02/13/12 7:50 PM EST
Genovese important to many Giants greats
Scout integral in securing Bobby Bonds, Matthews, others
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
"I always felt that each day I got in the car, I'd find somebody of interest," said Genovese, who turns 90 on Feb. 22 and remains a scouting consultant for the Los Angeles Dodgers.The tales of the top black players he discovered were especially intriguing. Genovese unearthed many prospects while supervising an amateur team he called the "Giants Rookies," who traveled around Southern California to play other amateurs. Playing on one of Genovese's squads, Matthews received his first pair of baseball spikes -- as well as a positive influence he'll forever cherish. "I don't know if we have enough time to go over all the stuff that George Genovese has done, not just for me, but also for a lot of players, from George Foster to Dave Kingman," Matthews said. "He's a big reason why I was in the Major Leagues, to be quite frank. He'd stick by you and work out with you. He has a special place in my heart." One notable prospect Genovese encountered in his initial year as a scout was Bonds, who became the first player to exceed 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases five times. "His skills were crude," Genovese said. "But he was an athlete. He wasn't a good hitter at the time, but when he got a hold of the ball he hit it a country mile. Outstanding speed, very good arm, was a little late getting a jump on the ball."
But when Tom Sheehan, a fixture in the Giants' front office, traveled south to see Bonds, the future three-time All-Star played poorly, cooling the ardor of the Giants and other teams.Come August of 1964, the year before the First-Year Player Draft was instituted, Bonds remained unsigned. Giants scouting director Jack Schwarz asked Genovese if he still considered Bonds a prospect. "Yes, I do," Genovese replied. Schwarz relented and instructed Evo Pusich, the scout who followed Bonds, to sign him. Genovese's influence was particularly felt in 1968, as the Giants' drafting reflected. Every other team could have grabbed Maddox, the center fielder who hit .285 and won eight Gold Glove Awards during his 15-year career, and Foster. But both players, who were scouted heavily by Genovese, were left available for the Giants to select them in the second and third rounds, respectively, in the regular phase of the January Draft. Matthews was lightly regarded as a high school pitcher. But Genovese saw the makings of a hitter. San Francisco selected Matthews in the first round (17th overall) of the June Draft. That launched a distinguished career for Matthews, the 1973 NL Rookie of the Year who hit .281 from 1972-87. "George Genovese would draft players on ability and character," Matthews said. "He didn't care if you were raw or not. He could almost look in your eyes and tell whether you were going to be dedicated." Immersing himself in the game since boyhood forged Genovese's evaluative powers. He grew up in Staten Island, N.Y., an aspiring shortstop who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals out of a tryout camp in 1940. Then came World War II, prompting Genovese to spend 3 1/2 years in the Air Force. After returning to the Minors in 1946, Genovese earned a three-game cameo appearance with the Washington Senators in 1950. His next major move occurred in 1952, when Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Branch Rickey hired him to serve as player-manager of Batavia in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. "I learned a lot of baseball from that man," Genovese said. Urged by his brother, Giants scout Frank "Chick" Genovese, George joined the San Francisco organization to manage Artesia in the Class D Sophomore League in 1960. After the 1963 season, Schwarz asked Genovese to try scouting. Genovese soon embraced the role, largely because he identified with the hunger to excel within the prospects he met. "When I would talk to a boy, I could tell whether he really, really wanted to be a ballplayer," Genovese said. Recalling his entry into pro ball, Genovese said, "You talk about the 'Occupiers' sleeping in the parks today? We were sleeping in the park so we wouldn't miss the tryout." The difference is that members of the Occupy movement chant, "We are the 99 percent." It's clear, among baseball scouts, that Genovese belongs in the top 1 percent.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.