White Sox big league scout Bill Scherrer is a baseball nomad.
Scherrer flew into Phoenix on Friday morning, stopped by his home in Ahwatukee, Ariz. dropped off his suitcase, saw his wife and kids for the first time in 55 days, then headed to Chase Field to watch the first of three games between the Pirates and D-backs.
After that series, Scherrer will catch the Cardinals and D-backs for four games, then three next weekend with the Rockies at Chase Field before he hits the road again to watch the Rockies vs. the Padres in San Diego.
"I thought about following Houston home and seeing the Astros and Red Sox this weekend, but I needed to get home," Scherrer said. "I was not doing a third batch of laundry on the road."
Such is the life of a scout. Baseball is in the blood, but so are the airplane flights and hotel rooms. There's no real home-field comfort zone.
But then, Scherrer gets it. He is 58 years old and this is his 40th year in pro ball as a player or scout. It is the only thing Scherrer knows. He understands the instability of the baseball life.
A first-round selection of the Reds in the now-defunct secondary phase of the January Draft in 1977, Scherrer had a playing career that stretched more than 22 seasons and saw him wear the uniforms of 19 teams, including the Tigers' 1984 World Series championship squad.
Scherrer also spent time in the big leagues with the Reds, Orioles and Phillies. And then there were 15 Minor League teams, including his 1991 swan song with the Nuevo Laredo Owls of the Mexican Summer League. And that doesn't include the countless winters in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
In 1988 alone, Scherrer was with six teams. He discusses his vagabond life in this week's Q&A.
MLB.com: Did you think about doing a credit-card commercial built around the travels you endured in 1988?
Scherrer: It was a different year. I went to big league camp with Baltimore and got to the last cut. I'm thinking, if I can't make this team, maybe it's time to throw in the towel. I walked into the office of (manager) Cal (Ripken) Sr. He says, "You smoke?" I say, "Yeah." He hands me a cigarette. We both light up. He says, "I have four things to tell you. One, play as long as you can, as hard as you can. The day it's over, they take the uniform off and it's done." He takes a deep drag. "Two, if you can't do (No.) 1, then go to (No.) 2, player development." He takes a deep drag. "Three, if you can't go into player development, go into scouting." He takes a deep drag. "Four, if none of this works out for you, well it's been fun. Welcome to the real world."
MLB.com: You never forgot the advice?
Scherrer: They were great words of wisdom. I decided "OK, I'm going down to the Minor Leagues." I wind up with Rochester. My wife and I drive up there from Miami. Then, I get a call from (Rochester manager) Johnny Oates, and he tells me to meet the team in Minneapolis, you are going to the big leagues. By the time I got there, (Ripken) had been fired and Frank Robinson was the manager. That's the year the Orioles lost the first 21 games.
I got the call in relief and lost the 20th game. I start the eighth. Never got an out. Home runs to (Kent) Hrbek and (Tim) Laudner, a walk to (John) Moses, balk him to second and I'm out of there. We go to Chicago, win our first game, lose two more and then go home to Baltimore. My wife and I get three days at the Cross Keys Inn to give us time to find a place to live. We get up in the morning and go to IHOP for breakfast. I'm reading the sports page, and it says the Orioles are likely to release (Scott) McGregor and likely to send Scherrer back to Rochester.
Instead of going to look for an apartment, my wife and I go back to the hotel. I figure if the light is blinking on the phone, I'm gone. There's no light on, but in a couple minutes, the phone rings. (General manager) Roland Hemond is calling and says they are making a move and I'm going back to Rochester. I told Roland I appreciate what he had done for me, but if I go back to Rochester, the odds are against me coming back. My wife and I get in the car and drive to Buffalo.
MLB.com: But you didn't quit?
Scherrer: No. I start calling around. I get an opportunity with the San Francisco Giants with their Triple-A team in Phoenix. I say fine, but I want my own car. They say that's fine, so my wife loads up the Ford Bronco and (we) drive cross country. That was quite a team. They've got Trevor Wilson, Jeff Brantley, John Burkett, Dennis Cook, Ron Davis, Kirt Manwaring, Bob Melvin, Terry Mulholland and Matt Williams. I'm the last guy on the staff. They have a kid, Mike Villa. He started the season at [Class] A ball. He had a wife and a child. I'd been through that routine in 1982 with the Reds, where I went from [Class] A to Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues. I went to Wendell Kim, who was our manager, and told him, give the kid the opportunity to stay. Time to head back home.
