Epy Guerrero photo, 25th Anniversary Commemorative Book
I love the legendary stories of his Latin American signings.
The 15-year-old was as thin as a bat and about as smooth as sandpaper. But the scout saw something special in his hands, in his arms. So he carved an infield into a corner of the cow pasture outside his front door and hit the boy 300 grounders a day through the spring rainstorms and the oppressive summer heat. Three years later, that teenager, Alfredo Griffin, reached the major leagues, beginning an 18-year career in which he would win three World Series titles, a Gold Glove, the American League’s rookie-of-the-year Award and a spot on an All-Star team.
”I could see he had the tools of the play. I made him run 50 yards, and he was very fast. I made him throw. I made him take ground balls.” Guerrero followed Garcia around while he practiced for the soccer team. ”Sometimes I would skip a practice to work out for Epy,” says Garcia. Guerrero finally talked him into signing a baseball contract in February 1975. “It was the toughest sign I’ve ever had,” Guerrero says. “There was big trouble with the soccer federation. He was the best player on the team, and they were really mad. The president of the federation called me to his office and said, very upset, ‘How can you take my best player?’ “
The youngster, nicknamed Cabeza because his head was so large when he was a child, lived behind the fence with his 10 brothers and sisters in a tin-roofed house that was sometimes struck by home runs. He was the shoeless, shirtless tyke who would take as many ground balls as you had the patience to hit him—using, as a glove, a milk carton fashioned with string. The kid was so good he would have been a pro prospect, but he had bad knees and couldn’t run. Only Epy Guerrero dared say to him, “Your father is blessed, because when you grow up, I will sign you.” Epy, Toronto’s chief scout in Latin America, signed Tony to a pro contract in 1979, but not before arranging for surgery to remove painful bone chips from his knees and, oh, yes, clocking his time down the first-base line.
“I see him. I phone Pat. ‘We gotta sign him.’ Pat tells me he got no money. I say, ‘Find it.’ It gonna take $100,000 bonus or Atlanta gonna sign him. Pat comes down. He gotta ask owners for money outta next year’s budget. We sign him. We go to the airport, Atlanta guys are coming. We say, “Don’t bother. We signed him.’ They don’t believe us – till they go to Carlos’s house.”
The One That Got Away:
“I see this pitcher, sixteen, maybe five-nine, right-hander, skinny, fastball 88,” he says. “I wanna sign. Mel Queen comes. He says, ‘He’s already as good as he gonna be.” I’m saying, he good right now and we get him cheap. Mel Queen, he kill it. The Dodgers sign him: Pedro Martinez. ’Cuz of Mel Queen Toronto don’t get a Hall of Famer.”