Elliott: R. I. P. Wayne Norton
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
What is a scout anyway?
“All they do is sit around and watch ball games,” the late Marge Schott, former owner of the Cincinnati Reds once said.
Wayne Norton was a scout.
Forced to use a walker, we watched him leave the sidewalk in the right field parking lot and head down, push all ahead through the long grass at Etobicoke’s Connorvale Park. He must have travelled 400 feet pushing his walker, getting his wheels straight all the way down the long grass in foul territory until he reached a perfect viewing spot behind the backstop and then he would turn his walker around and ... watch.
I remember saying that day to another scout, “I think we just saw more determination in that walk than what we saw last night at the Rogers Centre. He should be scout of the year just for making that walk.”
“Don’t you dare write that,” said the other scout. “He does not want any sympathy. He is doing his job without limitations.”
That was probably oh four or five years ago. One scout recalls going into IMG Academy with Norton in Bradenton, Fla. to watch LHP Isaac Anesty (Guelph, Ont.) of the Ontario Blue Jays pitch when Norton was having trouble walking.. But he was unsure if it was 2014 or 2015?
Another scout recalls Norton walking across the centre of the park at Disney and having to stop in the middle of the outfield and sit for a rest. His guess? Five years ago.
Since then Norton continued to sit and watch games. He scouted Canada for the Seattle Mariners -- from his hometown (Port Moody, BC) to Montreal. And he would still accompany the M’s International scouting director Bob Engle on trips to Europe. And then after Engle headed to the Los Angeles Dodgers he went solo.
And on Saturday night Norton lost his fight at age 75.
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Memorial for Wayne Norton
Feb 8, 6:00 pm at the Inlet Theatre and Galleria, Port Moody City Hall, 100 Newport Drive.
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Norton and Engle signed OF Gregory Halman in 2005 from Rotterdam, The Netherlands and they were there in November of 2011 for Halman’s funeral. Halman died of stab wounds after only 44 games in the majors.
Norton also signed INF Alex Liddi, of Sanremo, Italy, who played 61 games in the majors.
And once in his pre-walker days, he flew from Vancouver to work out two players in South Africa. He went straight to the field, worked out one player and within an hour the second player stopped by the diamond. His work done, he headed to the airport and flew back to Vancouver ... cancelling his hotel reservation.
Last spring he was behind the backstop as the University of British Columbia played with his saintly wife Trudith holding the gun.
Norton was diagnosed with that awful baseball disease: ALS, otherwise known as the Lou Gehrig’s disease in June of 2015. The month before he had fallen while answering the phone, breaking his hip. Then in the hospital, he developed aspiration pneumonia. Tests showed he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that leads to progressive degeneration of the motor neutrons. Trudith even wrote about her day scouting for the Mariiners for the Canadian Baseball Network. However, Trudith, like her husband, failed to file her reports to the head office in Mississauga.
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Norton’s love of Canadians, Baseball Canada and his country was one the reasons the Mariners sit second among all-time bonuses of $100,000 paid to Canadians. We can’t track every $5,000 or $10,000 bonus, but we think we have everyone who reached six figures.
Since 1991, the Mariners have spent were $5,557,500 (the most going to Gareth Morgan, Phillippe Aumont, Tyler O’Neill) among the more than $100,000.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are No. 1 at $6,905,000. The San Diego Padres are next ($5,327,045), followed by the Baltimore Orioles ($5,291,800) and the Atlanta Braves ($3,787,700). Canada’s team, the Blue Jays sit 11th ($2,202,500).
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“He was truly one of the really good ones. It brings back memories of some of the incredible times I shared with him. I will really miss him.” _ Walt Burrows (Brentwood Bay, BC), Twins scout.
“Wayne was a great mentor. First met him when I was 15. He was always positive and supportive. Truly a great scout and even a better person.” _ Doug Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC), Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Sure wish I could have one more talk with him. I have talked with him every week or two for 16 years.” _ Les McTavish (Vauxhall, Alta.)
