Scout tells terrific tales from his 53-year career

April 1st, 2020

While we wait for the baseball season to get underway and for scouts to get back out on the road for their respective organizations, MLB Pipeline will shine a spotlight on these hard-working evaluators who are typically behind the scenes. We’ll talk to scouts across the game about their best Draft picks, biggest misses, best stories, go-to road food and more.

Ron Rizzi grew up in the Bronx, within walking distance of Yankee Stadium when the Pinstripers were dominating the game. By the time he got to high school, Rizzi was doing the same thing, hitting his way to state batting champion status and appearing among the New York All-Stars in an annual matchup against the USA All-Stars.

After skipping multiple middle school grades, the young player graduated high school at 16 and was too young to sign, so he went on to play for the City College of New York, where he tore his rotator cuff in a game against West Point and saw his playing career come to an end.

That’s when his career as he knows it really began. Now a special assistant to the GM in scouting for the Nationals, Rizzi is in his 53rd year of working in the game. He began as a coach while in graduate school, before quickly transitioning into scouting, first with the Pirates, then the Brewers and the Dodgers before landing in Washington, where his coverage is mainly professional and international.

“I graduated in ’68 and started right away,” Rizzi said. “When I started, we were doing high school Draft stuff and then doing the big leagues at night. We were doing everything. We were covering the Minor Leagues, doing tryout camps, amateur, pro, international, it was all under the same umbrella.”

Though it’s been some time since Rizzi was drafting and signing amateur players, he has seen more than 50 of the players he’s signed make it to the Majors, including Gary Sheffield, John Smiley, Stan Belinda, Rick Reed and Mike Bielecki.

“There are so many names I can’t even remember that I’ve signed over the years,” he said. “I’ll see some of them now, coaching or somewhere else and I’m so thankful that I’ve been in this for such a long time. It beats the real world. I’m really blessed.”

Biggest standout
“The best pitcher I ever scouted was Brien Taylor,” Rizzi said. “He would have been one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball." Complete story »

“In all the years I’ve scouted, I’ve never put another player above a 70 but him. So the director must have been thinking, ‘Who did we hire here?’ I remember going to see Scotty Schoeneweis at Duke the next day -- and Brien Taylor was at East Carteret High School in North Carolina -- and Schoeneweis was 92-94, lefty with good stuff and I thought wow, who is this high school guy? It took me months to get him out of my head when I saw other pitchers, trying to realize not everyone can be this guy. He was a man against boys. He could scratch his knees without bending. He had the biggest hands, him and Sandy Koufax, that I’ve ever seen. He threw fastball-change, no breaking ball, deceptive with 98-100. He’s the best pitcher I ever saw, and I saw everyone you could possibly name who’s ever come through.

“Position guys, [Alex Rodriguez] and Ken Griffey Jr. in high school are by far the best two I’ve seen. They were incredible. Griffey is still the best player I’ve ever seen in terms of his abilities. A-Rod was incredibly strong and tremendously talented. The best pure hitter was Manny Ramirez. I remember putting on his report, ‘This guy’s going to be a batting champion and potentially even a home run champion, and if anyone in player development tries to change his swing, they should be fired immediately.’”

Biggest miss
“In terms of mistakes, there are probably a ton of players who were a lot better than I thought, but Dustin Pedroia was a guy I saw at Triple-A Pawtucket and he was a really good player. But I’m watching this little guy swing from his [butt], this big, long swing, aggressive, from his butt, and I’m thinking when this guy gets to the big leagues, there’s no way. They’re going to pound him in and he’s never going to be able to hit that way in the big leagues. But he continued to be the same type of player and he had success. It was most astounding to me. I was happy for him because he played hard and had great feel for the game, but he would have been on top of probably tons of mistakes for me.”

Major League
“I was the guy who got all the players for the movie,” Rizzi said. “I helped to coach Charlie Sheen in the movie, and I was in it, I had my name on the back of my jersey. But I worked with Charlie Sheen and actually, he was 82-83 on the gun. I spent a lot of months with him, and he’s a big baseball fan. He was a big Big Red Machine fan, had all kinds of baseball memorabilia. He played in high school and was pretty good.”

Go-to road food
“Anything Italian. After two days or so without having Italian food, I go into pasta withdrawal. When I go to Toronto and New York, I like to go to Chinatown because I love Chinese food. But my favorite Italian place is Café Rinaldi in Old Forge. It’s about 15 minutes from the ballpark in Scranton. Scouts can give you the best restaurant tour. They know every place in every town.”

In-car entertainment of choice
“It’s a combination of two things. I listen to MLB radio all the time. I have MLB Network on in my house too. I have eight TVs in my house and six of them have MLB on constantly. I love to stay on top of it, especially during the season. So I listen to MLB radio and then talk to people using the Bluetooth in the car. I have long baseball conversations with GMs, managers, coaches, other scouts, while I’m driving.”

Advice to industry hopefuls
“Try to be around baseball people, whether they’re scouts or coaches or players, anybody, and try to learn as much about the game as you can. It’s going to take 10 years before you even know which way is up, and you’re going to keep on evolving. Try to keep taking on responsibility, expand your parameters and keep on learning. And anybody who’s going to spend any time in this game, you’ve got to have a lot of passion and love for it.”