Scouts leave mark on Hall of Fame

Scouts leave mark on Hall of Fame

This Sunday will be a special day for George Digby and Bill Harper when the greatest living players in baseball gather at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The chances are you probably don't know of Digby and Harper even if you are an avid baseball fan.

As a fan of the game, you would know the names of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg. These two great players will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Digby and Harper are the longtime scouts who signed the two new inductees.

The start of the professional careers of Boggs and Sandberg reflect what good scouting is all about.

And when you talk about good scouting and dedicated people, it is easy to point to the lifetime work of Digby and Harper.

Boggs was a 17-year-old high school shortstop in Tampa, Fla., when Digby first spotted him while serving as a scout for the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox had reports that questioned Boggs' ability to be a Major League player, but Digby fought hard for the team to draft the young man with the smooth swing.

"We drafted him in the seventh round. I signed him for $7,500 and a college scholarship," recalled Digby, now 87 years old and living in Nashville, Tenn.

"One of the things that George Digby always stressed to young scouts was that if you see a player you like, you have to stand up and be counted," recalled Mel Didier of the Texas Rangers.

Didier is one of many scouts who turned to Digby for guidance as he started his own career in the scouting profession.

"I grew up in New Orleans and Digby was a legend in the area as a player and then as a coach and a scout," said Didier.

The Red Sox spotted Digby's dedication and talent as a scout and he joined the team in 1944. He served the team as a scout for 50 years and as a consultant for another 10 years.

Digby will turn 88 next month and he says his thoughts will be about Boggs on Sunday, even though the veteran scout will not be able to be in attendance at Cooperstown.

"The travel to Cooperstown is a little too tough for me, but it's a special day when you get a guy in the Hall of Fame," said Digby.

After more than a half-century in scouting, Digby still follows the game and offers this advice to today's scouts: "You have to stay with it, day in and day out. You can't be out playing golf if you want to scout. You have to be dedicated to your job."

Harper, at age 80, remains a part-time scout for the Philadelphia Phillies after serving in a full-time capacity for 30 years.

It was on Harper's recommendation in 1978 that the Phillies drafted Sandberg, taking him in the 20th round out of a high school in Spokane, Wash., when most teams felt the all-around athlete would accept a football scholarship to Washington State as a quarterback.

Harper was so convinced that Sandberg had the ability to play in the Major Leagues that he signed him to a bonus of $25,000. He then faced the tough task of calling Phillie scouting director Dallas Green to give him the financial details.

Hearing the amount of the bonus, Green snapped, "He'd better be able to play."

As it turned out, it became obvious to all that Sandberg could play and when Green moved to the Chicago Cubs as a general manager, one of his first deals was to acquire Sandberg from the Phillies.

Harper will make his first trip to Cooperstown to be present for the induction ceremonies on Sunday.

"Bill Harper not only has been a great scout, but he is one of the finest people in the game," said Ron Hopkins, now the scouting director of the Texas Rangers and someone who looked to Harper as a role model while growing up in Seattle.

Harper, like Digby, is strong in his belief that a solid work ethic is the key to good scouting.

"You can't take one look at a player and make a decision," said Harper. "You have to follow the player and see him as often as possible. I don't feel you can be a performance scout. You need to see the players in good times and bad times. It's easy to handle success. It's handling the tough times that will determine the fate of a player."

When the ceremonies are held at Cooperstown on Sunday, 52 Hall of Fame members will be present to welcome Boggs and Sandberg to the elite group.

You know the names and the records and all of the stories about the Hall of Fame players. They will be saluted and cheered throughout the weekend.

There currently is no exhibit at Cooperstown honoring scouts, but there is one in the planning stages.

As someone who was fortunate to work for a Major League team for 30 years and to see the dedication of so many scouts, I look forward to the day when the Hall of Fame salutes the scouting profession in a suitable manner.

And when that day comes, don't be surprised to see the names of George Digby and Bill Harper.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and General Manager. His book "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.