“Wayne always used to say ‘don’t call me an old man, I’m younger than Zuk.’ He was a great friend.” _ Murray Zuk (Souris, Man.) San Diego Padres scout.
“This is indeed a sad day for Baseball in Canada. We have lost a real good friend A excellent baseball person. Scouting will not be the same without Wayne. When I first started in this business the first person I met was Wayne at the NBI office in Vancouver. He really helped me explaining to me the reasons for the existence of the program. Ever since that day whe have remain friends and kept in touch. R I P Wayne.” _ Claude Pelletier (St-Lazare, Que.), New York Mets.
“Really sad news, Wayne is going to be missed by everyone in the Canadian baseball community. The simplest way to put it, Wayne was the best. He was the gold standard for scouting in Canada. If you were fortunate enough to work alongside him, and sit in those ballparks with him, then you couldn’t help but learn something from him. Wayne needed a lift from Vauxhall to Calgary after an indoor workout, and it was a terrible snowstorm. Funny thing, I don’t remember a thing about the drive, I was lost in stories about his playing days, what he looks for in players, his days scouting players in Europe, that’s what scouting is all about.”” _ Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.), Blue Jays.
“When I first started in scouting, Wayne was someone I looked up to and listened to when he spoke. I enjoyed listening to him talk about scouting. Some things he said have stuck with me to this day.” _ Matt Higginson (Oakville, Ont.) Oakland A’s.
“So sorry to hear about Wayne.” _ Lonnie Goldberg, scouting director, Kansas City Royals, former Canadian scout based in Guelph when he worked for the Braves.
“So sad to hear. Wayne was such a good guy. He was a pioneer and mentor for scouts in Canada we all owe him a lot and he is the reason we have jobs in this game. He was someone you wanted to be around because of his knowledge and love of baseball and the people who were involved. R.I.P Wayne and thanks for all your help and friendship over the years.” _ Alex Agostino (Montreal, Que.) Philadelphia Phillies.
“That’s bad news!!! I never met Wayne but heard so many great things about him that I feel I knew him!!.” _ Rob Thomson (Stratford, Ont.), Phillies bench coach.
“Wayne Norton never missed a beat or looked for anyone’s sympathy. That walker made its way to all of our Junior National Team Camps in Florida and tryout camps across Canada. Despite his incredibly challenging physical struggles, Nort showed us all what it means to be completely committed and truly love the game. “ - Greg Hamilton (Ottawa, Ont.), Baseball Canada.
“A few years back, when Wayne was no longer driving, We were watching the Prairie Baseball Academy finish up in Las Vegas. A bunch of us were heading to LA to pick up UBC. Wayne had made arrangements with Walt to hitch a ride but something came up and Walt needed to stay. I offered to drive Wayne from Vegas to LA. On that drive he shared countless stories of his exploits in scouting over the years. The Wild West days of scouting that has been forgotten my may and experience by few. What a great experience to hear those stories that are really part of the history of our home industry. I will be forever grateful to Wayne for sharing his memories with me. Sorry for the lengthy response. Hard to sum up Wayne with few words.” _ Jay Lapp (London, Ont.) Toronto Blue Jays.
“I am very saddened to hear that Wayne passed away. My deepest condolences go out to his wife Trudy, and the rest of his family. Wayne positively impacted the game of baseball, especially in Canada, as a player, coach, administrator and scout, enough to earn him a well deserved induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. He played a major role in the creation and administering of the National Baseball Institute, a program I was fortunate enough to be a part of as both a player and coach from 1989-1995. Because of Wayne, our head coach, John Haar, other coaches and staff, several players across Canada were provided the opportunity to improve their skills in a high quality program, and continue their post-secondary education while doing so. I benefitted greatly from this program, both on and off of the field, and have Wayne, amongst many other people, to thank for it. I will miss seeing and talking to Wayne. We always had good conversations and I learned a lot from him over the years. I am very grateful to have been mentored by him, and to have been his friend.” _ Kevin Briand (Toronto Ont.) Blue Jays.
