Thursday, January 10, 2013

Baseball scouts benefit from Beverly Hills fundraiser

Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins
will be honored at the Scouts Foundation Fundraiser
hosted by Dennis Gilbert [Photo: Jim McKnight, AP]

By Bob Nightengale, USA Today Sports

He lives next door to Stevie Wonder.

He hangs out with Larry King. And he has done business with everyone in the entertainment industry from the late Michael Jackson to Madonna to Dr. Dre to Mary Hart.

Dennis Gilbert may be an insurance salesman by trade, but he quietly has emerged as one of the most influential and trusted men in Major League Baseball.

He has Commissioner Bud Selig on speed dial. He chats several times a day with Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He regularly dines with Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff. He'll lunch one day with former All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and soccer star Mia Hamm, and have dinner the next night with Hall of Famer George Brett.

"There's no one in baseball that has more passion in this game than Dennis," Wolff says. "If he's not a Dodgers' game, he's at an Angels' game. If they're on the road, he's watching games on TV.

"In my earlier days after I bought the A's, it was kind of embarrassing. I'd walk into the locker room with Dennis, and my own players would know Dennis more than me.''

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer will be honored at the
Scouts Foundation Fundraiser in Beverly Hills.[Photo: Gail Burton, AP]
What Gilbert is perhaps best known for is hosting MLB's version of the Academy Awards show. It's called the Professional Scouts Foundation's "Spirit of the Game'' Fundraiser and will be held Saturday at the Beverly Hills Hyatt Regency Plaza. A sell-out crowd of about 1,500 will honor legendary scouts, players, executives and managers. Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Ferguson Jenkins will be honored, along with Hall of Fame Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. The presenters will be Hall of Famers and actor Harrison Ford.

"It's one of my favorite nights of the year,'' Selig said.

Says Boston Red Sox special assistant Gary Hughes: "You know how big this thing has become? It used to be held at the same hotel as Golden Globe awards, but we outgrew it. (The hotel) was big enough for Hollywood, but not big enough for us.''

The foundation, hatched 11 years ago by Gilbert, Arizona Diamondbacks executive Roland Hemond and White Sox special assistant Dave Yoacum, has raised nearly $4 million. Dozens of out-of-work or retired scouts have gained financial assistance through the foundation, assuring that their mortgages and health insurance are paid. And, in some cases, funeral costs.

The advent of the Moneyball era and teams replacing scouts with statistical analysts created the need for the foundation.

"There were 103 scouts let go that winter,'' Hemond said. "Dave Yoacum said, ''m really concerned about all my friends that have been dismissed.'  Right away, Dennis says, 'Let's start a foundation.' This is beyond my fondest dreams. To think, if it wasn't for Moneyball, there would be no foundation.''

If not for Gilbert, 65, a former Boston Red Sox minor-league outfielder who later became a premier baseball agent and is now a White Sox special assistant, baseball's Academy Awards show would have all of the pizzazz of a Gilligan's Island re-run. The after-party runs into the next day when Gilbert and his wife, Cindi, host a luncheon for about 250 scouts.

"The thing I'm amazed about is the enormous amount of time Dennis spends on this,'' Reinsdorf says. "This is not where he makes his living, but he sells virtually every ticket himself. When Dennis is passionate about something, he throws all of his energy into it. He's a tremendous help to me.

He's got a book in his mind about every player, every agent, every GM. There's not a move I make that don't bounce off him first.

"He would be a great GM or owner. I'm personally very disappointed he wasn't able to purchase any teams that have come up recently.''

Certainly, it's not for lack of trying. Gilbert made unsuccessful bids for the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers. If no other ownership opportunities come along, he'd love to run a franchise.

"I've done so many things in this game,'' Gilbert says, "but to be able to put a team together, and run it on a regular basis, that would culminate my baseball career.''

Stay tuned, he may become coming to a team near you.

"I'd love to see it happen, not so much for Dennis,'' Gillick says, "but for baseball. He would do things that really push the game along. It wouldn't always be revenue-driven, but fan-driven, player-driven and people-driven. We need him.''

Just ask the scouts.

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