Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
On Twitter: AdamKilgoreWP and PostSports  |  Facebook  |  E-mail alerts: Sports and Redskins  |  RSS

"He's A Scout. And I Am A Scout." -- Phil Rizzo

LAKELAND, Fla., March 5 -- Phil Rizzo never had much to give, just his evaluation. He was a scout, a baseball lifer, and he took small paychecks to travel to far places and watch ballplayers with distant chances of getting someplace larger. He never took a vacation, not one. Sometimes, when scouting didn't pay enough, he worked other jobs, too. Even then, he watched baseball every night.

He played by the old school rules. Never wore jeans. Associated with the old-timers. Knew that honesty, brutal honesty, was the surest way to keep a job.

"I started before all the gimmicks," Phil said on Thursday. "No stopwatches. No speedguns. You used your guts. Your eyes. You saw the kid run. You saw him go through the paces."

Sometimes, the life grew into a lament -- almost. "I never earned more than $55,000," Phil said, "and that was only after 25 years. My first year, I worked for the Washington Senators. You ever heard of them? That job lasted one month. I got my paycheck, and then they asked for $2 back because of a meal. You're on the road constantly. You never see your family. You go into one-horse towns, go to the gas station and ask where the school is."

The hardest thing about scouting? Knowing.

"Being able to look at a guy and say, Yes, that is a major leaguer," Phil said.

Or, being able to look at a guy and say, No.

Twenty three years ago, Phil looked at his own son, Mike, and said "No." Phil gave Mike his evaluation, right there at the family kitchen table. Mike was 25. And for the first time, Mike Rizzo, named on Wednesday as the Washington Nationals' acting general manager, considered the alternatives to a big-league career.

Until that conversation, Mike viewed himself as a future major league player. He'd spent a few years in the California Angels' system, rising to Class AAA. He had soft hands, a decent bat. He couldn't run a lick, but he knew this. He knew this because Phil, from the moment Mike was old enough to stand it, had taken his son into the alleyway outside their house, drawn chalk lines 60 yards apart, and ordered him to run sprints.

Just the honest evaluation: Mike needed to get faster.

"It was one of the points of emphasis I needed to improve on to be a player," Mike said.

Said Phil: "He probably got slow [in his career] because I ran him to death."

At the kitchen table, Phil told Mike a few things. You're smart, he said. Too smart to waste away in the minors for the next 10 years. Though Mike was coming off a decent season, the Angels had still released him. Mike wanted to find another job and keep his chance alive.

"But he gave me the hard truth -- you're not a major league prospect," Mike said.

Mike took it to heart.

Briefly, with the University of Illinois, Mike became a coach. Then, with the White Sox, he became a scout. Following his dad's advice, he hung out with the old timers and didn't wear jeans. He worked every town in the Midwest and Southeast, and Mike kept rising; he didn't need his father to pull him along.

The dynamic between them evolved. Phil, during his career, worked for the Angels and White Sox and Brewers -- just to name a few. Mike parlayed his White Sox job into a gig with the Red Sox, where he worked as an area supervisor, international scout and big league advance scout. Sometimes, he wound up at the same stadiums as his dad. They were competitors.

If they saw a promising player? Each kept it a secret.

"Rivals... Enemies," Mike said. "Sometimes we'd sit together, but sometimes not. It was a very competitive situation. And he was so old-school, oh, he wouldn't give me information. He wouldn't help me out a bit. He let me sink or swim on my own."

It got easier. In 1998, Mike took a job with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and his work there fast-tracked his career. He became the team's scouting director, running meetings, telling others what to do. The Diamondbacks hired Phil, and the two prepared for the June amateur drafts by sitting down in their new stadium's executive conference room, talking about baseball just as they always had.

Phil earned his own reputation with the Diamondbacks. One day, while scouting the University of Kentucky, he spotted a pitcher named Brandon Webb. Phil liked Webb, and could feel it in his gut. He called Mike and asked if the team already had information about this right-handed pitcher.

It didn't.

"Well," Phil said, "we better get to know him."

Phil is 79 now, still working. This year, he'll do some informal scouting for the Nationals. He's still plugged in, and even before Mike got his promotion -- though he remains, by title, the assistant general manager, he will assume control of the big league team's day-to-day operations -- Phil heard the buzz that it might happen.

It made him nervous. He knew that Mike wanted to be a general manager, and didn't want to jinx it. So he didn't speak to his son. Usually, they talked on the phone every day. Not earlier this week.

"He wouldn't call me, no," Mike said.

"But you know what?" Phil said. "Everything my son is doing -- I don't know what is gonna come out of it, but every job, he's gone higher and higher and higher. The job he's doing, I put that in my heart."

By Chico Harlan  |  March 5, 2009; 5:57 PM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: No Relief
Next: Morning Reading


Chico: Nice piece.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

... oh man, does this ever bring back the memories. Real baseball people, doing real baseball stuff - scouting in small hick towns, talking about baseball at the kitchen table, eating dirt on your hot dog and drinking warm Coke while watching some farm kid rear back and throw a baseball through a board fence a hundred feet off the mark ... and ducking your head.

... I was only a little kid, but it was all playing out every summer all around me. Thanx be to God.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 5, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Nice one, Chico. Looks like this beat is growing on you.

Posted by: Juan-John | March 5, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Chico - your getting soft First the Kasten piece now this? Good read though. Viera is softening you up

Posted by: Anatsphan | March 5, 2009 6:30 PM | Report abuse

To Chico (or anyone in the blogosphere): What are the date(s) for all minor-league players to report to camp, and the first ML cut-down dates? March 15th?

Also, does anyone have a status on Matt Chico's progress back from surgery? If he's moving toward being game-ready, he'd make a very nice LR-MR candidate, imo.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse


You will definitely draw people to subsciptions with work like that. Good job, friend.


Posted by: kevincostello | March 5, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

This restores my faith in being a longtime baseball fan. There is still a place in this game where players are eyeballed by scouts and are not just soulless "Moneyball" statistics. Scouts are the lifeblood of the game in that they find the talent that gets refined by major league clubs. This is an instance of the tradition of the game being handed down through generations. A great read. Thanx.

Posted by: leetee1955 | March 5, 2009 6:41 PM | Report abuse

re-post from prior thread - looking for feedback on the additional comment.

Finally, we get to see a couple more STI pitchers in a game. JD Martin, not too good a first impression; J.Jones, on the other hand, posted decent numbers - I'd like to see him get one or two more appearances in with the big squad before passing judgement.
As an additional comment, did Manny REALLY have Guzman, C. at 3B today, or should that have been Guzman, Joel in the box score? Was anybody at the game that could comment on this?

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 6:21 PM

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

The wrap-up on says it was Joel, not Christain.

Posted by: sec307 | March 5, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Strasburg has 12K through 6IP

Posted by: Brian_ | March 5, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Thanks - I'd guessed as much, but was looking for some kind of conformation from a second source.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

15K through 7 for Strasburg

Posted by: Brian_ | March 5, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Yes. I remember the Washington Senators - both teams. I, like many Senator fan, remember the loss of both teams and the long time before the Nationals came to town.

I believe Mike Rizzo should be made the permanant general manager as soon as possible. Stan Kasten, Manny Acta, and Rizzo working in tandem, along with the Lerners, can begin the process of bringing the Nats off the bottom and crafting a team we Nat fans can be proud of.

During the absence of major league baseball in D.C., I became an Oriole fan - although that didn't happen overnight, even though the Orioles were doing things the right way - the Oriole Way. But when the Nats came to town, the Orioles became my second favorite team. Although I now live in Asheville, NC, I still root for both teams.

I believe it was probably time for Jim Bowden to go, and I believe that Mike Rizzo is the right man to be the new general manager. Go, Nats!

Posted by: sfr123 | March 5, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful piece, Chico. Thanks.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 5, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse


Nice to know that there's someone else on this blog who actually may have seen the Griffith Nats.

