Chase Changed Lives As A Scout
When he was still the head coach at Arkansas, Norm DeBriyn remembers talking to Larry Chase before a game. A Mets scout at the time, Chase related a story about one of his lengthy drives on the highways of the Midwest to go see a draft prospect when he saw a car on the side of the road.
"He said he'd seen a woman pulled off the road and he helped get her going again," DeBriyn remembered with a laugh. "I asked how he helped her, and he just said he took a look at the engine and realized she needed a new fan belt, and he just happened to have one in the car.
"How lucky was she? How many people just happen to have a fan belt? But Larry loved cars. As long as I knew him, he loved working on them, not so much restoring them as just fixing them."
Chase probably had more than one instance when he was a Good Samaritan on the highways, considering how much he drove. If you worked in baseball in Arkansas in the last 30 years, chances are you met Chase, and chances are you remembered the conversation. According to all who knew him, Chase was memorable for his sincerity, authenticity and passions for family, faith, cars—and baseball.
Most recently a part-time scout with the Orioles, Chase was going to games as recently as February and early March before doctors discovered he had bladder cancer. The end came too suddenly for him and his friends, as he died in April due to complication following surgery. He was 66.
Chase was born in February 1946 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. According to his hometown paper, the Sentinel-Record, he spent 26 years working in and becoming co-owner of the family business, Chase Auto Sales and Salvage, with his father before he got into the baseball industry. He stayed close to home, working as the baseball coach at Garland County CC in Hot Springs (which has since merged with another school to become National Park CC).
From there, Chase took a job scouting with the Mets, working a huge area in the Midwest for 20 years. He retired at that point before Joe Jordan hired him as a part-timer for Baltimore. For most of that time, his area included not just Arkansas but also Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Jordan often competed with him when he was an area scout based in Oklahoma and relished their relationship and rivalry.
"You had to know what ballpark he was at," said Jordan, now the Phillies' farm director, "because if you didn't he'd kick your ass."
Persistence Pays Off
Chase beat the competition when he found A.J. Burnett, perhaps his signature signee. Burnett was playing in Arkansas' smallest high school classification when Chase saw him at Central Arkansas Christian High in North Little Rock. He was there to see the opponent but came away impressed with Burnett's live arm and athleticism.
For much of the spring of 1995, Chase and then-Royals scout Mike Lee were the only scouts in on Burnett, though when word started to get out, Jordan remembers, "He sent his dad and wouldn't even go himself. He had his dad in to scout the scouts."
Chase and the Mets drafted Burnett in the eighth round in 1995. He was traded to the Marlins three years later in a deal for Al Leiter and has gone on to win more than 120 games and earn more than $80 million.
"What I'll always remember about him is how persistent he was as a scout," Burnett told BA correspondent John Perrotto. "He really believed in me and he really stayed after me because he felt I had a lot of potential to be a big league pitcher. It was really an easy decision to sign because I trusted him so much.
"Long after I signed and got to the big leagues, he still kept in touch with me and my parents too. He really became a friend of our family. I wouldn't be where I am today without him, and I'm going to miss him."
Burnett's Arkansas-based agent, Darek Braunecker, said Chase drove so much that at times the Mets had to pull him off the road.
"His goal every day was to get from point A to point B, usually as fast as he could," Braunecker said. "He raced cars as a hobby and used to drive a Camaro, which is a little unusual for a scout.
"He was a special, unique man, a real throwback and a tremendous scout who embodied what scouting is about. I loved him to death."
Corey Ragsdale, another player Chase signed for the Mets, made it to Double-A before his playing career ended and is now coaching in the Rangers organization, set to manage in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2012. He said he realizes that now he's carrying on part of Chase's legacy.
"If I can be half the man Larry was it will be an accomplishment," Ragsdale said. "He was 100 percent sincere and that stemmed 100 percent from his faith. He was a Godly man who had been through rough times but made it through because he kept his faith.
"I talked to him just before his surgery, and he didn't know why it was happening, and obviously he wanted to beat it. But he said to me, 'I've gotten to share the gospel with more people now than if I had lived another 20 years.' It was a stage of life for him.
"I know when I heard he had passed, it was a punch in the gut for everybody. When you lose a man that caring and that passionate, it hurts."