This is the third installment in my impromptu mini-series about Billy Blitzer.
You can read the initial story here: http://www.chuckblogerstrom.com/all-my-stories/it-coulda-happened-it-shoulda-happened-it-did.
You can read the second story here: http://www.chuckblogerstrom.com/all-my-stories/the-book-of-blitzer-chapter-2.
Billy Blitzer was rattling off the names of players he signed who made it to the major leagues. He’s had a dozen, which is a lot coming out of his “cold weather” region (New York/New Jersey/New England area) – including first-round picks Shawon Dunston, Doug Glanville and Derrick May.
The conversation soon turned to “his guy.”
“You’re fortunate if you sign players that play in the big leagues. But you’re very fortunate if you sign a player that you’re specifically associated with,” Blitzer said. “For years, whenever I walked into the park, people would say ‘There’s the scout who signed Shawon Dunston’ – especially in New York. But then, as the years went by, as I go around the country – even among baseball guys – I hear ‘There’s the scout who signed Jamie Moyer.’
“Scouts used to kid me, because when they’d have to see a soft-tossing lefty, they’d tell me, ‘It’s all your fault. If you hadn’t signed that kid, we wouldn’t have to bother seeing this other kid pitch.’ Jamie became the figure for people to have to write reports about … a soft-tossing lefty. And his name would go on people’s reports. Being the person who signed Jamie, they’d ask me, ‘What did you see in him?’”
1984 is well known in Cubs annals, as it was the year the Cubs went to the postseason for the first time since World War II.
While I can still envision watching Rick Sutcliffe strike out Pittsburgh’s Joe Orsulak to send the Cubs to the playoffs, that wasn’t the only success for the Cubs that year – as the scouting department drafted a duo that went on to record 624 major league victories.
As Blitzer succinctly sized it up, “What a draft that was … Greg Maddux in the second round and Jamie Moyer in the sixth. You can’t do better than that.”
Blitzer was all-in on Moyer from the first time he saw the left-handed pitcher on the St. Joseph’s University baseball team. Moyer was not the type of pitcher scouts were typically drawn to – a soft-tossing southpaw who pitched in a northern cold-weather area.
Blitzer ignored the fastball velocity when he scouted Moyer. He looked at the total picture. “What I saw was pitchability. I just had a gut feeling. Every time I’d see this guy go out and pitch, he’d do everything he could to get hitters out. He just had a feel for what he was doing and a feel for his craft, and I was just drawn to him.”
The scout followed the pitcher from afar, watching him work and doing his behind-the-scenes due diligence in learning about background and makeup.
That spring, Moyer went 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA in 12 games for St. Joseph’s, completing seven of his 10 starts. He’s still a legend there; he’s on the cover of the university’s 2017 baseball record book.
“I submitted my report on Jamie, and (scouting director) Gordy (Goldsberry) called me up,” Blitzer recalled. “He said, ‘You know, I just read your report. You seem to have a real good feel for this kid. Tell me about him.’ And I did. And I verbally told him what I felt about him, what I saw in the kid. (Cross-checker) Frank DeMoss then went in and saw him – and Frank took a liking to him, too. We just went from there.”
Moyer was aware scouts were at his games, but he paid little-to-no attention to it.
“I knew there were scouts, but they didn’t really talk to you – and I didn’t really have any conversations with any of them,” Moyer said. “At that point, I didn’t know who Billy Blitzer was.
“Right before the draft, miraculously … I lived in a house with a bunch of other students and we had a pay phone. Somehow, he got that phone number. The pay phone rang, and someone said, ‘Hey Jamie, phone call for you.’ I went over, and this guy says, ‘Hi, I’m Billy Blitzer with the Chicago Cubs, and I’ve been watching you. We’re interested in you.’ We had some small talk, and then he asked, ‘What’s it going to take to get you out of school?’ It was my junior year. I laughed. I was green. I couldn’t talk. ‘I don’t know.’ I’m thinking, just hand me a contract and I’ll sign it. I wanted to play pro baseball.
“That conversation kind of ended. There were no guarantees. Fortunately, Billy wrote me up well enough.”
The draft was held in early June. While Blitzer wasn’t physically in the Cubs’ draft room, DeMoss – his regional cross-checker – was. “Frank was the one who spoke up for Jamie – but Gordy already knew,” Blitzer said. “Gordy knew that Jamie was my gut guy. I’ll tell you, there were only two scouts that really liked him – myself and a scout with the Phillies. Thank God we got him.”
