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Rain, former Angels scout Ray Scarborough told The New Yorkers Roger Angell back in 1976, is "the number-one occupational hazard of this profession." Angells story about the toil of the most anonymous men in baseball later became the source material for the Albert Brooks movie The Scout.
Nearly 30 years after Scarborough let The New Yorker into his world, the Angels have gone through two name changes, Angell has pretty much retired from baseball writing, and scouts have been displaced by computer geeks obsessed with arcane statistics. So its fitting that its raining outside the Beverly Hilton this Saturday night, because as 1,000 people fill a chandeliered ballroom at the hotel for the second annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner, scouting itself has become a hazardous occupation one with little security and a lot of risk.
As guests filter into the ballroom, we are deluged with requests to "bid generously" for silent-auction items. And there is a lot of memorabilia available for bidding, the proceeds of which will go to support former scouts in need. A Mickey Mantle and Willie Mayssigned collage has received a $1,500 bid; Barry Bonds and Vlad Guerrero baseballs are going for $300.
This may be a baseball-scout charity auction, but there are also mementos from boxing, football, hockey and basketball. With only minutes before the silent auction ends, no one has bid on a Lakers basketball, nor on a Kobe Bryant lithograph, nor on signed jerseys from either Shaq or Kobe. Michael Jordans shirt has received several pledges.
Tommy Lasorda, who guided the Dodgers to two World Series titles as manager and still scouts and evaluates players for the club, is tonights master of ceremonies. He steps to the lectern wearing a red tie that does little to conceal the exSlim Fast pitchmans fabled bulge and launches into his best Don Rickles routine, even hectoring the white-haired gent, who introduced Lasorda, with a Catskills-style joke about the mans sex life.
After dinner, holding his hand up to his face to shield himself from a spotlight, Lasorda says, "Could you cut that light down? It looks like a train coming at me." Then he tells us about tonights special guests.
"You know whos here? That fireballer, Curt Schiller," Lasorda says, referring to Red Sox hero Curt Schilling, who will be honored as player of the year. Reading from a script, Lasorda misreads Bret Boones name, calling the Mariners second baseman "Bobby Boone." Without looking up from the text and without inflecting his voice, he reads, "Im excited to share this with you," then tells us of the $300,000 that has been raised in the past year to support the scouts, who he says face their biggest layoff ever this year.
"This room is rockin tonight. Rockin," beams Lasorda, who mentions that the sale of Grady Little bobble-head dolls netted $35,000 last summer for the organization. Maybe Lasorda will sell some of his bobble-heads. I own one.
The master of ceremonies then calls to the podium Tom Arnold, actor and host of The Best Damn Sports Show Period. "Welcome to Beverly Hills, home of the $5 diet Coca-Cola," says Arnold, and I have to agree with him after forking over $9 for validated parking. What would non-validated parking cost? I wonder.
Pronouncing asterisk as if it ended in ck, Arnold talks about the steroid controversy in baseball and how all of us, not just ballplayers, have made mistakes. He cites his first marriage, "a big asterick," then mentions Arnold Schwarzenegger as a possible savior for the sport, before adding that the Governator "may not be the right guy to handle steroids." When he gets around to the subject at hand, Arnold says that he always wanted to be a scout so he could "have credit taken away by general managers and agents."
Finally, as Arnold leaves the stage, he says, "Lets keep it rolling, Tommy. Were on a roll here."
Lasorda, who was once interim general manager of the Dodgers, looks at his script and remarks, "It says here, Thanks Tommy. "
On the way out, I spot a modest-size, white-haired black man. He is dressed in a beige suit and still looks quite fit, like an old samurai warrior.
"Maury Wills," I say, sticking out my hand. He shakes it a bit reluctantly. "MVP 1962, right?" His eyes crinkle as he smiles. I tell him that my wife, who stands next to me, is a Rickey Henderson fan. "This is the man who taught them all how to steal bases," I say.