MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Gassaway remembered for tenacity, focus

Lauded Major League scout passes away at age 82

It was spring of 1998, and the Rangers had a handful of scouts in New England, scoping out high-school pitchers Jeff Juden and Scott Burrell. On the third day of the scouting expedition, scouting director Sandy Johnson had some advice for a newly hired area scout.

"You don't have to introduce Doug [Gassaway] to the other scouts," Johnson said. "They know him. That's why they aren't talking to him."

Point made.

Gassaway, who passed away Sunday at age 82, was an old-school scout. He was a loner. He was always looking for that undiscovered future big leaguer. And he wasn't about to share what he knew.

If Gassaway let you into his world, you found out he was a gracious, caring man. But if you were his competitor on the scouting trail, there was none fiercer.

The results speak for Gassaway's abilities. In 40-plus years of amateur scouting, he was key in signing more than 100 big league players, ranging from first-round Draft picks like John Russell and Brian Bohanon, to undrafted players like Jeff Stone, Chris Jones, Don Carman and Greg Jelks. Gassaway signed pitcher Jim Morris, the 34-year-old schoolteacher who pitched in the big leagues for the Rays in 1999 and 2000 and inspired the movie "The Rookie."

What kind of respect did Gassaway have in his native Texas? His name was on a parking spot at Disch Falk Field at the University of Texas, right next to where former Longhorns coach Cliff Gustafson parked.

Oh, and Gassaway pushed the Rangers to sign Ivan Rodriguez, among this year's inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Gassaway spotted 15-year-old Pudge at a Puerto Rican workout for outfielder Melvin Nieves.

"I think we had 11 or 13 guys at the tryout camp," said Johnson, who was in the dugout talking to Nieves at the time. "All of a sudden, big old Gasser is sprinting in from center field, and he's screaming [about Pudge throwing 93 mph to second base]. Why he was out there clocking catchers throwing to second base, nobody knows, but that was Gas.

"Then we threw him and hit him and worked him out. There were four other catchers there who signed for big money, but Gasser loved Pudge. When he turned 16, we signed him."

That was Gassaway, always looking for that other guy, like left-hander Chuck McElroy, an eighth-round pick out of Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas. Not many scouts had seen McElroy in high school, but Gassaway did.

McElroy, however, got the attention of other scouts during the state championship at the Astrodome. Gassaway, who was with the Phillies at the time, saw other scouts waiting outside the locker room to do background work on McElroy, so he decided to enter through a back door instead. He invited McElroy to go fishing and escorted him out through the center-field gate. The Phillies selected McElroy in the eighth round in that 1986 Draft.

That was Gassaway.

Gassaway had a brief playing career, appearing in only 27 games spread over three seasons in the Minor Leagues.

Gassaway, however, distinguished himself in a scouting career that began with the Giants in 1973 and ended with the Mets, from 2004-11. He also worked with the Phillies ('75-86), Rangers ('87-92), Cubs ('93-95), Rays ('98-00) and D-backs ('01-04).

"He loved getting the first-rounders, but he prided himself on finding those guys others didn't know about," said Johnson. "He wasn't a pack guy."

No, Gassaway was the guy who would be down the left- or right-field line, standing by himself, not wanting to be distracted. And when he was behind home plate, he was always in the last row of the scouts' section.

"Son," Gassaway once told a young writer, "never sit in front of the other scouts."

Why?

"Just watch what happens when they start chatting," said Gassaway.

Within minutes, a conversation broke out in the scouts' section, and guys were turning around to talk with the scouts sitting behind them.

"See?" said Gassaway. "They are taking their eyes off the field. You can't know what's going on if you aren't watching what's on the field. You aren't signing anybody sitting behind you."

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