“I first got to know Wayne at NBI where he was the mastermind behind the program that gave a chance to a lot of Canadian players to better their development and have careers. Then as a scout where we traveled and watched numerous games together. Wayne was a great person always thinking of others before himself. The baseball world will miss him. Thank you Wayne.” _ Denis Boucher (Laval, Que.), New York Yankees.
“Sad to read of Wayne’s passing. It was a sad reflection. As I said to one of our people, “a great “baseball” man but more than that, a great man period. We lost one of the truly good ones. Wayne was a real gentleman over all these years. Always friendly, always encouraging, never condescending or negative. Tender mercies I suppose given his horrible illness. Have been reflecting in great Thornton Wilder line as a lot of our loved ones are getting old: ‘There is a land of the living ... And a land of the dead ... And the bridge (between the two) is love’” _ John Ircandia (Calgary, Alta.), founding director Okotoks Dawgs.
“Wayne was the first person I met in the road as a scout. He was with the NBI and took care of my very first trip out as a scout. I didn’t know where to stay and he took care of everything which meant a lot on my first trip. He was a great guy and the kids loved him.” _ Bill Byckowski (Georgetown, Ont.) Cincinnnati Reds.
“I was scouting my first MLB Bureau camp in Mississauga. The first two scouts I met were Bob Smythe, and Wayne Norton. Right from the start Wayne was somebody that always helped me or invited me to lunch at any event that we were at. He certainly didn’t have to as we worked for different organizations. What impressed me about Wayne is that nobody out worked him, not even Jim Ridley. Wayne knew everybody and everybody knew Wayne. More importantly everybody respected Wayne. My sympathies to the Norton family.” _ John Milton, Ontario Terriers.
"I first dealt with Wayne when I was an assistant coach and was seeking all the help I could get. Who would know that all these years later we would have worked together at Baseball BC, Baseball Canada and the NBI. He truly was a pioneer in the development of the game in this country. His early coaching manuals are still the basis of what we use today, and so many of us including players, coaches and administrators have been touched and influenced by Wayne. He was my friend and I will miss him. Baseball will miss him.” _ Former Baseball Canada president Ray Carter (Tsawwassen, BC)
“Wayne spearheaded, along with John Haar, the National Baseball Institute. I remember one of my first days at the NBI, when Wayne grabbed all the outfielders and took us all out to CF and gave us an outfielding clinic like no tomorrow. Talking about how to get jumps on batted balls by learning to take pride during batting practice at reading ball flight off the bat. He would be right beside you, his arm hanging over your shoulder and getting us to lean ever so slightly as the ball came off the bat. He was a major influence on so many of us as he and John (Haar), ran the program. Great man, great baseball ambassador and great eye for baseball talent. He will be dearly missed. Thanks Wayne for your patience and guidance.” _ Rick Johnston (Peterborough, Ont.) The Baseball Zone/Ontario Terriers.
“I crossed paths with Wayne when scouting the Canadian National Team. He was a great credit to the scouting community. He worked hard, signed good players, and did it with integrity and professionalism.” _ Tom Burns (Harrisburg, PA) Major League Scouting Bureau.
“I’ll never forget my first interaction with Wayne Norton. He called me about an amateur (OF Nathan DeSouza) and one of his first questions was “Do you think he will be happy being a professional player?” I thought to myself of course. Later that week I saw him in person and he asked me again “Do you think he will be happy?” At this point I had to ask him what exactly he meant? He responded with “you get one chance at life Mike and I don’t ever want to take a young man away from living his life by drafting him.” I was taken back that someone who had been around the game this long was so sincere about someone’s well being that he had just met. I was lucky to be around Wayne Norton for 8-9 years and every time he would call me by name, wish me well and wish my family well. I’m going to miss him. He left a lasting impression on my life and the world lost an amazing man. He loved his wife and his family beyond words. He loved life and my thoughts go out to his loved ones. May you Rest In Peace, Wayne.” _ Mike Bonanno (Burlington, Ont.) player agent.
