Roger Jongewaard, the Mariners longtime scouting director, passed away from a heart attack on Monday at the age of 76.
In the often cutthroat and back-biting world of Major League Baseball, Jongewaard was a gentlemen first, baseball scout second. He was beloved, and more importantly respected, by his co-workers, colleagues and adversaries.
"Roger was a wonderful man," Mariners President Chuck Armstrong said. "I don't think you'll find anybody who would say an unkind word about Roger Jongewaard. He was a kind man."
But beyond his gentle personality and polite manner was a brilliant baseball man with an eye for major-league talent.
It was Jongewaard, who patiently and persistently convinced former maligned Mariners owner George Argyros that the Mariners needed to select a young high school outfielder from Ohio named George Kenneth Griffey Jr. with the first overall pick of the 1987 draft. Argyros was convinced that the Mariners should select hard-throwing right-hander Mike Harkey out of Cal State Fullerton.
"George wanted Harkey, but Roger just kept telling him over and over that we needed to take Kenny," Armstrong said.
In 1993 when the Mariners again had the first pick overall, Jongewaard insisted that the Mariners take a high school shortstop named Alex Rodriguez out of Miami instead of hard-throwing right-hander Darren Dreifort out of Wichita State.
"You think of all guys that we drafted or signed, whether it was Ken or Alex or some of the other players along the way," Armstrong said.
Those players included Tino Martinez (1988), Jason Varitek (1994) and Jose Cruz Jr. (1995).
But it wasn't just the draft where Jongewaard made an impact. His impeccable eye for talent helped the Mariners land Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama when they were forced to trade Randy Johnson in 1998.
Before the Mariners, Jongewaard worked for the Tigers and while with the Mets, he scouted and signed Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell and Lenny Dykstra.
"He was probably the best talent evaluator I've ever been with," Armstrong said. "He was a scout's scout and true professional in every since of the word."
Jongewaard had a brief baseball career, signing with Milwaukee Brewers as a catcher at age 18. He toiled for five years in the minor leagues, playing briefly for the Seattle Rainiers in 1959.
After leaving baseball, he opened a restaurant "Jongewaard's Bake N' Broil" in the Long Beach area. It was during that time that he served as the catcher for the "Home Run Derby" TV show featuring Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew and other sluggers that was filmed at L.A.'s Wrigley Field. He returned to professional baseball as bullpen catcher for the Angels and later moved into scouting for the Texas Rangers, beginning his odyssey.
But for all that Jongewaard accomplished in the game, Armstrong said it never changed who he was as a person.
"There was no ego or pretentiousness," Armstrong said. "He was just solid -- a great man."
Jongewaard is survived by his wife, Carol, their five children and 12 grandchildren.
Mariner manager Eric Wedge has not made a decision on who will start Thursday's game against the Padres. It will be Kevin Millwood's turn in the rotation. But the veteran right-hander is still recovering from a mild groin strain. Wedge wouldn't rule out Millwood starting on Thursday, but did say the off-day on Monday gave him some "options" for the start. Because of that off-day, Wedge could move his starting rotation up a day and keep them on normal rest. … Mike Carp is battling some discomfort in his right shoulder, which he injured in Japan earlier this season. The shoulder has weakened Carp's throwing arm. … The Mariners had several of their top draft picks at Safeco Field on Tuesday to sign their professional contracts, including second-round pick, high school shortstop Joe DeCarlo, and third round pick, hard-throwing right-hander Edwin Diaz out of Puerto Rico.
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