Burrows bolt good news for Twins, bad news for 29 teams
By Bob Elliott
The earth did not move.
Yet, in a large way the foundation of Canadian baseball shifted this week.
Walt Burrows left Canada’s Major League Scouting Bureau to work for the Minnesota Twins.
Suddenly, it will be more difficult for a Canadian to sign a pro contract.
Burrows has worked for the Bureau since 1991. Every player drafted since then knows him first hand and everyone who signed owes him a thanks.
Serving all 30 teams meant if a player had a good outing or so much as a burp, Burrows sent a report to scouting departments of every club.
Rather than scouting for all teams the Brentwood Bay, B.C. resident will now scout for Twins general manager Terry Ryan.
Burrows follows in the strong Twins tradition of experienced scouts covering Canada: Howie Norsetter, who signed Justin Morneau, Jim Ridley, member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Mark Wilson, who scouted Joe Mauer and has covered Canada from his home in Lindstrom, Minn.
Teams with scouts in Canada won’t be hit as hard by the Burrows’ move, yet others who don’t have a man here, will be out of the loop.
The Toronto Blue Jays with scout Jamie Lehman lead the way when it came to drafting Canadians -- 47 selections the last 10 drafts -- followed by Milwaukee Brewers’ scout Jay Lapp and Cincinnati Reds’ Bill Byckowski.
Don Pries, then director of the MLB scouting bureau, had played infield in the Western International League from 1951-54 with the Victoria Athletics and the Victoria Tyees. Pries’ wife Pat called Lowell Hodges’ wife to ask for a suggestion on who was plugged into baseball on the west coast of Canada. The two had stayed in touch going back to the 1950s.
Burrows was the answer Hodges gave. Four years later Valcke headed west to run the triple-A Calgary Cannons.
Burrows remembers getting the call on a Thursday, yet Friday was a holiday in the U.S. and Monday was a holiday in Canada. Burrows drove to his office, faxed his application and received a phone call at 9:45 from Pries.
At the time Valcke was living in Windsor and the new Bureau chief was supposed to be based in Toronto or somewhere in Ontario due to the population.
Pries told Burrows “if you move your family then someone in your family won’t be unhappy, you won’t be happy, you won’t do a good job and then I’ll be unhappy.”
Burrows stayed on the west coast. His best day on the job with the Bureau?
Seeing the likes of Adam Loewen, Jeff Francis, Phillippe Aumont, Josh Naylor, Brett Lawrie, Kellin Deglan, Kevin Nicholson, Mike Soroka and Scott Thorman go in first round?
“My first day on the job,” said Burrows, who was hired away from J.E. Anderson and Associates surveyors by Tom Valcke head of the Bureau in 1991.
Valcke asked Burrows to name the top player in the province. Burrows’ answer was a Victoria infielder.
“I raved about his abilities, went on and on,” Burrows has told us more than once. “Tom said ‘Let’s go see him.’ I say: ‘Well, he just quit to play basketball.’ I was lucky I wasn’t fired on the spot.”
The player, Steve Nash played for Burrows’ brother Bob Burrows at Lambrick Park before shunning soccer and baseball for hoops.
Burrows told Nash he had a future as a major leaguer.
“Years later after college, I saw him in the airport on his way to the NBA draft,” Burrows said. “He reminded me what I’d said years earlier.”
The other teams with scouts in Canada include the Seattle Mariners (Wayne Norton), Philadelphia Phillies (Alex Agostino), New York Mets (Claude Pelletier); New York Yankees (Denis Boucher), San Diego Padres (Murray Zuk), San Francisco Giants (Ray Callari), Arizona Diamondbacks (Doug Mathieson), Oakland A’s (Matt Higginson), Detroit Tigers (Jim Swanson, Dale Tilleman), Baltimore Orioles (Chris Reitsma), Kansas City Royals (Cory Eckstein), Los Angeles Angels (Don Archer) and Boston Red Sox (Adam Stern).
“Walt has been a great ambassador for the Canadian players and represented Canada with class around the world, his departure leaves a big hole,” said one veteran scout.
Another called Burrows an “integral part of the fabric of Canadian baseball.” It didn’t matter if a player decided not to sign and had to decide between School A and School B. Burrows had time to listen.
Teams that will miss Burrows the most are the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies. They don’t have a man in country but scout the Canadian Junior Team on trips south.
At one time the Bureau had 15 part-time scouts (three each in B.C. Alberta, Ontario and Quebec) with others based in each province.
Now, part-time scouts Jason Chee-Aloy of Toronto, Montreal’s Jasmin Roy and Bob Smyth, of Ladysmith, B.C. will run the Bureau in 2016.
General managers gave the Bureau new duties at the November GMs meetings. Instead of evaluating players for the current draft, the GMs wanted the Bureau to concentrate on early identification, work on medical reports and examine international markets (Asia, Europe and Australia).
Those coast-to-coast Canadian tryout camps were players come out of corn fields for a look and scouts find someone “to dream on?”
Someone else will have to run them.
As former Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers scout Bob Engle once said "Walt Burrows might be the best area scout in baseball -- and his area is larger than any other scout covers."
Teams who drafted the most of the 305 Canadians selected in the past 10 years.
(Selections from 2006-2015)
47 _ Blue Jays
32 _ Brewers
23 _ Reds
15 _ Mariners
13 _ Cubs, Phillies
11 _ Mets, Yankees, Padres
10 _ Astros, Giants
9 _ Diamondbacks, Orioles, Twins, A’s
8 _ Tigers, Rangers
7 _ Pirates
6 _ Royals, Cardinals
5 _ Angels, Rays
4 _ Braves, White Sox, Marlins, Nationals.
3 _ Red Sox, Indians, Rockies, Dodgers,
_ Stats compiled by George Farelli