DENVER—Tim Conroy was excited. Two months past his 18th birthday, he had been a first-round pick of the Athletics in the 1978 draft, the same class in which Oakland used its initial pick, No. 4 overall, on Mike Morgan, another high school pitcher.
After a bit of an extended negotiation, the A’s invited Conroy, who attended high school in Monroeville, Pa., to attend a workout with the big league team in Baltimore.
And that wasn’t all.
“The (third day) the A’s are leaving and tell me that night at the game, ‘You’re going to go with us to Texas,’ ” said Conroy, now a major league scout for the Royals.
“The A’s are off the next day, but (manager) Jack (McKeon) comes back on the plane and says, ‘Hey kid, we’re going to work out tomorrow. I want you to come in and be ready at 9 a.m.’ I’m going, ‘All right.’ I got no clue.”
The next morning when Conroy showed up in the lobby wearing painter paints and a Steelers T-shirt, he started to get the hint. McKeon told him get new clothes. He was now a big leaguer.
“So we go to the ballpark and we are doing drills,” Conroy said, “and I screwed one up. Jack jumps me and says, ‘Hey lefty, gotta get this right. You’re starting Friday night in Kansas City.’ ”
Little did Conroy realize that when he signed that contract in Baltimore it was a big league contract.
Morgan made two starts for the A’s before Conroy signed. Conroy then took Morgan’s roster spot.
Conroy gave up only one run and two hits in his debut but lasted just 3.1 innings, in part because he walked five. The A’s won the game 5-4. Six days later, he made his second start, and after being charged with five runs in 1.1 innings the A’s demoted him to the minors.
Conroy didn’t get into another big league game for more than four years. While Morgan went on to spend parts of 22 seasons in the big leagues, Conroy’s big league career ended in 1987.
Not that Conroy is complaining.
Now, he admits he wasn’t ready for the big leagues in the summer of 1978.
“I was a kid who needed success to have confidence,” Conroy said. “I came from a little town, where I lost twice in four years of high school. I had no idea about what losing was. So when I (faced) better competition, the self-doubt started to creep in.”
For that reason, Conroy always admired Morgan’s self-confidence. “No matter what happened to him, he was going to shower after the game, wash it out and be fine,” Conroy said.
“I remember that because when I became an amateur scout, I was looking for that guy, the self-confident guy who wouldn’t be deterred by any type of failure, because this game is all about failure.”
Conroy laughed when he thought back to that initial trip to Baltimore.
“I am shagging with the (big league) players and they are telling me, ‘Don’t sign, whatever you do,’ ” Conroy said.
Conroy doesn’t regret ignoring the advice, even if his career never became what he had envisioned.
“It helped me become the person I am,” Conroy said, “and it definitely helped me (as a scout).”
But what if?
To Conroy, that line of thinking is a waste of time.
“I met a lot of good people and played with a lot of good teams. I got to play for Whitey (Herzog of the Cardinals) and Billy (Martin in Oakland). I got to play with Ozzie Smith and Rickey Henderson. What I never knew was that when I was done playing, I was going to stay in the game as a coach and then a scout. All those things that happened really set me up for what I do now.”
Conroy is a baseball lifer, and his experiences as a player helped create a solid foundation.