Jorge Rivera Named First Member Of Puerto Rico Scouts Hall Of Fame
On May 1, 2019, at the first game of the Tournament of Excellence in Caguas, P.R., longtime Blue Jays scout Jorge Rivera was posthumously inducted as the inaugural member of the Puerto Rico Scouts Hall of Fame.
Born on the island on December 16, 1950, Rivera played in the minor leagues for the Royals and Pirates organizations from 1969 to 1973 before he became a scout for the Blue Jays in 1986. He became the longest-tenured Toronto scout, working for the organization as one of the few full-time Puerto Rico scouts in the industry, before his death in 2019.
“I can’t think of a better inductee as the initial member because more than a Blue Jay, Puerto Rican baseball meant so much to Jorge,” said Jon Lalonde, who is currently a pro scout with the Blue Jays but worked with Rivera as a scouting director for the team in the 2000s. “There is no better ambassador to me than him.”
“(I’m) happy for him and his family. There is no one more deserving. When Jorge spoke of players, there was like a pride in it because the island was so special to him.”
Rivera was responsible for signing a number of players for the Blue Jays over his almost three decades of work, including two-time All-Star Carlos Delgado—who signed as an amatuer free agent with the team in 1988—and first round picks Alex Rios and Miguel Negron in 1999 and 2000. The Blue Jays drafted and signed 15 players during his time with the team, and signed others who were undrafted free agents as well. Among them include Felipe Crespo, Miguel Neron, Luis Aquino and Felipe Lopez.
“I don’t know off the top of my head how many All-Stars came out of Puerto Rico in the 80s and 90s and in the last 25 years but the fact that Jorge was a part of signing two of them is a pretty big deal,” said Harry Einbinder, the Blue Jays manager of amatuer and international scouting.
“At the time of his passing and the few years leading up to it he was literally the veteran in the room. Obviously the person himself, he had some great scouting ability, but for young scouts who came into our department, they immediately knew who he was and the impact that he’d had. Not just on our team but also in Puerto Rico.”
Rivera was known throughout Puerto Rico as someone who routinely went above and beyond for the players he was scouting and managing. He would drive players to and from practices and games when they needed a ride, he would spend time coaching and handing out advice to players. Those he managed and those who he simple knew. He would even spend his own money on equipment. All the while doing it with a smile on his face.
“Jorge was a great scout, but a better human being,” said Joey Sola, who scouts Puerto Rico for the Astros. “He was always smiling. I don’t remember seeing Jorge mad—ever. Swear to God. He was always smiling, in the tough moments he had a smile on his face.
Sola remembers all the times that Rivera would go out of his way to offer him tips on managing teams on the island. He didn’t have to. But he did anyways.
“You won’t find anybody on the island who will say anything bad about Jorge,” Sola said. “He was that kind of person. He was very kindly… He was always available, especially for the kids. He was managing, he was scouting, he was a friend. Basically he was all of that in just one person.”
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Throughout Rivera’s career, he was mostly an outlier. While many teams use part-time scouts or sent their South Florida area scouts over to Puerto Rico to scout the top players and big showcases, Rivera was a full-time scout on the island.
Because he was entrenched, he not only had detailed reports on the every player and their skills on the baseball field, but he could also break down makeup and family dynamics and all sorts of other off-the field details ease.
“I would always go over there, it was kind of the kickoff to the season they would do a showcase in January,” Lalonde said. “And I would go over and spend two or three days with Jorge. He would always pick me up at the airport and we would go to this restaurant, Metropol—they always had fish and beans and rice, all that good stuff—we would just sit at this restaurant that was authentic Puerto Rican food and he would just go down the rosters like an encyclopedia.
“‘This is Ortiz and Ortiz is from Ponce. His dad is a plumber and his mom is a teacher and he’s improved in this way’. We would just sit there for an hour and a half. He would go down and tell me what I was going to see: ‘Here are the two or three or four that I really like, and here’s why.’ I would just sit back and listen and let him go. And I would laugh because he’d invariably fire in all kinds of funny stories and background stories. It was as much fun as you could have talking baseball.”
Now, as the first member of the Puerto Rico Scouts Hall of Fame, Rivera’s legacy as both an evaluator and simply a caring member of the baseball community on the island will live on and be apparent to those who never got to meet him, like Einbinder and Sola and Lalonde—and all the players who Rivera signed, scouted and coached.
“I remember meeting him for the first time and he was one of the most endearing people that you would ever meet,” Lalonde said. “His English was good, it wasn’t great—it was certainly much better than my Spanish. But he would go out of his way to come and introduce himself, say hello, just a gentleman and an endearing guy. Personable, funny. Easiest guy in the world to like.
“He had such a humility about him that when he spoke, in terms of his baseball acumen, you couldn’t help but listen. Because he described players with a passion, with a sense of humor, but with this kind of deep, next-level kind remarks on players that weren’t canned. They were very personal, they came from his years of experience and he was just so passionate. He was just a wonderful, wonderful guy to be around.”