Moyer was selected in the sixth round – the 135th overall pick in that year’s draft.
“Billy called me in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I was playing for the Harrisonburg Turks in the Shenandoah Valley League,” Moyer said. “I had been there about a week, and I might have pitched in part of one game. The draft came, and it wasn’t like it was today – a TV show and everything on the internet. Back then, there was just a baseball draft.
“So I got a phone call where I was staying in Harrisonburg. ‘Hey Jamie, this is Billy Blitzer of the Chicago Cubs. Just wanted to let you know we drafted you in the sixth round.’ As you can well imagine, I almost dropped the phone on the floor. I was ecstatic. I’m like ‘OK. What do I do? Where do I go?’ I was going 100 miles per hour.
“And Billy goes, ‘Slow down. Take your time. Get yourself back home. Give it a couple days. When you get home, I’ll drive down. I’ll meet your parents. I’ll sit down and we’ll discuss things.
“A couple days later, I got home, and that’s the first time I met him face-to-face.”
Let’s call this “The Art of the Negotiation – Billy Blitzer style.”
Moyer: “Billy had his little brief case, and he walked into our house. He was very kind, very respectful. And he just chatted with me and my parents – and told us about the organization. He gave us his little shtick.”
Blitzer: “In those years, there were no negotiations with the front office; it’s not like it is now. You had one phone call to make. And when you made that one phone call and asked for extra money, that was it. You couldn’t ask for a couple thousand dollars, then call the front office back later on and ask for a couple thousand more on top of that. That was a no-no. You had one call.”
Moyer: “He asked, ‘Do you want to sign?’ Of course I did.”
Blitzer: “I can still picture this … we sat at the kitchen table. I’m at one end of the table, Jamie’s opposite me. His mother was on my right. His father was on my left. And I offered him $10,000.”
Moyer: “I’m like, ‘Oh boy.’ My parents said, ‘It’s your decision. We’ll support you however you want.’”
Blitzer: “I tell him I had one phone call to make. Now, we’re talking back-and-forth, and I said to him, ‘OK, if I make that one phone call, will you sign for $12,000?’ And when he looked like he would do it, he starts hemming and hawing.”
Moyer: “Welllllll … can you give me a little more money?”
Blitzer: “He says to me, ‘I think it will have to be $15,000.’ I said, ‘Thinking is no good.’ I went to stand up; I put my hands on the table, and said, ‘I don’t think you know what you want. I’m not making that phone call. I’m leaving …’”
Moyer: “He closed his brief case and said, ‘I just need to let you know … if I leave your house and you don’t sign, I may never come back.’”
Blitzer: “As I said ‘I’m leaving,’ an arm reaches across the table. It was Jamie’s mother. She grabs my right arm and said, ‘Mr. Blitzer, don’t get excited. Don’t leave. He’ll sign.’ I look across the table and said, ‘Are you going to sign, or am I wasting my time here?’ Jamie says, ‘Don’t leave. I’ll sign, I’ll sign. Make the phone call.’”
Moyer: “He gets on the phone with Gordy, and they start talking. Then he gets off the phone and says, ‘Well, you know, we can give you a little bit more money, but I don’t know how much further we can go than that.’”
Blitzer: “I made the phone call, Gordy gave me an extra $3,000, and we agreed on $13,000.”
Moyer: “Well … I signed, and a day or two later I flew out to Arizona for the mini spring training. That was 1984; in 2012, I was done.”
Blitzer: “Can you imagine signing a guy in the sixth round for $13,000? And then he goes on to win 269 games. But that’s the way it was back then. He wanted to play, and I knew he wanted to play.”
Moyer: “It’s funny. I kept in touch with Billy; we have a very good relationship. I would see him when I was playing, whether I was with the Cubs or other teams during my career. I’d go to New York, and we’d go out to dinner and things like that. And we’d go back and discuss when he came to the house and all that kind of stuff.”
Blitzer: “We’ve been close ever since. Really nice family. Really nice people. Like I said, I’ve always been considered part of the family ever since that day.”
Jamie Moyer, on Billy Blitzer …
“Who do think was the first guy I called when the Cubs won the World Series? Billy Blitzer. And this guy was crying on the telephone. How awesome is that? If there’s somebody that bleeds Cubs blue, it’s Billy Blitzer."