Tracy Ringolsby

Q&A: Hughes dishes on multisport athletes

Q&A: Hughes dishes on multisport athletes

Boston scout Gary Hughes is watching the Tim Tebow situation from afar, but with interest. Hughes, after all, had a special interest in multisport athletes during his days as an amateur scout with the Yankees, and then as the scouting director for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins.

"I don't begrudge him anything," said Hughes. "It's a pretty good job if he can get one. Heck, I flat out wish I could play."

Hughes said his fascination with multisport athletes stemmed from watching Jim Fregosi's career after the two were high school teammates.

Hughes discussed some of his best-known Draft choices in this week's Q&A: You mentioned in the past that Jim Fregosi was an influence on your approach to evaluating players and scouting.

Hughes: Jim was a tremendous influence on me, because I'm with him all through high school and even a little bit before that, and saw what a tremendous athlete can do once he concentrates on one sport.

He was the shortstop on the baseball team, quarterback on the football team and still holds the broad jump record -- long jump now -- at the league meet. The school record was beaten 10 years later by another pretty good athlete, Lynn Swann. But you go to the WCAL track meet, it'll say the meet record: 1959, 23 feet, 8 inches, Jim Fregosi. I'm not saying he did that in his baseball uniform, but a lot of times he would go between innings of a game and broad jump. You drafted quite a few multisport stars, but obviously John Elway has gotten the most attention out of all the players. What about drafting John for the Yankees?

Hughes: That was as much [late Yankees owner] George Steinbrenner as anybody else. Back then, he was very enamored with the whole idea of John Elway. The thing that I remember is they had all the scouts and front-office people in for a meeting, and there was one of those speaker phones.

I was a third-year scout for the Yankees, and they put me in front of the squawk box to talk to George. First, I was thinking, "You did not have to take him in the second round." We did not have a first-round pick, and he would be our first pick. George, however, made a very good point. He said, "People are going to sleep on it." You would only have two rounds in the regular Draft on the first day, and then there was a secondary phase. George said, "People are going to wake up in the morning and say, 'Look at our board. This guy is by far the best guy on the board. Let's take a chance,' and he might not get to us." I thought that was a good point. Then George says, "If we take him, he's got to play baseball." I said, "Wait a minute. I like this job. I don't want to lose it. He's going to probably play football." George said, "OK. Duly noted." Elway had that taste in Rookie ball, and you thought he could be an impact player, didn't you?

Hughes: Without a question. It became kind of a popular thing, once he decided to play football, for some area scouts to say, "Well, he wasn't that good." It was like a scorned lover. He was. It's in Yankee Stadium, he's a power left-handed hitter, obviously great arm, he can run. He could do everything, including handle the pressure of New York. At Montreal, you took a shot at a basketball player in the first round, right?

Hughes: Delino DeShields was the only guy recruited by Rollie Massimino the year after they won the national championship at Villanova, and we promised [DeShields] that he could play basketball. He went to Rookie ball in Florida, and he decided if he was going to be any good at baseball, he's going to have to play just baseball. I went in a week later to see him, because I wanted to make sure people weren't trying to talk him into it. Delino said it was his idea.

We had signed him for under the market value because he was going to play basketball. The going price back then for a first-round Draft choice was $125,000, and we signed him for $75,000.

I'm leaving the room, and said, "Let me tell you something that'll serve you well for the rest of your life: 'Don't ever sign anything when you don't know what you're signing.'" I gave him back the papers that he'd just signed, and he looked up with a big smile on his face. I had changed the $75,000 to $125,000. That says a lot for the ownership of the Montreal Expos, who was Charles Bronfman at the time. That first year with the Marlins, 1992, you drafted two -- Erick Strickland, who was a high school senior and went to Nebraska to play basketball, and John Lynch?

Hughes: Strickland and Lynch were interesting in different ways. Strickland was a little guy, and he thought he'd play in the NBA. I said, "Well, OK." We took him in the 31st round, signed him and let him go to Nebraska. He was actually a model for the Marlins' uniforms when we started. We thought for sure that down the line, he'd be a good ballplayer, but he kept playing basketball at Nebraska, ended up signing with the Dallas Mavericks as an undrafted free agent and spent 10 years in the NBA. He was one of the best defensive players in the NBA at the time. And Lynch?

Hughes: Lynch was done playing football after his junior season. But then Dennis Green, who was the coach at Stanford, went to the Minnesota Vikings as the head coach. What did Stanford do? It brought back Bill Walsh, and John came up to me and said, "Hey, I told you I wasn't going to play again. I wasn't. I had no intention, but I always wanted to play for Bill Walsh."

Then, Walsh told everybody in the NFL how good [Lynch] was, and we never saw him again. John Lynch threw the first pitch in the history of the Florida Marlins organization at Erie, Pa.

I don't know, I mean, he had a good arm. But he probably made the right decision. But you didn't give up?

Hughes: We took a couple other quarterbacks who ended up playing in the NFL. The best one was Hines Ward. Ward was a high school kid out of Georgia and a tremendous athlete. He would have probably signed, but I watched him work out, and it wasn't there. This is a kid that had tremendous athletic ability, but I honestly couldn't see telling him not to go to college. And then there was Josh Booty, your No. 1 pick in 1994, the fifth player taken overall?

Hughes: He was our Opening Day third baseman in 1998. Bobby Bonilla was hurt. Jim Leyland loved him. He had great ability, but he always had it in the back of his mind that he wanted to play football, and he eventually quit to go to LSU after that season.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.