Sometimes, you have to be reminded to cherish each and every day. There are no givens.
I got whacked across the face with that one yesterday afternoon when I heard that Stan Zielinski had passed away.
The unexpected news spread quickly. One text to me said “We just found out that Stan Zielinski died … We’re all in shock.” Another read “Can’t believe it Chuck. We lost one of the best today.”
Most of you don’t know who Stan was – and I think he kind of liked it that way. In a nutshell, Stan was a longtime baseball scout, and I had the honor of working with him for 10-plus years. Stan was a Chicago-area native, and he spent the last 15 seasons scouting for the Cubs. He was just 64 years old.
Scouts are a different breed; they truly are the lifeblood of baseball – especially so in an information-gathering era. They’re under-the-radar, doing everything they can to get data and info about potential players for their organization.
Scouting is not as simple as going out and watching ballgames. A scout has to track down all of the intangibles in figuring out what makes a player tick. A scout has to be willing to fight for his player, to let you know why he thinks/knows a player will succeed when others don’t feel the same way. A scout can be really good at his job, but – through circumstances not in his control – not have players selected by his organization due to different factors.
And there are different types of scouts. Some scouts excel at sizing up and projecting amateur players – both at the high school and college level (yes, there is a difference). Some scouts excel at covering professional players at the lower levels, during instructional league play and the Arizona Fall League. Some scouts excel at major league coverage, projecting player fits for trades or free agent signings.
Very few can do all of the above well. Stan, though, was one of the elite scouts – and shined at all of these facets. He did it for multiple organizations during his time in baseball. He did it for multiple regimes with the Cubs. And I was lucky enough to watch him do it from my information-gathering position in Baseball Operations. Stan was one of my favorites to work with.
What’s life like for an amateur scout? During the spring, Stan was all over the Midwest. For instance, his coverage responsibility was Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, maybe another state or two. There are only so many days to see so many players – and deal with adverse weather conditions. So you’re always on the road, trying to get from one location to another – with a backup plan in case there’s rain here but not there. In order to do his job and do it right, he had to build up a tremendous rapport with high school coaches and college coaches – and of course the athletes and their families.
In the draft room, it was always fun watching Stan fight for the players he had scouted – and it wasn’t just over the high-round picks. If he could project and envision one of the kids in his area wearing a Cubs uniform, everyone in the room knew it. But that’s what a scout is supposed to do.
I worked with him regularly during the summer and fall – as one of my Baseball Ops jobs was to assist Jim Hendry and Randy Bush in obtaining info from scouts on the other 29 organizations. I spent countless hours on the phone with Stan. The information was outstanding. Getting the info never was easy.
Back in the day, which is so archaic now, I created spreadsheets and documents for the scouts to compile information for upper management. As good of a scout as he was with gathering info, he wasn’t the most tech savvy. Getting Stan to open an email, download an attachment, type info into the attachment, save the attachment, then email the attachment back to me was, shall we say, challenging. My office coworkers knew when I was going through one of those phone calls with Stan. I referred to it as being a hotline operator talking someone off the ledge.
I miss those phone calls. I will also fondly remember being on the receiving end of Stan’s neurotic phone calls about missing calls from Mr. Hendry: “Jim called me and didn’t leave a message. Is he mad at me?”
Stan was a trusted member of all of the scouting staffs he was a part of, and the Cubs organization and the scouting world lost a great one yesterday. He will be sorely missed.