Scout's honor: Brewers promote Califano

John Steadman

January 13, 1993|By John Steadman

They were there together as teammates -- Eddie Murray, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez and Ken Califano -- assigned to Miami, then an Orioles farm club in the Florida State League. The first three pressed on to become major-league performers and reach the heights of baseball success.

There were All-Star recognitions, rich contracts, longevity and the amenities that went with it all. From the lowest rung on the minor-league ladder to the top.

And Califano? He met with an arm injury, underwent surgery and would, sad to recount, never be the same pitcher again. A prospect had been eliminated with a blown-out elbow, before having the chance to demonstrate his true ability. That's always regrettable.

But now things have taken a pleasing turn for Califano. The good fortune didn't fall out of the sky. It required hard work in an entirely different area of baseball pursuit. Patience, diligence and exceptional judgment were the characteristics that brought him attention.

Result: He's the new director of scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers, an important position that carries the authority to make personnel decisions for an entire organization. One of the men now working for him, Walter Youse, was responsible for giving him the opportunity that eventually led to his promotion.

"It was Walter who signed me for the Orioles in 1973," Califano said. "And then after I hurt my arm, he got me an opportunity in the California Angels' system. My throwing, after the operation, was more like that of a slinger than a pitcher. I didn't have the same arm action. After I quit pitching, it was Walter who groomed me for scouting. So he has been in strumental in giving me a lot of the early direction that has helped me immensely."

What specific lessons did he give that became ingrained in Califano's scouting philosophy?

"He was the perfect model for giving me the fundamentals," he said. "He always insisted it was essential to be entirely honest with the young players when you talked with them. And, just as vital, he said only to record in the scouting reports what your eyes told you -- not what someone else was saying or what you hoped to find in a prospect or wanted him to be."

That's rather basic but a solid approach to the business. Since 1979, the Milford Mill High School graduate, who spent a year at Essex Community College before signing with the Orioles, has been a full-time scout. He first served as an assistant to Youse and earned compliments that eventually led to numerous promotions. First, he was elevated to Northeast supervisor, then his area was extended to include the entire East Coast and, last year, the Brewers used him as a cross-checker in the evaluation of talent.

Now that he leaves Baltimore as his base of operations, the Brewers will continue to have Youse and Ron Rizzi, of Joppa, in the territory, assisted by Rick Waldt, who will be a part-time representative.

As for producing talent, it can become an encyclical proposition, as Maryland had eight players drafted last year, compared with none the year before.

"The so-called 'sleeper' is almost a thing of the past," Califano said. "With 28 teams scouting players, it means the odds are 28-to-1 you are going to get the choice you want. Occasionally, you may think you have a kid no other club knows about. Then you get shocked when you hear his name drafted on the fifth round by a rival organization."

There's no way to play out what might have happened to Califano, now 39, had he not felt that twinge in his left elbow after pitching a two-hitter for the Orioles' Miami affiliate in 1973.

"I remember just like it was yesterday," he recalled. "I had pitched the first game of a doubleheader. Mike Flanagan worked the second game and as he got ready to warm up he told me, 'Ken, you are a tough act to follow.' But he went out and won, too."

In Califano's next outing he knew the arm had been damaged. Still, he tried to fight his way through the pain and life in the minor leagues. Meanwhile, Murray, Flanagan and Martinez went on to establish themselves in the majors in a relatively short time. It just took longer for Califano. That's one way to explain it.

But, indeed, he went off in another direction, thanks again to Youse, who recognized his attitude and aptitude. Five candidates were interviewed for the Brewers' scouting directorship but Califano's record, plus personality, judgment and ability to communicate, made him the foremost choice. It's an appointment earned on merit.

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