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Scout of the Year awards


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Tells you something that a scout with over 25 years of experience and another that recently retired won. That and no Marlins' scouts were acknowledged. :)





LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- They have been called the lifeblood of baseball, the backbone of the game. Yet ask most fans and it's a toss-up whether they could name any scouts off the top of their heads.

That's a shame, and one that the Scout of the Year Foundation hopes to rectify in the near future by the creation of a permanent exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


A centerpiece of that eventual exhibit doubtless will honor the many recipients over the past 23 years of the annual Scout of the Year awards. Four more veteran scouts received those awards Wednesday night in a packed ballroom at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel.


Tim Wilken, director of professional and amateur scouting for the Chicago Cubs; Bob Bishop of the Kansas City Royals; Ray Crone Sr. of the San Diego Padres; and Ralph Avila, senior adviser for player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers were chosen by their peers as the 2006 recipients.


Founded in 1984 by scouts Hugh Alexander, Tony Pacheco and Jim Russo, the Scout of the Year awards were created to bring much-deserved recognition to the profession of scouting and the folks involved in it.


Since then, the event has become one of the more eagerly anticipated, if not publicized, parties at the annual Winter Meetings.


"This is the part of the agenda we (the general managers) all look forward to," Padres GM Kevin Towers said as he introduced Crone. "It's probably the best part of the meetings."


Scouting Directors from each of the 30 Major League organizations submit the names of their active personnel who have accumulated at least 25 years of experience as full-time scouts, at which point their peers vote for a winner from the East (Wilken), Midwest (Crone) and West (Bishop).


This year, the foundation has added for the first time an International Scout of the Year to honor those who have contributed so much from a scouting standpoint outside the United States.


At 52, Wilken is the youngest scout to receive the honor. The Illinois native has been based out of Florida's Gulf Coast dating back to his days as a Minor League infielder/outfielder with the Toronto Blue Jays.


He became a scout in 1979 and remained in the Toronto system until 2003, working his way up to vice president of baseball operations but always keeping a hands-on approach in the scouting realm.


The second player he ever signed, the late Mike Sharperson, went on to Major League success as did many of the other players in whose signings he was instrumental, including Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells, Michael Young, Chris Carpenter and Jimmy Key.


Wilken joined the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2003 as scouting director and special assistant to the GM before joining the Cubs prior to the 2006 season.


Bishop, a Minor League pitcher and then catcher whose on-field stats included a 20-strikeout game in 1962 and a no-hitter in 1963, finished his playing career in 1971 and has been a scout ever since -- with the Mets, Dodgers and, since 1994, the Royals.


Bishop announced his retirement this fall after 35 years to spend more time with his wife and family.


Among the key signings for which he's been responsible were the 1992 National League Rookie of the Year Eric Karros.


Crone, like Bishop, was a Minor League pitcher for the Braves, Tigers and Giants before retiring in 1960. He joined the scouting ranks in 1971 with the Expos before moving to the Orioles, with whom he spent more than 20 years as an area scout, signing pitchers Ben McDonald and Arthur Rhodes, among others.


Some of his best signings were not limited to players, though. He was with the Orioles, scouting a game in Texas, when he chatted with and hired a young man named Grady Little to join the Baltimore organization as a Minor League manager.


The Cuban-born Avila has spent his entire pro baseball career as part of the Dodgers organization, dating back to 1967, and is a large part of the reason that organization is considered to have been at the forefront of international player development.


He helped develop the club's now-legendary training facilities in the Dominican Republic and was instrumental in signing players like Pedro Martinez. Avila became a full-time scout in Latin America in 1971. His son, Al, is vice president/assistant to the GM for the American League champion Detroit Tigers.


Dodgers GM Ned Colletti introduced Avila, calling him "a legend," "a true pioneer" and "a walking history of Latin America."


In 1986, Roberta Mazur assumed the reins of executive director of the Scout of the Year Foundation and has pretty much been a one-person show when it comes not only to the awards ceremony but achieving the organization's other goals.


Mazur has spearheaded a quest to have a permanent scouting exhibit added to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for several years. And while it still hasn't been finalized, the funding is finally in place and awaiting the next step.


"It's planned, we have the space reserved for it and we have over $150,000 in funding that's just sitting in the bank waiting for them to do something," she said. "They've just had other projects ahead of it."


Mazur is not the only one anxiously awaiting a spot in the Hall of Fame for scouts of the past, present and future.


At the Minor League Awards luncheon held Monday at the Winter Meetings, Chicago White Sox executive Roland Hemond also expressed his desire for a permanent exhibit to honor the scouting profession.


Mazur has singled out Hemond, along with Gary Hughes of the Cubs, as the key individuals who have supported the organization over the years.

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