“Will always appreciate Wayne’s support when I was a young player and friendship over the years in scouting. He was the only one who ever called me ‘Steverino.’ He gave me part time work during Christmas breaks at the Baseball BC offices when I came home for vacations from the University of Portland. It’s too bad the NBI program came a little after me but it sure did a lot for baseball and young players with dreams to keep playing in Canada. It is something that helped turn our Junior National Team with Greg Hamilton’s leadership into an excellent development program.” _ Steve Wilson (Victoria, BC) New York Yankees, International Cross Checker/Pacific Rim Supervisor.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Wayne Norton after a courageous battle with ALS. Wayne was as good a baseball man as they came, having a huge impact on Canadian Baseball as both a coach and scout. Our deepest condolences to his wife Trudy, daughter Beth and son Steven along with Wayne’s three grandchildren.” _ Baseball Canada statement.
“Wayne spent over 50 years in pro ball as a player, coach and scout. He was responsible for thousands of young players in Canada having the opportunity to grow through the game, and for hundreds of young players having a chance to play professionally. More than that, he was truly one of the great gentlemen in the game. Our thoughts tonight are with his wife Trudy, daughter Beth, son Steven and three grandchildren.” _ ” said Mariners Vice President of Scouting Tom Allison.
“I've never been around a scout who knew his players, families and coaches as well as Wayne Norton. He was one ‘tough customer.’ An icon in Canada. When you went to see the players that Wayne turned in from Canada you got the feeling they turned it up a notch when they saw Wayne in the ballpark. The respect the players, families, coaches and opposing Scouts had for Wayne was remarkable. He was a friend and mentor to all of us. We were the lucky ones to have worked along side of Wayne. When I was hired by the Mariners as scouting director in 2008 it took me exactly one meeting with Wayne to know that I never had to worry about having Canada covered.” _ Tom McNamara, Mariners Special Assistant to the GM.“
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of 2016 inductee Wayne Norton. Wayne was a Canadian baseball pioneer and one of the most respected voices our country has ever had. He was a skilled player, a trailblazing coach and a relentlessly excellent scout. In recent years, as he battled ALS with strength, courage and dignity, he was a true inspiration. We would like to extend our condolences to his wife Trudy and his family.” _ Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame statement."
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Norton is one of three men in the 24-year history of the Canadian Baseball Network Scout of the Year honour -- renamed after Ridley in 2009 -- to win the award twice. He won in 1998 with the Orioles and in 2014 with the M’s. The others are Doug Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC) in 2011 with the Minnesota Twins and 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Ridley himself in 2004 and 2009 with the Twins).
Few people saw the Canadian Junior National Team play more often than Norton. Coach Greg Hamilton (Ottawa, Ont.) would be one, Walt Burrows (Brentwood Bay, BC), formerly of the Major League Scouting Bureau, and now with the Minnesota Twins and Murray Zuk (Souris, Man.) of San Diego Padres and the senior member of the Canadian scouting committee would be it.
Norton saw every workout at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. or a Bureau camp in Welland or Trudeau Park in Montreal.
His roots with Baseball Canada and the junior program are much deeper than that. After playing over 1,200 games in the minors (in the New York Yankees, Kansas City A’s and Oakland A’s systems) he established Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team. He told us once the idea game from a badminton player he met who played for the Junior National Team.
Badminton anyone? Why not a feeder system for baseball.
Norton was a long-time coach and manager for Baseball Canada, doubling as a part-time scout for the Montreal Expos. He managed Canada’s Pan Am Games team in 1975, prior to helping to launch Baseball BC two years later. In the same decade he was writing the do's and don't for coaches across Canada.
