BY STEVE KRAH
An unprecedented time in modern baseball has Pat Murtaugh doing his job in a way he did not anticipate.
In his 32nd year as a professional scout, the West Lafayette, Ind., resident has been evaluating players while the game on the field has been at a standstill because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
The last spring training games were played March 12 and the regular season is on hold.
Murtaugh, who is in his fifth year as a pro scout for the New York Yankees, has been watching video of players that the organization might have an interest in for possible trades.
“We’re digging in a little deeper and going through different organizations and arranging players,” says Murtaugh. “Because of the time we have, we are really able to go deep into the (player’s) history and make notes of it.
“During the season, we don’t go this deep. We don’t have the time.”
He and his fellow scouts have been sifting through reports and analytical data.
“A few of us have been asked to look a video of amateur players,” says Murtaugh. “They give us a list. We give our opinion.
“(Amateur scouts) have they’ve been looking at this so long. They want another perspective.”
Murtaugh, 61, worked in the systems of the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the Yankees. He started off as an amateur scout then was an area scout followed by a cross checker on the amateur side. For the past 15 or more years, he’s been a pro scout.
A passion for the game has kept Murtaugh in it for all these years.
“It’s the competition to get players in your organization,” says Murtaugh. “You get tied to those players and want to see their progress.
“We like to get to know them as well as we can. When they’re on the other team, it’s hard. You can’t tamper with them. But once you get them into your system you get to know them. Make-up of the player is so important to acquire. They may have all the skill sets. But hitting or pitching in Yankee Stadium is so different. It may be overwhelming for their personality.”
From talking to other people who’ve been around the player, Murtaugh finds out things about players like they might be a tough guy on the outside but soft-hearted on the inside.
Players might look good in the batter’s box or on the mound. They might put up head-turning numbers in the gym.
“But it still comes down to tools,” says Murtaugh. “That’s the starting point of everybody.”
Scouts like Murtaugh, project where those baseball tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength — might take a player.
Once they get a handle on that and have the player in their organization, they can delve into the athlete’s intelligence level and if he is coachable (able to retain information).
When Murtaugh was with the Diamondbacks, he also scouted the Reds system. He became intrigued with a shortstop in the low minors named Didi Gregorius.
“We ended up getting him,” says Murtaugh of the Netherlands native who went on to play for the Diamondbacks and Yankees and is now with the Philadelphia Phillies. “He came in after (Derek Jeter) and sustained that position. He has natural tools. His intelligence level is real good. He speaks five different languages. He’s a good person and has good work habits.”
In 1976, Murtaugh was in the first graduating class at McCutcheon High School in West Lafayette.
The consolidation of Southwestern and Wainwright made up McCutcheon.
“There were some growing pains,” says Murtaugh, who had started his prep days at Wainwright.
The first head baseball coach for the McCutcheon Mavericks was Dennis Cleaver.
“He was an awesome person and a laid-back coach,” says Murtaugh, who was a second baseman. “I’m proud to have played for him.”
Murtaugh did not play baseball at Purdue University, but earned a degree in kinesiology — knowledge that has helped him as a coach and scout.
“It helps tremendously with the body movement,” says Murtaugh. “You can see limitations to the body. They might be having success now, but there is an injury risk in the future.”
Murtaugh’s nephew, Dru Scott, an athletic trainer in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
One of Murtaugh’s players at West Lafayette was Jason Taulman, who went on to coach in college and is now involved with the Indy Sharks travel organization.
After Purdue, Murtaugh was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.
“He was a tremendous organizer,” says Murtaugh, who went on to be head coach at West Lafayette High School before becoming a full-time scout.
Organization is a trait that has served Murtaugh well.
“As a scout, you have to be self-disciplined,” says Murtaugh. “There’s nobody to tell you to go to work everyday. If you’re not organized and a self-motivator, you’re going to be lost.
“You have to stay on reports and it can become tedious.”
If the reports pile up, the scout ends up rushing through them and doing a poor job.
“You have your notes,” says Murtaugh. “While it’s fresh in your mind, you write as much as you can.”
If Murtaugh is viewing a series between two teams in his territory — say the Reds and the Chicago Cubs — he is responsible for evaluating 50 players.
Ideally, he will stay with one team for five or six days. He will get a good look at everyday players and can file a limited view report on others.
“Here’s what I saw but I don’t have a lot of conviction,” says Murtaugh. “I didn’t see enough.”
Murtaugh didn’t see the black widow spider that bit him in Scottsdale, Ariz., while he was covering a minor league game in 2019.
“I didn’t realize I had got bitten,” says Murtaugh. “I had this knot on the inside of my thigh.”
Murtaugh flew out the next day. In talking with wife Kathleen, he was convinced to go to urgent care.
The said, ‘we’ve got to do surgery,’” says Murtaugh. “They cleaned all the poison and venom out. I was fine after that.”
And — with the media accounts — somewhat famous.
“I was at spring training this year and there was a family sitting behind me,” says Murtaugh. “I had my bag with name tag. The father must have Googled me and said to me, ‘I just read about that black widow.’”
Kathleen Murtaugh is an assistant professor at St. Elizabeth School of Nursing — a division of Franciscan Health — in Lafayette. Pat has three step-children and 10 grandchildren.
Pat Murtaugh, a graduate of McCutcheon High School and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., is a pro baseball scout for the New York Yankees. 2020 is his 32nd year as a scout.