64th spring for Didier, his all-time team
DUNEDIN, Fla. _ One more makes 64.
When super scout Mel Didier arrived from Arizona it marked his 64th spring.
Not 64 consecutive, but 64 nonetheless, which is a lot longer than Your Toronto Blue Jays have been around. He’s been in the game longer than the
Los Angeles Dodgers have been on the coast.
Signed by John McHale, later the president of the Montreal Expos, along with Bubba Phillips in the summer of 1948 at a Briggs Stadium tryout in Detroit, his first spring was in 1949 at Lakeland, Fla.
That spring the Cleveland Indians with Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner reported to camp in Tucson as 1948 World Series champs after beating the Boston Braves in six games.
Didier has been in camp ever — except 1967-68 coaching for the LSU Tigers football winning the Sugar Bowl and the Peach Bowl. He’s been a scouting director, head of player development or scouted for the Tigers, Milwaukee Braves, Atlanta Braves, Montreal Expos, the Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and now the Jays.
At 89 he’s more vibrant than many players he watches. Looking at young Jays at mini camp Wednesday at the facility named after his late friend Bobby Mattick, I asked him the best player he’d seen.
His answer was Joe DiMaggio and that led to his all-time team which is …
Left-hander: Sandy Koufax (1955-66).
Koufax grew up in Brooklyn and former GM Al Campanis told Didier how he was signed: the area scout came to Ebbet’s Field and told Campanis they had to act quick or they’d lose Koufax to the Braves. Campanis told the scout to bring the lefty to the park the next day.
“Al was impressed by Sandy’s hands, extra long fingers and long arms. Most scouts stood behind the pitcher, Al stood outside the batter’s box and about four feet back. Al said ‘OK turn it loose.’ At about 56 feet the ball looked like it was going into the dirt,” Didier said. “Then, the ball took off, and the catcher caught it at the knees. It was a hot day. Al was wearing short sleeves. Al said the hair on his arm stood up and he said ‘go get his daddy, we’ll sign him.’”
Right-hander: Nolan Ryan (1966-93).
“People talk about Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, and Feller, talk about Nolan’s won-loss record, but let me ask you,” said Didier adjusting in his seat as he asks away.
How many guys pitched seven no hitters like Nolan?
How many pitchers had 12 one-hitters like Nolan?
How many had 18 two-hitters like Nolan?
“The man could have pitched over 30 no hitters,” Didier said his voice raising. “I never saw Lefty Grove but Ryan the best since 1948.”
Ryan pitched the most no hitters, the most one-hitters and the most two-hitters in history.
Catcher: Johnny Bench (1967-83).
Didier said the former Cincinnati Reds catcher was the best at receiving, throwing, power, all-around catchability and leadership ever at the position.
“Those Big Red Machine teams had talent, but he was the best player, they climbed on his back,” said Didier.
First base: Stan Musial (1941-63).
Musial played mostly in the outfield (1,890 games) compared to first (1,016) but it’s Didier’s team and he can put players where ever he wants.
“Stan The Man was such a great all-round player, had he played in New York he would have been regarded one of the greatest, a big-time star, bigger than he is,” said Didier.
Second: Robbie Alomar (1988-2004).
Like legendary scouts Huey Alexander, Moose Johnson and Mattick, Didier picks the Blue Jays only Hall of Famer.
“If you needed a double, he’d hit a double, needed a homer he’d hit a homer, to bunt someone over, he’d bunt … maybe for a base hit,” said Didier. “He played like he loved it. Always. You never saw him dragging.”
Third base Brooks Robinson (1955-77).
“By far the best glove, some hit better but they didn’t play any better,” said Didier.
Shortstop: Luis Aparicio (1956-73).
“Some guys had that quick first step to one side or the other. He had it both directions, plus in and back, getting to balls others could not.”
Outfielders: DiMaggio (1936-51), Willie Mays (1951-73), Ted Williams(1939-60) and Hank Aaron (1954-76).
“DiMaggio was so graceful, he made so many great catches and made them all look effortless. When he was at Yankee Stadium it was 457 feet to left centre, 296 to right for left-handed hitters.
“Mays is a close second to the best ever. No one brought over-all excitement like he did. He was a slashing hitter and ran as well as anyone.
“Williams was the game’s best hitter, what numbers would he have had he not been in the service?
“And I love Aaron he was a great defender. He said could have been a 30-30 guy, but that wasn’t the way the game was played.”
Didier is back watching now … looking for someone to make His Team, the Toronto Blue Jays.