In 1986, Norton established the National Baseball Institute in Vancouver. Among the NBI graduates to play in the majors are 2015 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Matt Stairs (Fredericton, NB) and Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.), plus Denis Boucher (Montreal, Que.), Steve Sinclair (Victoria, BC), Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, BC), Rob Butler (East York, Ont.), Jason Dickson (Miramichi, NB), Aaron Guiel (Vancouver, BC) and Derek Aucoin (Lachine, Que.).
After leaving the NBI in 1994, Norton evolved into one of Canada’s most respected scouts. He worked for the Baltimore Orioles from 1996 to 1999 working for his lifelong friend Pat Gillick. Then he followed Gillick to the Mariners in 2000.
Gillick was on his way to Vancouver to visit his friend through Chicago when he called the hospital and found out the news.
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Norton won Canadian Baseball Network scout of the year the first time in 1998 working the Orioles. The O’s were non factors north of the border but Gillick and Norton drafted six players that June: 3B Tim Nelson (Calgary, Alta.) Allan Hancock Junior College, seventh round; RHP Dustin Emberly (Weyburn, Sask.) 10th; RP Denis Gratton (Kitchener, Ont.) of the Ontario Blue Jays, 18th; RHP Jason Mandryk (Langton, Ont.) of the London juveniles, 26th; RHP Marc-Andre Houle (Terrebonne, Que.), of Des Moines Community College, 39th and OF Brock Ralph (Raymond, Alta.) 43rd.
_ With the Orioles he selected outfielder Ntema Ndungidi (Montreal, Que.) from the ABC 36th over-all and gave him a $500,000 US signing bonus. Ndungidi played seven seasons getting as high as double-A.
_ He grabbed outfielder Michael Saunders (Victoria, BC) in the 11th round and signed free-agent outfielder Gregory Halman from Haarlem in The Netherlands in 2004.
_ He signed free agent Alex Liddi from Sanremo, Italy in 2005.
_ As he and Engle chose RHP Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) 11th overall in 2007. Aumont, who received a $1.9 million bonus, was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC) a Norton pick the year before in the 25th round and J.C. Ramirez in 2009 for Cliff Lee. Norton was named was named the Mariners International Scout of the Year in 2007,
_ In 2009 Saunders, Halman and Liddi -- Norton picks one and all -- occupied spots on Baseball America’s top 10 Mariners’ prospect list.
_ After the Jays drafted and failed to sign Kentucky LHP James Paxton (Ladner, BC) in 2009, Norton was in on the selection process as Paxton was scooped in the fourth round from the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the independent American Association the next season.
_ He was in South Africa in 2010 signing RHP Dylan Unsworth of Durban. A former double-A Southern League All-Star, he combined to go 9-9 with a 3.30 ERA in 22 starts, walking 22 and striking out 90 in 128 1/3 innings at triple-A Tacoma Rainiers and the double-A Arkansas Travelers.
_ He selected Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, BC) the top high school hitter in the third round in 2013, now a St. Louis Cardinals prospect, and Lachlan Fontaine (North Vancouver, BC) in the 12th.
_ He drafted Gareth Morgan (North York, Ont.) as the top high schooler in (74th over-all in North America) 2014. Then GM Jack Zduriencik and scout Tom McNamara gave the Ontario Blue Jays outfielder a $2 million US signing bonus, which roughly equalled slot money for the 20th over-all pick.
_ In 2016 Norton was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys along with former Jay Pat Hentgen and former Expos hurler Dennis Martinez, long-time Blue Jays executive Howard Starkman (Toronto, Ont.), Jays TV analyst Tony Kubek and pioneer William Shuttleworth (Brantford, Ont.).
_ And this year with Saint Trudith and his friend of 50 years Ian Dickson he threw out the first pitch at Safeco before the Mariners met the Cleveland Indians. James Paxton caught the strike. While major league owners are treatiing scouts like used furniture, the Mariners should be congratulated for treating a man who had spent his life in baseball with respect. We can think of a few bottom-line front offices that would not have acted in such a kind matter.
This time the scouts in the crowd did simply not sit and watch.
They stood and cheered one of their own, one without limitations.