Former Expos scouting director very generous helping scouts
By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
He has scouted in B.C., Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and Trois-Rivieres, Que.
He has looked at potential major-leaguers in Korea, Japan, Latin America and the 2004 Athens Olympics. He has assessed prospects in 49 of the 50 United States and figures he’s going to try and make it to North Dakota next year to complete the 50th state in what will be his 50th year in pro ball and what will be the year of his 75th birthday, Groundhog Day to be exact.
“An awful lot of great experiences,’’ the man says.
Quite the life for former Expos scouting director Gary Hughes, one of the most legendary of all scouts in all of baseball. Away from the game, Hughes is little known for his greatest virtues: kindness, loyalty and generosity. It’s something he doesn’t wish to talk about. He personally digs into his own pockets to help out those in need. Touching.
“I think the biggest thing is Gary’s loyalty. Loyalty is one of his greatest attributes,’’ said Cliff Bellone, Hughes’ best friend in the world. “We are both strong on that idea of loyalty. We grew up very close as youngsters. One of the things about Gary is just that from day one, you could tell he was so much more mature in a street sense than any of his compatriots. I’ve known this guy longer than anyone else on this planet. ‘’
Bellone and Hughes grew up in the northern California town of San Mateo, crossing paths in second grade at St. Matthew”s Grammar School. Bellone later graduated from Notre Dame in Indiana with a Doctorate in Micro Biology and is a retired professor from St. Louis University Medical School.
“Gary would voice his opinions to coaches, voice his opinions to the principal, to the sisters at school,’’ Bellone said. “He would stand up to them. He would stand up to coaches and tell them what they ought to do as a team.
“Not only is Gary loyal and kind but also generous. A major reason for his professional success in my opinion is that he is a great people person. He is a master at handling all kinds of personalities, and a master at bringing people together, as for example, the Serra High class of 1959.
“He rallied the 1959 class and held them together. Every spring training, every March, he will have reunions, email connections. That’s close to 60 years and the glue is really Gary Hughes. We’re like a band of brothers.’’
Yes, Hughes, son of Howard (no, not that one) and Bellone went to the famous, all-male Roman Catholic Junipero Serra high school in San Mateo, the same school attended by the likes of Jim Fregosi, Gregg Jefferies, Lynn Swann, Tom Brady, Barry Bonds and Tom Scott, who starred in the CFL as a five-time Grey Cup champion with the Edmonton Eskimos and later the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Then there was Class of 1960 infielder Tim Cullen, who spent some time with the Washington Senators, White Sox and Oakland Athletics.
“Fregosi was the star shortstop. Cullen played third base. Those two combined for over 30 years in the major leagues,’’ Hughes said. “I played left field, Tim and I were co-captains my senior year and I was all-Catholic Athletic League. We won the championship.’’
At San Jose State University, Hughes acquired a degree in physical education with a minor in English in 1952. He played one year of college baseball.
“My lack of ability caught up with me,’’ Hughes said, laughing.
“Gary was a good hitter and good fielder but he couldn’t run,’’ Bellone said.
With that school background and English minor, there’s no surprise Hughes is so eloquent and witty and sometimes outspoken like he was with coaches, principals and nuns.
When he took over the baseball program at Marin Catholic High School located across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, one that former Expo John Boccabella once attended a few years before Hughes was there, the school had never won before.
Hughes, also an English teacher at the school, then guided the team to three league championships and three Tournament of Champions, of which they won two. During much of his time at Marin, Hughes got into part-time scouting, first with the Giants and he quickly established a reputation. It was only fitting that he hook up with the Giants because he was born in San Francisco.
“I worked as a part-time scout for Eddie Montague Sr. with the Giants,’’ Hughes recalled. Ed Montague Jr. umpired in the majors for 30 years.
“Eddie signed Willie Mays so I come from a good tree. It was my first job in professional baseball. I was given credit for discovering Bob Knepper.’’
Lefty-throwing Robert Wesley Knepper would go on to pitch 15 seasons for the Giants and Houston Astros. Good find for Hughes in the mid-1970s.
