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Passing of Mattick echoes across game's landscape

by Tracy Ringolsby
December 23, 2004

DENVER—At the age of 29, his professional baseball playing career having come to an end, Sandy Johnson was back in Los Angeles, delivering mail on a fill-in basis, and wondering what he was going to do with his life.

Then came the phone call. Bobby Mattick was running the scouting and player development departments for the expansion Seattle Pilots and offered Johnson the job as the team's Rookie-level manager.

Johnson didn't hesitate.

"He gave me a chance to get back in the game, but more than that, over the years, whenever I needed to talk to somebody, even when I was with another organization, Bobby was always there," Johnson said. "He was like a second father to me . . . I was a broken down minor league player with Pittsburgh headed to the real world as an uneducated kid from L.A. when Bobby hired me. I owe everything to him."

There are plenty of Sandy Johnson types out there, whose lives were touched by Mattick.

There was, however, only one Bobby Mattick, and the baseball world is mourning his loss.

Four days after returning to his Arizona home from baseball's Winter Meetings, where he enthralled early risers with lobby lectures on the joys of the game, Mattick died of a stroke on Dec. 16. He was 89, and had just finished his 71st season in pro ball.

Mattick had become known as Mr. Blue Jay, and rightfully so.

Building The Blue Jays

Hired by the expansion Toronto team in 1976 as its scouting supervisor, Mattick had been with the Blue Jays ever since, serving in capacities ranging from the big league manager in 1980 and '81, to the vice president of baseball operations. He was a key lieutenant to original general manager Pat Gillick, who first worked with Mattick in the Astros organization more than four decades ago, and helped put together a team that won five American League East titles, and back-to-back World Series in 1992 and '93.

He even survived the turmoil of recent years in which the new Blue Jays regime shoved most of the franchise's longtime employees out the door.

But Mattick was more than a Toronto Blue Jay.

He was a piece of the fabric of baseball.

"This was a guy who read a lot of books about philosophy and approach to life," said Gord Ash, currently the assistant general manager for Milwaukee and a longtime assistant to Gillick in Toronto who initially replaced Gillick as the GM. "He would ask you things like, 'What comes first, success or confidence?' He'd throw that out into a group of 10 people and by the end of it there were people ready to choke each other, but he did that with a purpose because that is the great debate.

"He didn't mind the tension of an argument . . . He could be very sentimental and caring, but could also be very difficult at times. The difficult is probably what made him the great baseball man he was. He couldn't accept anything at face value."

Johnson, who evolved into one of the game's top talent evaluators and the most successful man in finding Latin American talent of this generation, remembers managing for Mattick in the minor leagues for the Pilots, who after a year became the Milwaukee Brewers.

Mattick was talking to him about the team's first-round draft choice, Gorman Thomas, who had a wild reputation for throwing helmets and bats, and none of the minor league managers wanted him on their team.

"Bobby says, 'Gorman's going to be your right fielder and he's going to play every day,'" recalled Johnson. "I wasn't pleased. Bobby knew it. He looked at me and said, 'I've got a drawer full of applications from guys wanting to manage.' "

Johnson smiled.

"Want me to bat him third?" Johnson said.

Leaving His Mark

Born Dec. 5, 1915, in Sioux City, Iowa, Mattick began his professional career when he signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1933. He played in 206 big league games with the Cubs and Reds in 1938-42, but his mark was with his ability to evaluate and educate the talent of others.

He projected a Blue Jays draft choice who had been an outfielder at Southern Illinois as a pitcher, and Dave Stieb never regretted the suggestion. He's been credited with helping find and sign the likes of Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Rusty Staub, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor.

He spent time with nine different organizations in his career as a player, scout, manager and executive. Just last spring the Blue Jays named their minor league complex after Mattick.

"There is a major void in Blue Jays land," Toronto president Paul Godfrey said.

Don't be so territorial.

The passing of Bobby Mattick left a major void everywhere the game of baseball is played.

Comings And Goings

At least 12 teams will feature a new third baseman next season. Anaheim (Dallas McPherson), Colorado (Garrett Atkins), Los Angeles (Jose Valentin), Kansas City (Chris Truby or Mark Teahen), Minnesota (Terry Tiffee) and Washington (Vinny Castilla) all lost their incumbents as free agents. Arizona (Troy Glaus), Seattle (Adrian Beltre), Cincinnati (Joe Randa) and Toronto (Corey Koskie) added free agents. Detroit's Carlos Guillen is moving to the position, and Aaron Boone returns to play for Cleveland after missing 2004 after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

Infielder Jose Hernandez, who signed with the Indians, has averaged 3.28 at-bats per strikeout during his career. Reggie Jackson previously held the record at 3.79.


Tracy Ringolsby is the national baseball writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. You can contact him by sending e-mail to tracyringolsby@baseballamerica.com.

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