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Obituary

Baseball scout Epy Guerrero, the Blue Jays man in Latin America Add to ...

The baseball scout Epy Guerrero plucked from the sun-baked fields of Caribbean islands a bounteous crop of slick infielders, power-hitting outfielders and heat-throwing pitchers.

Mr. Guerrero, who has died at 71, delivered an all-star roster of players to the major leagues. For 17 years, he was chief Latin American scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, and it was his learned and savvy eye that brought the likes of George Bell, Kelvim Escobar and Carlos Delgado to the team.

Known for his work ethic and dedication, the scout was not above calling upon subterfuge and legerdemain when needed.

He hiked up mountainsides and rode donkeys to check out athletes, and is said to have once dressed as a soldier to slip a prospect out of Nicaragua.

One of his more famous capers involved a beanpole boy who showed soft hands in the field and a lashing stroke at the plate. The youth was so poor he could not afford a glove, so had fashioned a cardboard milk carton around his left hand to cushion the sting of sharp grounders. His prospects were dimmed by a deal-breaking – and very noticeable – flaw. He walked with a pronounced limp.

Mr. Guerrero sent the boy away for surgery to remove a bone chip in his right knee. For the first time since childhood, the boy walked and ran without a hobble. The scout signed him to the Blue Jays. “The other scouts thought I was crazy,” Mr. Guerrero told the Washington Post in 1986. “They didn’t know that the boy had had surgery, so they told me I had just signed a tullido, a cripple. But I knew better.” That boy was Tony Fernandez, who went on to become a keystone player for the Blue Jays, winning four consecutive Gold Glove Awards as the American League’s best fielding shortstop.

Mr. Guerrero was a legendary scout, even rating a profile in People magazine. He was responsible for signing 52 players who wound up playing in the major leagues, according to the scouts committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. In 2008, his scouting peers named him International Scout of the Year, only the second time such a citation had been made. That same year, he was inducted into the national sports hall of fame in his native Dominican Republic.

Despite the honours, Mr. Guerrero felt baseball did not sufficiently recognize the contributions of scouts.

“Without us, there is no professional baseball,” he told the Los Angeles Times four years ago. “Despite that, we’ve been ignored for so many years.”

A baseball scout’s unique skill comes in evaluating raw, unfinished talent and determining a player’s likely future performance. It is more educated guesswork than science, as if a wine connoisseur had to evaluate a vintage before it ferments.

That Mr. Guerrero had such success is all the more remarkable for his own failed career as a player.

Epifanio Obdulio Guerrero Abud was born in the capital city of Santo Domingo on Jan. 3, 1942, the second of six sons born to Epifanio Sr. and Patria Abud. In a poor land struggling under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the Guerrero family ran a grocery business. The many sons provided free labour, a job that included the hauling of sacks of sugar heavier than themselves.

“That’s why I am so strong,” Mr. Guerrero told People magazine. “When I’m 18, I work 8 to 6 in my father’s store. From 7 to 10 I go to school. I come home and sleep until 3, when I get up to march around in Trujillo’s army. Ever since, I only need four hours sleep.”

The brothers Guerrero played together on a team sponsored by the family business. In time, Epy was signed to the Milwaukee Braves system by John Mullen, the club’s farm director. Young Mr. Guerrero, a 5-foot-11, 165-pound utility player, spent parts of two seasons at the lowest level of the minor leagues, in Wellsville, N.Y., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He hit a miserable .188 in 32 games before returning to his homeland. (A younger brother, Mario, would later spend eight seasons in the majors.)

In 1967, Mr. Guerrero helped the Houston Astros sign a 16-year-old prospect from Santo Domingo whose speed, glove and swing would lead to comparisons with Willie Mays. The signing of César Cedeño led to the Astros hiring Mr. Guerrero as a scout. It also marked the start of a fruitful collaboration with baseball executive Pat Gillick, whom Mr. Guerrero would follow to jobs with the New York Yankees and, most successfully, the Blue Jays, including the World Series championship teams of 1992 and 1993.

Some star players, such as Mr. Fernandez, the all-star shortstop, came directly to the Blue Jays from Mr. Guerrero’s scouting. Others, such as the slugging outfielder George Bell, who was named American League Most Valuable Player in 1987, were scooped by the Jays in a draft on the scout’s recommendation after being made available by other teams.

Mr. Guerrero built an athletic complex on an isolated farm in his homeland where young players learned the fundamentals of the game away from the prying eyes of rival scouts. The academy provided a steady supply of baseball talent.

After Mr. Gillick left the Blue Jays, Mr. Guerrero had a falling-out with his successor, completing his career as a scout with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The man known in Latin America as “El supereschucha” (Superscout) died in Santo Domingo of kidney failure on May 23. He leaves his wife, Rosario (née Jiménez), five sons, five brothers, and his 102-year-old father.

The Blue Jays held a moment of silence for the scout before the first pitch of the game against the Baltimore Orioles played on the day of his death. Several Blue Jays players inscribed their caps with chalk reading, “R.I.P EPY.”

Follow on Twitter: @tomhawthorn

 

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