Posted by: leetee1955 | March 5, 2009 7:18 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of the 2nd reincarnation (Senators). I don't think that Jim French and Jim Hannah were major league prospects. But they did play. I'm not sure Dick Such, the converted outfielder, was a major league pitcher. Isn't he doing the same sort of thing as the Rizzo's now?

And we complain about this team? ~laughing~

Posted by: periculum | March 5, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Great piece!

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | March 5, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

In other news... Nationals' in the WBC...

Last night, Rivera threw a 1-2-3 inning for the save in Puerto Rico's win against TB.
In today's action, Dunn was 1 for 3, with a RS & a 3RBI HR in RF for team USA in a 9-6 win over PHI; Hanrahan - dnp. Orr went 1 for 3 with a SB in a 60 win over the NYY.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

oops - Orr's line should have read "1 for 3, with a SB in Canada's 6-0 win over the NYY".

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

another good one, thanks.

Posted by: longterm | March 5, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Were there really "prospects" back then (as we think of them now)? I seem to recall having a Topps ca.1965-66 Senators' rookies' BB card with Jim Hannah & ??? featured on it.
The minor leagues were so deep back then, it just seemed like players 'earned' their way to the big leagues, rather than being pushed by their draft position & signing bonus.

FWIW, I also remember having a Mays (#1 in the Topps' set that year), a Clemente & a Rose ROY card from the same year; still have the Koufax & Mantle.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

The 2nd player on the Senators' rookie card just hit me - Brant Alyea.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Adam Dunn had a stolen base? Wow. Probably because the big oaf only needs to take three steps to get there.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 5, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Oh wait. BinM you said Dunn had an RS. What's that?

Posted by: NatsNut | March 5, 2009 8:06 PM | Report abuse

@NatsNut = NN:
RS = Run Scored. SB = Stolen Base. No snark intended, just my shorthand for posting results.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Thanks. Darn. I wish he did have a stolen base. I think that would rank up there with Meat's triple in 07.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 5, 2009 8:14 PM | Report abuse

O.K., one more shot at "call the pitchers". Away game (vs. BAL) - best guess is: Cabrera, Detwiler, Towers, Atilano, Hinckley/Shell.

Posted by: BinM | March 5, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Suggest you use R for run instead of RS for run scored. Run scored is redundant. Is there ever a run that doesn't score?

Posted by: nunof1 | March 5, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Most of us High School and Div III college wannabe's just couldn't get past not getting that break. After watching the Youngs and now reading this great Chico piece I always looked at this type of work within the industry as second-rate stuff. Damn what a life it could have been.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | March 5, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Hey BinM,

... my first card was a Ryan Duren, back ... whenever. I recall it clearly showed his Coke-bottle glasses.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 5, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Not that Dunn's ever likely to pitch, but RS for Runs Scored vs. RA for Runs Allowed is a useful distinction.

Posted by: Hendo1 | March 5, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Yeah what a great piece, Chico. You seem to have a gift to make run of the mill ball stories, even day to day stuff - sound attractive.

How can you not love Phil Rizzo? Scouted for the SENATORS!! This is what a good organization looks like. Experience, communication, no egos.


Posted by: Brue | March 5, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

The player was Jim Hannan not Jim Hannah. He still lives in the Washington area. He had a very good season in 1969 (my favorite year).

Posted by: natsguy | March 5, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

Brant Alyea also had a good year in 1969 as a right handed platoon player in RF. They traded him to Cleveland in 1970 for Lenny Randle.

Posted by: natsguy | March 5, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Actually that trade was for Dave Nelson.

Posted by: natsguy | March 5, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

I to also saw the Senators at Griffith Stadium way back when. The reward for a cubscout paper drive. Sat way out in left field bleachers. Love the fact that the dad of Mike Rizzo was a scout. It runs in his blood, further stamping him as the man for the GM job.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 5, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

>The player was Jim Hannan

And now there's John Hannan Lannan

Posted by: Brue | March 5, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Perfectly Irish

Posted by: Brue | March 5, 2009 9:31 PM | Report abuse

I really was a prospect. I hit the first MLB pitch I ever saw out of the park in 1965!

