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Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
High School Sports
By Bob Finnigan
When the Mariners pick third in next June's amateur draft, their highest pick in more than a dozen years, they will do so without the guidance of Roger Jongewaard for the first time in almost two decades.
After 19 years as Seattle's lead talent evaluator, regarded as one of the best in the game, Jongewaard has resigned from the team, effective Oct. 31.
He came to the team in 1985 as director of scouting after working with the California Angels, New York Mets and Detroit Tigers, and in 1989 became vice president of scouting and player development.
Now, he is not at the organizational meetings in Peoria, Ariz., this week.
"You don't do that," Jongewaard, a genial man who spent 39 years in professional baseball, said of not attending the meetings. "If you tell your team you're leaving, it's like you're not with them already."
The Mariners offered him a part-time position, but Jongewaard declined and is moving into a house he and wife Carol have built just north of San Diego, to be closer to most of their family and not far from their roots in Long Beach.
"The Mariners treated me well my whole time," he said. "Carol and I fell in love with the Northwest. After all that time there, about 20 years, we felt more Northwesterners than Californians."
Jongewaard signed as a catcher with Milwaukee out of Long Beach Poly High School in 1954, and in 1959 was with the Seattle Rainiers but wound up best known as the catcher in the Home Run Derby TV series.
He retired after his season in Seattle and turned to running restaurants he owned in Southern California.
He returned to baseball in 1969. In 1999, Topps Baseball Card Co. recognized Jongewaard for distinguished service to the game.
"We had a pretty good ride," Jongewaard said of his drafts and minor-league operation. "For the first 12 years, all our first-round picks made it to the big leagues, which I think anyone will tell you is unusual."
That group included Ken Griffey Jr., whom Jongewaard insisted on taking in 1987 over the orders of then-owner George Argyros, who wanted pitcher Mike Harkey.
Alex Rodriguez (1993), Tino Martinez (1988), Ron Villone (1992), Jason Varitek (1994), Jose Cruz Jr. (1995) and Gil Meche (1996) were also in the group.
The string of success was broken by injuries rather than wrong judgments, starting with 1997 pick Ryan Anderson, who is still trying to come back after missing three years.
Matt Thornton came in 1998, and, after overcoming arm troubles, is expected to stick as a major-league performer.
Catcher Ryan Christianson (1999) and pitcher Sam Hays (2000) have been hurt.
After missing with John Mayberry (2002), whose demands exceeded the budget Jongewaard was allowed, Seattle came back with San Diego prep shortstop Adam Jones (2003), who is thought to be a strong possibility to be in Seattle in two or three years.
Not only did Seattle do exceptionally well in the North American draft, but Jongewaard led the club toward diversification in the search for talent in recent years.
Turning to the Pacific Rim, Jongewaard's scouts came up with Chin Soo Choo, Cha Seung Baek, Chris Snelling, Craig Anderson and Travis Blackley, all on the 40-man or spring-camp rosters, and others.
In 2002, Jongewaard and former general manager Pat Gillick hired Charlie Kerfeld, who also recently resigned.
Kerfeld, the former pitcher who had managed in the independent leagues, helped Gillick sign independent-league pitchers Bobby Madritsch, George Sherrill and Randy Williams.
While Jongewaard was succeeded by Bob Fontaine as the man who heads up scouting and drafting for the Mariners, it seems the club's run of success with June picks has continued with the signing of Matt Tuiasosopo this year.
"That's a good choice," Jongewaard said. "Bob did well there."
Fontaine came in as Jongewaard's replacement, brought to the organization by Bill Bavasi after he took over as GM last winter.
"Bill made changes, and I'm not sure I wouldn't do the same if I took over somewhere," Jongewaard said.
While Bavasi wanted his own man in charge of the draft and development, he made it clear it was not from any doubt about Jongewaard.
"Roger is one of the top baseball men around, and really good people, too," Bavasi said. "We wanted him to stay."
Jongewaard declined the offer of part-time scouting.
"I hope this doesn't sound wrong, but I want to be your top guy, one of those making the key decisions," he said.
As it stands now, he will try retirement.
"I'll see if I can stay busy without working. I've been going to games at night, keeping my hand in," he said. "We'll see. It's a big change."
If he decides not to change, Jongewaard added, "several clubs have already spoken to me about working for them. As far as the Mariners go, it was just time for me to move on."
For now, however, his heart will be with the Mariners.
"Looking back, I think we did well," he said. "When we started, most baseball people regarded us as a bit of a joke, and I think we've developed a lot of respect as an organization, known for not only quality but depth."
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