 signing bonus to put a roof on their home. Or the legend of riding into the remote hillside on a mule to get a father’s permission to sign a player.
As Tony Fernandez said “He’ll give a kid a tryout in the rain, in the street, with bare feet.”
Part of the reason I started this blog was that growing up baseball cards were a major part of how I learned about the game. As a seven year old I can remember seeing cards in Topps’ 1988 set that listed how the player was acquired at the bottom. As Tony Fernandez was my favourite player, I remember seeing Guerrero’s name and not understanding why he was important. But going through my collection, there is no non-player whose name appears on more of my cards than Epy Guerrero.
It may seem odd to use a card of Domingo Martinez, something of a prospect “bust”, but I loved the heading of Coming Attraction. With Guerrero fans could always believe there was another undiscovered talent on the way. Another superstar just waiting around the corner. In the days before prospect rankings were hotly debated topics and fans discussed signing restrictions on international talent, it seemed Epy Guerrero could produce a star player out of thin air. His impact on baseball in Canada and in Latin America can’t be overstated. In an anonymous profession, Epy Guerrero made the baseball world at large know his name and it will not be forgotten in this city for some time.