One of the men most responsible for scouting, identifying and signing some of the Seattle Mariners’ most talented players will never see another game.
Roger Jongewaard, the Mariners’ longtime scouting director, passed away from a heart attack Monday at age 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 important, respected by his co-workers, colleagues and adversaries.
“Roger was a wonderful man,” said Mariners president Chuck Armstrong. “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 told then-maligned Mariners owner George Argyros that the team needed to select a 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.
In 1993 when Seattle 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 to Houston in 1998.
Jongewaard also worked for the Tigers and the Mets, where 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 the 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 in the Long Beach, Calif., area. It was during that time that he served as the catcher for the “Home Run Derby” TV show that featured Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew and other sluggers and was filmed at L.A.’s Wrigley Field.
Jongewaard returned to professional baseball as bullpen catcher for the Angels and later moved into scouting for the Texas Rangers, beginning his odyssey.
Jongewaard is survived by his wife, Carol, five children and 12 grandchildren.
Mariners 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 recovering from a mild groin strain. Wedge wouldn’t rule out Millwood 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 a little. The Mariners had several of their top draft picks at Safeco Field on Tuesday to sign their professional contracts, including second-round pick Joe DeCarlo, a high school shortstop, and third-rounder Edwin Diaz, a hard-throwing right-hander out of Puerto Rico.
Right-hander Hector Noesi (2-6, 5.99 ERA) will get the start today for the Mariners. San Diego will start right-hander Jason Marquis (0-1, 3.00). First pitch is 7:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM.firstname.lastname@example.org