Posted by: BrantAlyea | March 5, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget tomorrow's game is on Mr. Angelos' S**tty Network. Of course, since it's a home game for the O's, it'll probably be their announcers, so we won't get to see Rob Dibble make his debut. And, given what Chico wrote earlier, it will likely be a sub-B squad for the Nats, so it might not be pretty to watch...

Posted by: BGinVA | March 5, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Great piece Chico. And I too saw the Senators at Griffith. Not often cause when Dad went he most often took my brothers. Those were the days when girls weren't supposed to like sports. The other thing Dad did was go fishing and hunting with Walter Johnson!

Posted by: HALjr | March 5, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm heartbroken over this. A whole offseason of longing for a loogy, and he's gone - to St. Louis. Reyes - 2 years $3m.

Oh, mann.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | March 5, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

"They're paying him 5 million/yr to take care of his body and be ready to play. He did neither. You know where a lower back strain comes from? Being fat and out of shape. He doesn't have a structural defect like a slipped disc, he's hurt because he's out of shape. His fault. Nobody else's.

Posted by: Brue | March 5, 2009 8:33 AM "


You know, it's possible that you're not very good at your job. Aren't you lucky you don't have posters on the internet obsessing over it?

Posted by: Section506 | March 5, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

C'mon, 506. Dmitri is "unlucky" because he makes 5 million a year and is subjected to public criticism about his job???? I think that's a deal most people would take. And most would probably consider themselves lucky to get a deal like that.

Anyway, are you suggesting that it is somehow out of bounds for posters on the internet to be critical of Nats' players? I don't get it. These guys are public figures, being criticized comes with the territory.

* * * * *

You know, it's possible that you're not very good at your job. Aren't you lucky you don't have posters on the internet obsessing over it?

Posted by: Section506 | March 5, 2009 11:15 PM

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 5, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

We haven't gotten literary in a while ... so, for Shawn Hill, some Bob Kaufman

(All Those Ships That Never Sailed)
All those ships that never sailed
The ones with their seacocks open
That were scuttled in their stalls...
Today I bring them back
Huge and transitory
And let them sail

All those flowers that you never grew -
that you wanted to grow
The ones that were plowed under
ground in the mud -
Today I bring them back
And let you grow them

All those wars and truces
Dancing down these years -
All in three flag swept days
Rejected meaning of God -

My body once covered with beauty
Is now a museum of betrayal.

for the rest:

Posted by: CEvansJr | March 6, 2009 12:22 AM | Report abuse

>You know, it's possible that you're not very good at your job. Aren't you lucky you don't have posters on the internet obsessing over it?

That's why I got a Facebook account recently.

Posted by: Brue | March 6, 2009 12:34 AM | Report abuse

"That's why I got a Facebook account recently."

Hey, good for you. But I hate to burst your bubble here. You do know that they're not REALLY your friends, don't you?

Posted by: nunof1 | March 6, 2009 7:30 AM | Report abuse

There's criticism, CiL, and there's obsessing. And of late, we have all obsessed over Young's weight. Very few people did so when he was playing 140 games and hitting .320 and no slimmer. It seems disingenuous for us to become very upset over his weight now, when what we're really upset with is him not playing 140 games and hitting .320.

Posted by: Section506 | March 6, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

I'm upset with him for not reading the new post.

Posted by: Scooter_ | March 6, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of morning reading, thanks for your contribution, CE.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Harlan:

Excellent, informative article. Sent it on to a friend of mine--Lee Elia. As you may know Lee was a ss for White Sox and Cubs, 3rd base coach when the Phillies won the World Series, Manager of the Cubs and Phillies, hitting coach for Seattle under Lou Pinella, bench coach for Tampa Bay and Baltimore. He has also scouted for the Phillies, now doing some work for the Dodgers.

I believe he knows Phil Rizzo and I know he will enjoy the article.

Great job. Keep up the good work.


Posted by: robertjwww | March 12, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company