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Jongewaard, Hunsicker retire, but maybe not for long
by Tracy Ringolsby
DENVER—Roger Jongewaard says he is retiring.
Don't believe it.
Things have changed in Seattle, and Jongewaard felt it was time to move on.
After 19 years with the Mariners, and 39 years in professional baseball, he decided to move back to his native Southern California and spend time around his family.
Bill Bavasi, who took over as the Mariners general manager a year ago, wanted Jongewaard to stay, and even offered him a part-time job if that fit Jongewaard's schedule better. But Jongewaard, who gave way to Bob Fontaine as the organization's top amateur talent evaluator a year ago, decided a clean break was better.
"Bill made changes, and I'm not sure I wouldn't do the same if I took over somewhere," Jongewaard said. "I hope this doesn't sound wrong, but I want to be your top guy, one of those making the key decisions."
Jongewaard, best known in his playing career as the catcher on the old-time "Home Run Derby" show, joined the Mariners as scouting director in 1985, and became the vice president of scouting and player development in 1989.
"We had a pretty good ride," Jongewaard said. "The first 12 years, all our first-round picks made it to the big leagues, which I think anyone will tell you is unusual."
And it wasn't all easy. In 1987, then-owner George Argyros was adamant about drafting righthander Mike Harkey of Cal State Fullerton with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Jongewaard wanted outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. and took him. Other first-round picks in that 12-year run included Alex Rodriguez (1993, also No. 1 overall), Tino Martinez ('88), Ron Villone ('92), Jason Varitek ('94), Jose Cruz Jr. ('95) and Gil Meche ('96).
The string of success was broken by injuries rather than bad judgments, starting with 1997 first-round pick Ryan Anderson, the tall lefthander who is still trying to come back after missing three years following labrum injuries. Matt Thornton came in 1998, and, after overcoming arm troubles, is expected to stick as a major league performer.
About those retirement plans?
"I'll see if I can stay busy without working. I've been going to games at night, keeping my hand in," he said. "We'll see. It's a big change."
If he decides not to change, Jongewaard added, "Several clubs have already spoken to me about working for them. As far as the Mariners go, it was just time for me to move on."
Watch Your Back
Gerry Hunsicker, who has done a marvelous job of piecing things together and keeping the Astros competitive, finally had enough of the meddling from above and decided to quit. That's not good news for any general manager in limbo. Hunsicker should be at the top of the list of any team that is looking for someone to run its baseball operation.
Hunsicker did oversee a franchise that earned five postseason berths in nine years, and he was very much a part of the success, right on down to the point of being the person who decided that Brad Lidge needed to use a slider instead of a curveball, which has been a key to Lidge's emergence as an elite closer.
The Astros did have a quality replacement in-house in farm director Tim Purpura, but he faces a bigger challenge than most. The folks on the business side, who knew that they couldn't push Hunsicker around, will see Purpura and quickly try to establish a dominance over the new kid on the block.
Around The Diamond
The Braves don't figure to be a major player in the free agent market this offseason. Atlanta needs a starting pitcher, quality reliever and right fielder. General manager John Schuerholz, however, has only $4 million to play with. That's life with AOL Time Warner, which is 100 percent business, unlike the old days when Ted Turner might set a budget, but didn't hesitate to open up the checkbook if he found an appealing deal . . . Righthander Chris Young has only 41 days of major league service, but the Rangers have given him a three-year contract. Texas wanted to make sure that Young wasn't lured to the NBA by the Sacramento Kings, who saw the 6-foot-10 pitcher as a potential backup because he already was familiar with the their offense. That's because Young played under Kings assistant Pete Carril at Princeton, where he earned the Ivy League rookie of the year award (1999) and all-league status (2000) in two seasons as a high-post center . . . Only one of the five players the Indians received from the Mets in the Roberto Alomar trade remains with the Indians: outfielder Matt Lawton. The Indians released righthander Jerrod Riggan and first baseman Earl Snyder, and lost outfielder Alex Escobar and lefthander Billy Traber on waivers to the White Sox and Red Sox.
Tracy Ringolsby is the national baseball writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. You can contact him by sending e-mail to [email protected].