71-year old Hal Newhouser was pissed off.
The former Detroit Tigers’ pitcher couldn’t believe his advice was being ignored by his employers. If anyone knew a top notch baseball prospect when he saw one, Newhouser did. But the Houston Astros, for whom Newhouser was a scout in the early 1990s, ignored what “Prince Hal” told them. He told them to draft Derek Jeter with the #1 pick and pay him whatever he wanted. They didn’t, and instead the young infielder was drafted by the New York Yankees with the sixth pick. Jeter went on to become a superstar in pinstripes, winning five World Series titles.
Newhouser quit the Astros the day after the draft, ending a career of more than 50 years in professional baseball.
Scouts are the lifeblood of baseball. They scour the country (and the world) for talent which is pumped into the minor league system. The gems (and clunkers) they find make up the professional ranks of baseball, from their trained eyes come the first glimpses of greatness. Newhouser saw it in Jeter, and he saw it in many other young ballplayers too.
In a 17-year career, 15 of them spent in a Detroit uniform, Newhouser was a special pitcher. A tall left-hander, he had a good fastball and a devastating curveball, which Joe DiMaggio once called the best he’d ever seen. His 188 victories are the most in the live ball era by a pitcher prior to his 30th birthday. He won two MVP Awards during World War II and finished second in 1946, the first post-war season. His three-year win total of 80 has not been approached by any hurler in the last 67 years, and probably won’t ever be, considering a hurler would have to average 27 victories per. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
That was the same year Prince Hal told the Astros what they could do with their job. He was so disgusted by their failure to draft Jeter, a player that Newhouser had discovered and scouted in Kalamazoo, that he left the game to spend the rest of his life in retirement at his Michigan home, where he passed away in 1998.
But Jeter wasn’t the only talented ballplayer that Newhouser found. In 1959, Hal’s trained pitching eye spotted a tall, strong, right-handed high schooler in Ohio named Dean Chance. The Orioles followed Newhouser’s advice and signed him. Later, with the Angels, Chance won the Cy Young Award.
Newhouser knew pitching, and earlier, in 1957, he coaxed Baltimore into inking a Detroit Cooley High School standout named Milt Pappas. The big right-hander went on to become a two-time All-Star and win 209 games in the big leagues, two more than Prince Hal. Newhouser’s influence helped stock the Orioles’ organization with lively arms in the 1950s and early 1960s, which helped lead to their success over the next two decades. In 1961, Newhouser took a scouting job with the Cleveland Indians, and it was there that he advised his employers to snatch up Mike Marshall, a strong-armed right-hander from Adrian, Michigan. The Indians didn’t listen, but the Tigers did (Newhouser scouted for them later). Marshall won a Cy Young Award with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1974.
Earlier this month, Jeter announced that 2014 would be his 20th – and final – season. Though his team didn’t snatch up Jeter, The Yankee Captain is Newhouser’s greatest “get.” It’s been 22 years since Hal Newhouser said of him: “No one is worth $1 million dollars, but if one kid is worth that, it’s this kid.” For the Astros, who missed out on Jeter, Newhouser’s judgment was worth a lot more than that.