Braves 90-year-old scout: 'I'm going to do this until I die'
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) Tommy Giordano sits in a folding chair behind home plate at Champion Stadium, a stopwatch in his right hand, a lineup card in his lap, his eyes darting this way and that, always searching for the next great player, be it another Joe DiMaggio. Or Hank Aaron. Or Cal Ripken Jr.
He's seen `em all. Heck, he once out-homered the Hammer.
At age 90, Giordano's mind is sharp, his passion for the game as strong as ever.
''I love what I'm doing,'' said Giordano, who is with the Atlanta Braves in spring training as a special assistant to the general manager. ''I'm going to do this until I die.''
His is a baseball life.
''I can't wait to get up in the morning and go to the ballpark,'' Giordano said. ''I'm still in baseball, so I must have been doing a pretty good job.''
He's entering his 69th year in the game, having been everything from a major leaguer to a minor-league manager to a front-office executive. But his long career has largely centered on the behind-the-scenes world of scouting.
It is a thankless, often frustrating task, where the failures far outweigh the successes. And in today's game, dominated by computers and number-crunching analytics, the boot-on-the-ground scout is increasingly viewed as an anachronism.
But John Hart, Atlanta's president of baseball operation and the one responsible for bringing his longtime friend to the Braves, insists those such as Giordano will always play an important role in rooting out new talent.
''You're absolutely crazy if you don't use analytics,'' Hart said. ''But we're also an organization that is committed to the opinions and the evaluations of the scout. If a scout doesn't sign off on it, I don't care what the analytics say. We're not taking him.''
During his time in Baltimore, Giordano was responsible for the Orioles drafting Ripken. After moving to Cleveland, he signed off on the Indians picking Manny Ramirez.
A successful scout, Giordano said, must rely on four things. He points to his head, his heart, his gut and, finally, below the belt. But, he added, the ability to soothsay where a young man is going to be five years from now requires the scout to dig even deeper.
''Get in the house'' is a scouting mantra that Giordano swore by, giving him a chance to check out a prospect's family and any off-the-field red flags. ''See what kind of furniture they have in the house. See how many cars they have. See what kind of dad he has. Does he drink? Does he smoke? Are there any problems in the house? Get to know that family. I love doing that kind of work.''
His baseball career almost ended not long after it started. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, he played on the high school team but fibbed to his parents about his reason for staying late after school. His father, who owned a grocery store, believed young Tommy should focus on his schoolwork and devote any free time to working at the family business.
''I used to hide my spikes,'' Giordano said, his language salty but engaging. ''Well, my dad got hold of them and put them on the butcher block. He cut them up. He cut everything up. My bat, my glove, everything.''
Eventually, though, his father came around. He even had a pregame ritual that gave his son a nickname, one that stuck with him to this day.
''I hit a couple of home runs one day,'' Giordano said. ''Someone made the statement, `Hey, where did you get all that power? What did you do? I told `em, `Before every game, my dad fixes me a big T-bone steak.' That's where it all started.''
Turns out, T-bone was just getting started.
One of the Giordano's fondest memories was getting called up to the majors as a slick-fielding shortstop toward the end of the 1953 season. Giordano played only 11 games for the woeful Philadelphia Athletics - the extent of his big league playing career - but it gave him a chance to meet one of the game's most towering figures, Connie Mack.
In his very first game with the Athletics, he homered off the facade of old Shibe Park, going deep against Virgil Trucks, a 20-game winner for the Chicago White Sox. But Giordano hit only .175 during that brief stint and never returned to the Show.
It was also in 1953, while playing with Class A Savannah, that he encountered a 19-year-old second baseman on his way up, a teenager named Aaron.
Jacksonville's manager, Ben Garrity, asked Giordano to work with young Hank on turning the double play. Aaron wasn't very interested in the intricacies of infield defense.
''Here's Henry, looking up at the sky. I could see he was not paying attention,'' Giordano recalled, looking down at his own gnarled hands, withered by age and fielding countless ground balls. ''I said to Ben, `Get him off the infield. He's gonna get killed. He's got a great arm. Put in the outfield.'''
That year, Aaron led the South Atlantic League in virtually every offensive category.
The player who would go on to break Babe Ruth's record for most career homers - while playing the outfield - finished second in the Sally League with 22 homers.
The leader? Giordano with 24.
These days, Giordano is keeping his still-keen eye on all the young players the Braves are counting on to provide the foundation for a rebuilding team.
As an added bonus, Giordano gets to hang out every day with people just like him, those who view baseball as more than a job.
''It continues to enrich me that I'm able to be of help to young guys who want to be successful in what they're doing, whether as a scout or a manager or a front-office guy,'' said Giordano, who walks with a cane but generally gives no quarter to his age. ''I have had pretty much every phase under my control, except being a general manager.''
It's been a full life.
A baseball life.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .