Gary Hughes knew a change was needed.
He enjoyed his job as athletic director at Marin Catholic High in Northern California, but he wanted something more.
“One day I had a flat tire on the highway driving to school and I had no idea how to fix it,” Hughes said. “When I got to school, I walked in and told the principal I wasn’t coming back next year. He told me he’d buy me a new set of tires . . . I just felt there had to be more to life.”
What, Hughes didn’t know.
“When I got home I told the family what I had done,” said Hughes, a father of five at the time, “Anne, my oldest daughter, asked what I was going to do. I told her I was going to be a baseball scout. She asked if anyone offered me a job. I told her no, but they will.”
They did, five years later, and just in time for Hughes, who was raising his family as the owner of a failing sporting-goods store, a referee at every high school football and basketball game he could get, and as a part-time scout for the Giants. “I was to the sporting-goods business what the Titanic was to the shipping world,” Hughes said.
The Yankees hired him, and now it’s hard to think that Hughes was ever anything in life except a baseball talent evaluator.
He has a resume that is impressive in terms of players he scouted, signed and helped develop, not to mention the scouts and executives whose career foundations were laid under his guidance. Now Hughes can add another line to that resume. He has earned Baseball America’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to baseball.
Making Good On His Chance
Currently a special assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, Hughes worked his way up the baseball ladder. He started out as a bird dog for Giants scout Ed Montague, the man who signed Willie Mays, and after six years went to work part-time for the Yankees for a year. Then came his full-time job.
“I was thrilled to get that call,” Hughes said. “I was holding down five part-time jobs at the time. My business was going under and I was getting divorced. It was a good time for something to open up.”
After eight years with the Yankees, he went to Montreal as the Expos’ scouting director. Dave Dombrowski later took over as GM in Montreal, and developed a strong enough relationship with Hughes that when he became the first GM of the expansion Marlins, one of his first moves was to hire Hughes as his scouting director.
Hughes was the Rockies’ vice president of player personnel in 1999, helping put in place a Latin American development program that has become an integral part of the team’s success, and then joined the Reds in 2000, serving as a special assistant to GM Jim Bowden before joining the Cubs five years ago.
“I thought I’d be a good scout,” he said, “I just didn’t think it was going to take five years to get the chance. But it just reinforces the idea that you have to be patient. Opportunity will come if you give it a chance.”
Hughes has made good on that chance. He’s an old-school scout who looks for athletic ability first and foremost. He has always focused on multi-sport stars, which he says goes back to his youth when he played with Jim Fregosi—a friend since they were 13.
“The guy was without doubt the best athlete I ever played with and one of the best I ever saw,” Hughes said. “Once he stopped playing four sports and concentrated on one I saw how rapidly he moved upward. My belief was if you can get the good athlete and get them to concentration on baseball you are going to have a good baseball player.”
Not that it always works. There was John Elway, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, who used the Yankees to leverage the then-Baltimore Colts into trading him to the Denver Broncos.
Hits And A Few Misses
The one that caught Hughes off guard, however, was John Lynch, a second-round pick of the Marlins out of Stanford in 1992 who ended up having a long NFL career after he was allowed to play his senior season of football.
“My intelligence reports were that he was not interested in pro football,” Hughes said. “Hey, we all make mistakes.”
Hughes laughs at the memory, but he can afford to because his successes have outweighed his failures. For him, none sticks out more than Marquis Grissom, a football player he drafted out of Florida A&M for the Expos.
“There are different people I’d say were the most satisfying part of my career, but overall, I’d have to say Marquis because of his longevity as a player, but mostly because of the type of person he is,” Hughes said.
But as Hughes is quick to point out, it has been a team effort, not a one man show. “What would I want for my legacy?” he asked. “That I worked hard. That I hired good people. And that I got lucky, too.”
Hughes remembers his arrival in Montreal as a perfect example. Building his scouting staff, he had to keep three people from the player-development department and selected Frank Wren, Pat Daugherty and Ed Creech. Wren is now the general manager of the Braves. Daugherty was the original scouting director for the Rockies and is currently a special assistant to Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd. Creech has been a scouting director for the Dodgers, Cardinals and Pirates.
“Guess I’ve been able to do something right,” he said. “I have been able to stay in the game 41 years.”