Gammons: Stephenson was one of a kind

Gammons: Stephenson was one of a kind

Sunday was a very difficult day, for anyone who knew Jerry Stephenson, for Tommy Lasorda and Rico Petrocelli and Orel Hershiser and thousands of people who laughed with him and, at the same time, knew he was one of the best scouts who ever lived.

There was a time when the Red Sox thought he was the second coming of Dizzy Dean. He threw gas. At 19 years old, he started Boston's third game of the 1963 season. "Good arm, bad head," he used to say, giving his self-report, but while he may have finished 8-19 with a 5.70 ERA over parts of seven seasons with the Red Sox, Pilots and Dodgers, he was one of a kind.

He is believed to be the first Major League player with a hair dryer. In the Minors, he died his hair green, talked to lamp posts and once got on a public bus in Reading, Pa., and offered a quarter to anyone who knew who he was.

He had his place in Red Sox lore for his contribution to The Impossible Dream of 1967. He saved a memorable 13-12 win on a Saturday, and a few weeks later beat the rival White Sox 6-2 to put Boston in first place.

He is in the middle of a three-generation family of great scouts. His father Joe was a legend, signing Fred Lynn and Ken Brett (who he said was the best player he ever scouted -- but as a center fielder) and hundreds of others. His son Brian, once a second-round Draft pick of the Cubs, is a regional cross-checker for the Dodgers and a close aide to assistant general manager Logan White.

He was one of the funniest people who ever lived, forever loyal to those of us like Lasorda and Dennis Gilbert, Charlie Hough and Gary Sutherland, who were his friends. I have never known anyone better at breaking down a pitcher, or what a hitter liked to hit, and every spring he'd have his names for me.

Brian called me Sunday afternoon, and he told me something that will remain with me the rest of my life. "You were one of his very closest friends," Brian told me, and having held Yvonne, his widow, and Brian and his daughter Shannon as friends for 30 years, I know how fortunate I am to hear those words.

When news hit the Red Sox Draft room Saturday, everyone dispersed. The first player to ever have a hair dryer in a Major League clubhouse died with an endless circle or friends who thought Jerry Stephenson was one of the most unforgettable persons they'd ever known.

Peter Gammons is a columnist for and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.