In Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe tells Ray that if he builds it (the field) they will come. The Cape Cod Baseball League might as well have a parallel quip, "if the scouts don't come, neither will the top talent." I had the great privilege recently of spending a little time with one of the great scouts, Mel Didier. Mel is currently with the Texas Rangers but also played important roles with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Montreal Expos, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I don't know of anyone who has been in more baseball parks throughout the world," Fred Claire, one-time GM of the Dodgers, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
I ran into Mr. Didier recently in Yakima, Washington, where his son, former major leaguer Bob Didier, was managing the Single-A Yakima Bears of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Over dinner late one night after a Bears game and then the next day at lunch, I listened to Didier tell captivating story after story about players and games I remembered from television or from books.
One story is how he stood in the Dodgers locker room prior to the 1988 World Series game with the Oakland A's. He looked over at the left-handed hitters who happened to be sitting together, and told them that if they are facing Dennis Eckersley with a 3-2 count they were guaranteed to see a back-door slider. We all know the legend that follows. The injured Kirk Gibson stepped in to pinch-hit. Sure enough, he faced Eckersley with a 3-2 count. Suddenly he backed out of the batters box and told Didier later that he could hear the old southerner's twang in his head, "look for the back-door slider."
In a new memoire, "Podnuh, Let Me Tell You a Story," Didiere tells the story of his rise to prominence in baseball, which began as part-time scout. Didier signed and developed some of the top talent in the game: Andre Dawson, Larry Parish, Steve Rogers, Dave Henderson, Ralph Garr and others.
I especially enjoyed Didier's account of his unlawful scouting mission to Cuba, where he was only able to escape with the assistance of none other than Fidel Castro.
We have some audio of Didier's story: