O's Stokoe deserves a merit badge for scouting of Hoiles

John Steadman

September 10, 1993|By John Steadman

It was when Chris Hoiles was playing first base and catching for a Detroit Tigers' farm club, Glens Falls in the Eastern League, that the Orioles heard about him via the recommendation of scout John Stokoe. He liked his potential with bat in hand, a quality that was easy to assess and made him an attractive acquisition -- if he could be had.

General manager Roland Hemond says only basic information on Hoiles was in the Orioles file that dated to when he was a free agent playing at Eastern Michigan University

"So we had to rely on what John Stokoe was saying," recalled Hemond. "He kept urging us to try to get Hoiles out of the Detroit system because, in his opinion, he had the chance to be a good hitter."

That's precisely the way it evolved. Hemond will not forget the machinations that preceded Hoiles coming here because he had been talking with Bill Lajoie, then the Tigers general manager, about closing a deal for Fred Lynn on Aug. 31, 1988. They were up against the clock and Larry Lucchino, the Orioles president, had to get the agent for Lynn to agree.

There was another problem. Lynn had to physically be with the Tigers by midnight or there was no trade. This would have eliminated the possibility of Lynn's moving on and, of course, all the intense Tigers-Orioles negotiations concerning Lynn would have been to no avail.

Meanwhile, Lajoie was suggesting the name of Ray Palacios, another catcher they had, but the Orioles weren't biting. They wanted Hoiles.

"We talked, back and forth, all that day," Hemond explained. "Stokoe, meanwhile, was taking his daughter to college. We told him to check with us each half-hour. So he pulled off the road every 25 or 30 miles to let us know where he was and to find out if we had been able to get Hoiles."

Finally, after Lynn gave approval that he would go to Detroit, a plane was chartered to get him to Chicago, where the Tigers were playing, in time to comply with the trade deadline.

"I got the strong impression Lajoie wanted to keep Hoiles, but we had discussed it for so long, and so much had to happen to clear the way for Lynn to go there, that he didn't want to back out," said Hemond.

"He let us have Hoiles with reluctance and two other pitchers [Robinson Garces and Cesar Mejia] for Lynn, but both of them only stayed in our minor-league system a short time, about a year. I admired Lajoie, a good baseball man, for showing so much character in our dealings."

Now, Lynn and all others involved in the trade, excluding Hoiles, are out of the game but the Orioles are cashing in on the dividend. The Orioles may have won the division a year ago had Hoiles been healthy. He broke his right wrist when clipped by a Tim Leary pitch and missed two months in the middle of the schedule. He returned for five weeks but had to give up on Sept. 26 and was operated on for problems related to the original injury.

This year, he had pulled a muscle in his side but, after three weeks on the disabled list, returned and has been hitting with consistency, plus power. Without Hoiles, the Orioles wouldn't be where they are, a mere half-game off the lead. He also is a definite future threat to surpass Gus Triandos' home run record for an Orioles catcher (30 home runs in 1958).

Hoiles, batting .305 and accounting for 23 homers so far, probably would have replaced Triandos as the catching leader in homers last year and this season, too, if he had been injury-free.

The throwing of Hoiles has progressed and his catching, especially blocking balls in the dirt, is exceptional. He may not remind you of Bill Freehan or Jim Hegan but he's strong, has size (6 feet, 213 pounds) and is in no way a defensive liability. Catchers, as manager Johnny Oates is well aware, can "kill" a team with how they handle pitchers.

Since rejoining the Orioles, he has been the catalyst. Of the last 14 games he's caught, the club is 10-4. Hoiles' swing is picture-smooth and the ball jumps off his bat. The 28-year-old was born in Bowling Green, Ohio, and likes the country way of living. He's proud to say he's a "farm boy" and would prefer to stay there, which tells about his stability.

Chris also realizes the role Stokoe and Hemond played in bringing him to the organization. For John Stokoe, who has labored long in the vineyards for the Orioles, the reward of self-satisfaction, the way Hoiles has produced, is all a good scout ever really wants.

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