“I also worked part-time for the New York Mets and very briefly for Seattle Mariners before going to work full-time for the New York Yankees in 1978,’’ Hughes said. “The Yankees had a full-time opening for an area scout. Jack Butterfield hired me as an area scout in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Jack was a great man and tragically left us way too soon.’’
Butterfield, the Yankees player development director and scouting director and father of former Blue Jays coach and current Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield , died Nov. 16, 1979 after his car collided with a street sweeper in Paramus, N.J.
So Hughes had garnered such a reputation that by the mid-1980s a fellow by the name of Murray Cook of Sackville, N.B., the Expos general manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame member, took notice and offered him the job of scouting director.
“When Murray called me, I thought he was asking me to recommend someone to be a scouting director but he was actually asking me to be scouting director,’’ Hughes recalled.
When Cook left the Expos and Bill Stoneman and then Dave Dombrowski became Expos GMs, Hughes stayed on board. It was really a grand time for the Expos until Hughes and Dombrowski left for the Marlins in 1991.
“We were were proud of that time in Montreal,’’ Hughes said. “Never in baseball history did this happen but 65 players were signed and developed into major-league players during that six-year period. Never before, never since. The owner Charles Bronfman, he was the guy who supported us. He said to go and do it.
“I told Charles after he put the team up for sale that if you stayed two more years, the team would be where you want the team to be (World Series) but he said people had been saying ‘two more years,’ for 20 years. If Charles was still there, the team would still be there. It took four years for the Expos to have the best record in baseball in 1994. Unfortunately, it was the only year there wasn’t a World Series. They would have done it in two years if Charles had stayed.
“We were very proud of the guys we signed and developed. Cliff Floyd, Rondell White, Kent Bottenfield, Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom, Kirk Rueter. We drafted Charles Johnson but he didn’t sign. Not all were drafted. We traded for Rex Hudler and he did well in Montreal. We were really proud of Rex.
“We had great scouts in Montreal, great development people like John Boles. It was a wonderful organization. Andy MacPhail asked me one time about my best experience. In four seconds, I said Montreal. I loved the time in Montreal. I won a World Series with the Marlins and two rings with Yankees, a fourth in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox but my most gratifying time was with the Expos.’’
Hughes has a world of love for the late Jim Fanning, the do-it-all executive with the Expos from 1968-1993. So much was the respect for each other that when Fanning died in April of this year, Hughes was part of a large group that attended Fanning’s Celebration of Life in London, Ont. Hughes came along with Bronfman, Stoneman, Cook and many others for a private gathering of “baseball-only’’ folks.
“He’s the greatest. He’s the best,’’ Boles said about Hughes. “We started off working together for Montreal and then we went to the Marlins. I used to call him the heart and soul of the organization, the heartbeat of the organization because he really was. The kids he brought in, it was amazing.
“He’s a great baseball guy and a great person. He’s a baseball lifer. He was a guy the players loved and the staff members loved. The younger and the older gravitated toward Gary.’’
After his eight-year tenure with the Marlins as assistant GM and scouting director ended, Hughes caught on in 1999 with the Colorado Rockies as an assistant to the general manager for four years. Bob Gebhard was the GM and he hired Hughes. But Gebhard was let go after Hughes’ first year on the job. Hughes and Dan O’Dowd were the finalists for Gebhard’s job but O’Dowd got it.
Hughes thought it would be best to leave the Rockies and caught on with the Cincinnati Reds.
“I had three years left on a contract with Colorado,’’ Hughes said. ‘’We worked something out. Colorado paid half of my salary and Cincinnati paid half. At a later date, Cincinnati assumed all of my salary.’’
Then in one of the best moves Hughes ever made came in 2002 when he was hired by Cubs GM Jim Hendry to be his special assistant. The tenure lasted nine years until Hendry was fired. When Hendry was let go, Hughes quit.
