4 wise men saw Surhoff among stars

July 08, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

He thanked Orioles fans, the team's public-relations and production staffs, the coaching staff, the trainers.

"If I missed anybody, I didn't mean to," B. J. Surhoff said. "I wanted to thank those people specifically for helping me get to this point."

Surhoff, 34, has had plenty of time to prepare his classy acceptance speech: It took him 13 seasons, 1,636 games and 5,872 at-bats to become an All-Star.

So many people were happy for him yesterday. Here are the reflections of four men who knew him way back when:

The scout: Milwaukee scouting director Ken Califano was the area scout assigned to Surhoff when the Brewers selected the North Carolina catcher with the No. 1 pick of the 1985 draft -- ahead of Will Clark (No. 2), Barry Larkin (No. 4), Barry Bonds (No. 6) and Rafael Palmeiro (No. 22).

"It's easy to say five years after the draft who the best player was," Califano said. "At the time, our biggest need was a left-handed hitting catcher. I think we made the right decision. Catching was a glaring weakness in the organization. B. J. is going to play 20 years in the big leagues. And he's getting better and better.

"He was an outstanding athlete. He played shortstop, caught and played third base in college, just as he did as a professional. When I saw him, I thought there was no question he was going to hit. He had great desire and makeup. The only thing he didn't show was the big-time power that he does now.

"He projected as a guy who would hit 12 to 15 home runs and drive in 75 to 85 runs. The last couple of years, he has had over 20 home runs with a chance to drive in over 100 runs -- especially this year [Surhoff's 69 RBIs are 23 shy of the career high he established last season].

"It's a little different park in Milwaukee -- not as much of a hit ter's park as Camden Yards. Milwaukee sometimes is a tough place to hit for power unless you're a guy like Gorman Thomas. Guys who were line-drive hitters didn't hit a lot of home runs there.

"He really deserves this [making the All-Star team]. He's never really gotten credit. He always played second fiddle to guys -- [Robin] Yount and [Paul] Molitor in Milwaukee, Cal [Ripken], Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar in Baltimore. He always has been overshadowed by those players."

The owner: Major-league commissioner Bud Selig owned the Brewers from 1970 to '98.

"It's a remarkable story," Selig said. "He's having a great year. He's as dedicated an athlete and player as I've known. I'm happy for him. He made it on merit.

"I remember when I first met him. The pick was controversial. There was Will Clark that year, Rafael Palmeiro, a few others. It was quite a year in every way. Our people were very high on B. J.

"He made it to the big leagues quickly. I remember the Brewers playing the Yankees in a huge game in '87, his rookie year. He laid down a drag bunt to second base and beat it out with the bases loaded to win a game for the Brewers. He was great. He was versatile. He played hurt. He always played hard.

"Frankly, I had hoped he would stay here. But I understood completely when he left [Surhoff's wife, Polly, has said that 75 percent of his decision to sign with the Orioles in 1996 was to secure better care for their son, Mason, who has a form of autism].

"I know he agonized over it, really agonized over it. I have a lot of respect for B. J. He had his priorities in life straight. There are more important things than whether I was happy or not if he stayed in Milwaukee.

"B. J. had a terrific career here. As it turns out, he was a damn good pick. Thirteen years later, he's a tremendous major-league baseball player."

The manager: Orioles farm director Tom Trebelhorn was Surhoff's manager with the Brewers from 1987 to '91.

"I always thought he was better than his batting average," Trebelhorn said. "He was one guy I let hit 3-0 every time. I told Davey Johnson when he came in to let the guy hit 3-0 -- he'll look for a pitch, focus on one pitch. If he gets it, he'll hammer it. And if he doesn't, he'll take it.

"I always thought he was a tremendously gifted offensive player, a great line-drive bat. He always had tremendous hand-eye coordination. He played only one full season in the minors and hit .299 in his first year in the major leagues.

"He's physically stronger now, and still has that great hand-eye coordination. With maturity, too, comes a better understanding of what he has to do to be successful. And to a certain extent, the pitching is not tough. Not to take anything away from B. J., but we've got to face some realities here. There are some astronomical things going on offensively in baseball.

"He's still impatient with himself. He's harder on himself than anyone. But with his experience, his energies are now focused a bit better. He can handle the fact that he's going to make some outs. When he was younger, he didn't like facing that reality."

The teammate: Paul Molitor, Surhoff's teammate with the Brewers from 1987 to '92, is now a television broadcaster with the Minnesota Twins.

"I always remember B. J., ever since he was a No. 1 pick, as being somebody very hungry to learn," Molitor said. "He always tried to learn how to play the game the right way. He's always been hard on himself. Probably he was too hard on himself when he was younger, but he matured.

"He has had an unbelievable first half on a team that has struggled. He's a very deserving All-Star."

Pub Date: 7/08/99

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