Wayne Norton was a baseball lifer. Norton, a driving force behind the development of baseball in his native Canada, passed away Saturday at the age of 75, nearly three years after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).The native of Port Moody, British Columbia, was an 18-year-old outfielder when he
Wayne Norton was a baseball lifer. Norton, a driving force behind the development of baseball in his native Canada, passed away Saturday at the age of 75, nearly three years after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).
The native of Port Moody, British Columbia, was an 18-year-old outfielder when he signed with the Yankees in 1961. Norton appeared in 1,206 Minor League games over the next 10 years, the last nine in the A's organization, and then he transitioned to the roles of scout and executive.
It was a challenge in recent years. Norton was initially diagnosed with severe arthritis more than a handful of years ago, and then ALS. It limited his his mobility, but not his commitment to his passion, which also happened to be his job -- looking for Canadian talent with big league ability.
It was therapeutic.
"It was a carrot on the stick," said his widow, Trudy, who met Norton in high school in Port Moody.
In recent years, Trudy had become Wayne's ballpark companion, helping him navigate through the physical limitation.
"I can recognize a fastball really well," she said with a laugh a couple years ago. "A curve or a changeup, they're still a bit subtle."
Norton most recently worked for the Seattle Mariners, scouting not only his native Canada but also Europe, until the growing physical limitations made the lengthy flights overseas too big of a hurdle. He was a part of Seattle's organization during a time in which it had four general managers and four scouting directors.
"Wayne was a role model and mentor for so many young scouts and coaches," said Mariners special assistant to the general manager Tom McNamara. "When I was hired by the Mariners as scouting director in 2008, it took me exactly one meeting with Wayne to know that I never had to worry about having Canada covered."
Norton's impact on the game of baseball was anything but subtle. His scouting career began on a part-time level with the Montreal Expos. Norton was hired by the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. He moved with original Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick to the Orioles and the Mariners, where he had been a scout since 2000 and was credited with the club drafting of James Paxton, Michael Saunders, Tyler O'Neill and Phillippe Aumont, among others. Norton also signed Bobby Madritsch and George Sherrill out of independent leagues.
And when Norton was traveling overseas, among the players he signed were Alex Liddi from Italy, outfielder Gregory Halman from the Netherlands and pitcher Dylan Unsworth of South Africa, who split the 2017 season between Double-A and Triple-A after earning All-Star honors in the Double-A Southern League in 2016.
"Wayne was responsible for thousands of young players in Canada having the opportunity to grow through the game, and hundreds of young players having a chance to play professionally," said Mariners vice president of scouting Tom Allison. "More than that, he was truly one of the great gentlemen in the game."
Inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, Norton was named the Canadian Scout of the Year by the Canadian Baseball Network in 1998 and '13, and the Mariners' International Scout of the Year in '07.
Shortly after his retirement as a player following the 1970 season, Norton established Baseball Canada's Junior National Team. He managed Canada's Pan Am Games team in '75, the year he also founded Baseball British Columbia. In '86, Norton established the National Baseball Institute in Vancouver, which spawned big league talent that included Matt Stairs, Corey Koskie, Denis Boucher, Steve Sinclair, Paul Spoljaric, Rob Butler, Jason Dickson, Aaron Guile and Derek Aucion during its 13-year existence.
"It was a model that we were able to follow," said Terry McKaig, a graduate of the NBI who went on to become head coach at the University of British Columbia -- which, among others, produced big league pitcher Jeff Francis. "The program is a milestone marker in baseball development in [Canada]. When you take his playing career and what he accomplished scouting into consideration along with the NBI, Wayne Norton has to be near the top if you put together a list of the most influential people ever in Canadian baseball."
Norton is gone. But he will never be forgotten.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.