MLB.com: But you didn't quit?
Scherrer: I started making calls again. Cleveland had interest with me going to their Triple-A team, but that was in Colorado Springs. Then, Tony Siegel called from the Phillies and said they had a job at Old Orchard Beach (in Maine). He says the team is going on a road trip to Indianapolis, Nashville and Pawtucket, and they want me to meet the team in Indianapolis. I get there, and at the end of the trip, George Culver, the manager, tells me to meet the big league team in Atlanta. I meet the team in Atlanta and we go to Cincinnati, then get home. My wife and I find an apartment. Later that month, we're at home, and I pitch against the Cubs. I'm taking my uniform off in the clubhouse and look up and there's Tony Siegel and (general manager) Lee Thomas. I know what's coming. I told them, thanks for the opportunity, but I'll take my release.
MLB.com: But you didn't quit?
Scherrer: I get a call from Houston, and they ask if I'd consider going to Tucson. I told them, "In your dreams." So here I am, sitting at home, no job, watching a game on TV. Calvin Schiraldi is pitching for the Cubs. He is hitting, gets a double and blows out. My phone rings. It's Billy Harford, farm director for the Cubs. He says, "Are you watching the game?" I said, "What game?" He said, "Schiraldi just blew out." I told him "That's too bad." He says, "Would you consider going to Double-A?" I'm thinking, I've played in the PCL, American Association, International League, American League and National League this year. Now they want to know if I'd go to the Eastern League. I tell him OK. He called back, and said they were going to send me to (Triple-A) Iowa instead. So I go there, and one day, the manager, Pete Mackanin, calls me in and the first words out of my mouth are, "You guys sending me up to the bigs?" Pete said no and asked me if I wanted to be a pitching coach. I told him I couldn't give him an answer. Lester Strode took the job and it worked out well for him. Me? I went home.
MLB.com: So you still want to play?
Scherrer: The next year, I go to Spring Training with the Pirates' Minor Leaguers. That doesn't work out. I wind up at Tidewater with the Mets, get released and go to Oklahoma City with the Rangers. I get released again, and then get an offer to go to Italy. I say sure, but I get over there and they only play on weekends. I played one game and started thinking, "What am I doing here? My wife's at home with a new child." I went home.
MLB.com: Now, is it time to get on with life?
Scherrer: I got into a management trainee program at a supermarket. They obviously didn't like me. One day, I put my fist through a box and my supervisor said, "You are not management material." I couldn't disagree.
MLB.com: So it's back to baseball?
Scherrer: I went to scouts' school. The Mets sponsored me. The Mets had an opening for a scout in the Missouri-Oklahoma area, but wanted someone with experience. They had three Minor League pitching-coach jobs. They filled two and I thought I had a chance at a third, but they told me they were going to hire someone from within the organization. It was Jerry Koosman. So I'm back at square one. No scouting job, not playing, no real-world experience.
MLB.com: What's next?
Scherrer: I call Chuck LaMar with the Braves. The only job they have is with Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. What am I going to do? I've got no experience in the real world. I take it. The coach down there is a big weightlifter. He's got us all doing this heavy lifting and something popped in my shoulder. They send me home to Buffalo. I'm back home wondering what I'm going to do. I send out resumes to all 30 clubs, and I call Gary Hughes, who had gone from Montreal to become the scouting director for the expansion Florida Marlins. He said he might have something for me. I didn't hear back, so I called him again. And again. And again. Finally he says, "I'm so tired of having you call. You're hired. I don't know what I am going to have you do, but you are hired so you don't have to keep calling."
MLB.com: And look at you now.
Scherrer: That was the start of a whole new world, and here I am 25 years later, still going strong. My journey is different than some, but I'm here and enjoying every minute.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.