Hughes doesn’t like to say he has one best friend in baseball but that there are two: Hendry and the aforementioned Boles. The story about Hughes and Hendry dates to 1988 when Hendry was a coach at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Hughes and the Expos drafted Floyd out of Chicago but there was a twist: Floyd had signed a letter of intent to play college ball at Creighton and Floyd’s parents called Hendry for advice.
“I told Cliff’s parents that Cliff should not go to college and that he should take the Expos’ offer,’’ Hendry said.
A few years later with Hughes in Florida, Hendry was hired as a scout by the Marlins.
“I was hired at the winter meetings in 1991,’’ Hendry said. “I was flattered that they wanted me.’’
So full circle in 2002, Hendry remembered Hughes. Hendry had left the Marlins following the 1996 season to go and work for the Cubs.
“Gary helped me out with trades, free agent signings and many other things,’’ Hendry said. “He was very helpful to me as a new GM because I didn’t have the background for that role. We created that bond. He’s one of my best friends.’’
A year after leaving the Cubs, Hughes was hired as a scout by the Red Sox and he’s been with them ever since. He’s reunited with old buddy Dombrowski.
Along the way, Hughes has been helping out scouts, who have hit hard times. Very much so, not just on a personal basis out of his pocket but as a member of the board of directors of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. The four founders were former player agent Dennis Gilbert, former executive Roland Hemond, Dave Yoakim & Harry Minor.
This group was formed 13 years ago to aid indignant scouts who don’t have much job security or who are in a tough spot financially. Scouts don’t get enough attention or notice or respect.
“I’m just one member of a great board. We only help scouts who have found themselves in need,’’ Hughes said. “We are doing a very good job. Our main fund raiser is a dinner in Beverly Hills at the Beverley Hilton Hotel in January where well over a 1,000 people attend every year. We have it in the same room as the Golden Globes.
We’ve taken care of a lot of people. We’ve buried people, we’ve saved people from getting throw out on the street. We’ve helped people who are losing jobs, people who have no medical insurance, we pick up house payments.
“The greatest thing for us was the first banquet. We saw how much money we raised and that was exciting but was more exciting was actually writing a cheque for someone. It’s very gratifying. We showed up at one door and gave the widow of a young scout and his family a cheque for $20,000. Worst thing for scouts is to try to do something else than baseball. There are not that many scouting jobs in the game.’’
That’s where Hendry comes back into the equation.
“Gary doesn’t forget where he comes from,’’ said Hendry, who is a special assistant to Yankees GM Brian Cashman. “He’s taken tons of money out of his own pocket to help people. He would be a lot more wealthy if he wasn’t the generous man he is. There’s a box seat in heaven waiting for him, no doubt. He’s a great human being, not just in baseball but on this earth. He has a great feel for his contemporaries and his peers.’’
Today, Hughes lives in Aptos, Calif. with his wife Kathy on Monterey Peninsula. He has nine children from two marriages ranging in age from 44 to 57: Ann , Blaire, Michael, Sam, Katharine, Garie, Paul, Matthew and Marc. Michael is the visiting clubhouse manager for Marlins. Everyone calls him Rock. Sam is the national cross-checker for the Cubs.
Hughes has 20 grand-children and two great-grand kids. The name Michael Rock is in memory of a little brother of Gary Hughes in the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. The young man was killed in an automobile crash and Hughes had to identify his body.
As he heads toward 2016 and some milestones, Hughes says, “I’m playing the back nine.’’
He doesn’t say he’s retiring anytime soon. He plans to be in Montreal next April for spring training games involving the Blue Jays and Red Sox.
The awards should surely keep on coming for Hughes. In 2007, he was inducted into the Marin Catholic Hall of Fame and the same year, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the distinguished publication Baseball America. In 2009, he was voted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.
Yet, it was in 2000 when he received the shock of his life when Baseball America named him one of the top 10 scouts of the 20th century.
“I was most proud of that,’’ Hughes said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was most undeserving. The list is so impressive. Branch Rickey is on the list. Bobby Mattick is on the list. I was more than flattered.’’
Flattered he should be. As Boles said, “You’re doing a story on a tremendous person.’’