Dutch welcomed Varsho into the Phillies family
The Phillies signed outfielder Gary Varsho less than a week before the 1995 season opened. The first day he reported to Clearwater, he was met at the clubhouse door at Jack Russell Stadium by catcher Darren Daulton.
"He shook my hand and goes, 'Welcome.' Never happened to me before. Not like that from a player. It made me want to be part of it right away," Varsho recalled.
The first road trip was to St. Louis. Varsho had barely gotten to his room when the phone rang. It was Daulton, inviting him to dinner with a half-dozen or so of his new teammates. That, too, had never happened before.
"From that point forward, Dutch was one of those true leaders that made me feel a part of the Phillies so fast. I really felt part of the team from the beginning, part of the team all the way through," he said.
Varsho, 53, is now a pro scout for the Angels. He played in the big leagues from 1988-95 with the Pirates, Cubs and Reds as well as the Phillies. He played in fewer games (72) for Philadelphia than any of his other teams.
But an indication of how quickly and completely Daulton brought him into the fold is the fact that Varsho went on to have a significant role in franchise history. He managed Double-A Reading from 1999-2001, was the big league bench coach from '02-06 and even managed the Phillies for the final two games of the '04 season after Larry Bowa was let go.
Varsho credits the Phillies organization with helping him grow as a baseball man. He is appreicative of Lee Elia for hiring him away from the Mariners organization, where he had managed their Class A Wisconsin farm club for two years. He also thanks the entire Reading operation -- and particularly Carlos Arroyo, now the organization's roving Minor League pitching instructor -- for setting him straight when he was with the R-Phils.
"I learned a lot about myself, and the guy who really changed me around was Carlos Arroyo. My second year, he called me in and he said, 'Look, you're going to have to change. You're so hard-nosed. You have blinders on. Open up a little bit. You've got a great personality, but it's hard to get through to that,' Varsho recalled.
After that, Varsho worked hard to develop better relationships with everybody in the organization, from the front office to Phil the bus driver and everybody in between. In three years at Reading, he compiled a 235-191 (.551) record and was voted the Eastern League Manager of the Year in 2000 and the best managing prospect in '00 and '01.
Wherever he's gone, whatever he's done -- bench coach of the Pirates for John Russell, roving base running instructor for the Indians, now as a scout for the Angels -- Varsho has looked at it as an opportunity to expand his knowledge of the game.
In Cleveland, then-manager Eric Wedge challenged him to make the Tribe the best base running team in the Major Leagues. He responded with an impassioned seminar complete with video and personally demonstrated techniques -- and he was upset when nothing changed immediately. It was coach Joel Skinner who advised Varsho to be patient, that what he was teaching would eventually sink in. And it did.
Working for the Angels as an advance scout allowed him to see baseball from a new angle. Literally.
"I took the job behind the screen, and it was a really good way for me to see the game a little bit differently. You're trying to gain all the information -- how to beat the next opponent that you're playing, what the pitcher's going to try to do to our hitters, can a catcher throw or not, is he a good blocker. Base running, who can we pick off and who we can't. Outfield arms. It was really good."
Now, as a pro scout, he is responsible for 18 teams from the entire NL Central with the exception of St. Louis, seven in the Class A Midwest League plus selected Triple-A and Double-A clubs. Here the challenge is projecting what role a player could fill at the big league level.
"I'm on a learning curve. I can't wait to see Joe McIlvaine of the Mets [during Spring Training], because he teaches me more about pitching. It's not necessarily about how hard he throws. His body makeup. He likes rounded shoulders rather than squared shoulders, and he explains the reasons why."
It's given him a remarkably well-rounded resume. He's not sure exactly what that it all might add up to, but he had an intriguing conversation with former big league Rusty Kuntz, who works for the Royals, on a back field in Arizona. With fewer and fewer former Major Leaguers willing to ride the buses in the low Minors because they've made so much money during their careers, Varsho "coaches the coaches." In other words, he teaches Minor League instructors who didn't make it all the way to the top the things they may have missed. It's an idea that clearly intrigues Varsho.
"I thought to myself, 'That's a perfect job. All the things Larry Bowa taught me. Charlie Manuel with his hitting. John Vukovich with his third-base coaching. Perry Hill of the Marlins with his infield stuff. Listening to Donnie Long talking about hitting. Playing for Jim Leyland. Rich Donnelly and all the things he taught me about how to get guys coordinated so Spring Training runs smoothly. Bill Virdon in the outfield. All those things are all under this umbrella and it's fun to talk to people about them," he said.
And he hasn't entirely given up on the idea of managing again, although it's not the obsession it once may have been.
"It's in the back of my mind," Varsho said. "Put it this way: I'm trying to diversify my portfolio enough so that people will be interested in having me help their organization. If there's a chance to be a manager at some point, that would be terrific. . .I'd be honored if somebody wanted to interview me, but I've seen the game through a different set of eyes, and this game has so many other facets that I never thought of that are just as important as the guy sitting in the dugout."
Varsho and his wife, Kay, have three children. Their daughters are Andie and Taylor. Their son is named Daulton. In Daulton's bedroom are a uniform and a bat from his namesake player and a signed photo which reads: "I'm very proud to share this name with you. God bless. Darren Daulton."
Said Varsho: "It's hard to find people like that in the game who absolutely touch your life, but that guy sure touched mine. I was very honored to be a Phillie. I was with all the organizations I played with, but Darren made it really special."
And the 18-year-old freshman at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee is a left-handed hitting catcher, just like the player he was named after. Only perfect.