Title: His son's the boss That's the way this baseball scout likes it.(Sports Weekend)
Date: August 31, 2001 Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Author: Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Phil Rizzo is a unique guy in a one-of-a-kind position.
Replete with gold jewelry, two Lincoln Continentals and raw language, he is the 72-year-old half of a father-son relationship unlike any other in Major League Baseball. His son Mike, 40, is the Arizona Diamondbacks' scouting director, and Phil is one of their major-league scouts.
Phil sees every White Sox and Cubs home game, and writes 400-500 player reports a season. He sends them from a laptop in his Rolling Meadows home, and doesn't talk to Arizona brass unless someone calls with a question.
That's the way it should be, he says. The Diamondbacks trust the scouts to do their jobs, unlike one of the six organizations he worked for during his 25 years of scouting.
"Calling you up, every minute of the day, where you're at," he says, getting louder. "I had a phone, beeper, two cell phones... what the (heck)? You can't work for people like that."
The Arizona power ladder has owner Jerry Colangelo, a Chicagoan, at the top, followed by, on the baseball side, vice-president and general manager Joe Garagiola Jr., assistant GM Sandy Johnson, director of baseball operations Bob Miller, then Mike Rizzo.
Johnson got Phil back into scouting before the 1999 season, when Mike was still the system's national scouting supervisor. From what Phil has seen in his two-plus years with Arizona, the front-office guys are his kind - old-school, no bull, and little meddling with the people they've hired.
"Sandy Johnson, great baseball man, great baseball man, best guy I've ever worked for, because he leaves me alone," says Phil while driving the white Lincoln to a Cubs game. "He lets me do my job. He says, 'Riz, I don't have to talk to you, I know you're out there doing your job. All I want to know is when I call you for something, I want the answer, and I know you've got it.'
"Joe Garagiola relies on his baseball people, and that's what I like about him. He doesn't feel like he's the smartest baseball guy in the world, because 99 percent of them aren't.
"They should rely on the people that they hire and Joe does that."
You don't spend five minutes with Phil without learning exactly how he feels about the baseball of today, you, them, traffic, and the baseball of yesterday.
Mike, a University of Illinois grad, sums up what he has learned from his father:
Be true to your convictions. Work hard. Always be a professional. You have to be loyal to your employer. And don't take (stuff) from anyone.
"That's his credo," says Mike. "I'd call him a tough guy. He's a very street-smart person. Very intelligent without having any degrees. I always say he went to the University of the Streets."
Oh, one more thing, says Mike: "His bark is definitely worse than his bite."
There are plenty of guys in baseball's personnel hierarchy who have risen without as much playing, coaching or scouting experience as someone like, say, Phil, would like.
Don't get him started.
Phil was so disenchanted with the scouting world that Johnson had to convince him over a few phone calls to accept Arizona's job offer. Phil was working part-time with Kansas City then.
"I says (to Johnson) 'I've had it, I don't like any (bleepin') body anymore,' " Phil says, gaining momentum with the memory. " 'I don't like scouting directors - they're all (unpleasant people).' My son didn't have the job then. 'I don't need it. I don't have to answer to these (unpleasant people), who never played marbles, trying to pick my (bleeping) brain.'
"I didn't want to BS (Johnson) because Mike was working there. I said 'I'm not an easy guy to work with. I'm a (unpleasant person). I don't like anybody. I (bleeping) fight at the drop of a hat. I don't want to get you in trouble. I don't want to get my son fired.'"
Johnson won over Phil by assuring him that he would be Phil's boss. A year later, Mike became scouting director. Had he not been Phil's son, he still would be one of the exceptions to his father's opinion of the modern personnel executive.
"I think I taught him everything he knows about the game," Phil says.
Baseball, Korea & back
The Cubs drafted Phil in 1951 and he played in Danville before being drafted into the Korean War. Traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers while in Korea, Phil played second, third and short for $120 a month - and worked two to three jobs in the offseason - until retiring in 1958.
He scouted for two years until a growing family forced him into the restaurant business. In 1978, legendary scout Nick Kamzic got Phil a job with the California Angels. Among the highlights of Phil's signings while with the Angels, White Sox, Milwaukee, the Yankees and Kansas City are Brewers utility man Mark Loretta and St. Louis catcher Mike Matheny.
"I had pretty good people to teach me how to scout the game, and that's what I did with Mike," Phil says.
First, though, Phil taught Mike Rizzo how guys like them - smaller, fireplug types - should play baseball. In Phil's offseasons, he would measure a basepath's 90 feet in an alley and make Mike wish his dad was an accountant.
"I showed him how to play the little guys' game," Phil says. "Bunt, hit-and-run, and all the little facets of the game which everybody's forgot to play today. There's a few, but not many."
Mike's climb to the top
California drafted Mike in the 20-something round out of St. Xavier University by way of Triton Junior College and New Mexico State.
Nepotism? Phil says no, and, in fact, says no one ever asked for his opinion on his son's ability.
"I'd say, 'Hey, go see him play,'" Phil says. "'What can I tell you? You're a scout.' "
Mike rose to Triple A, playing with the likes of Devon White and Mark McLemore. When he was 25, the Angels released him.
"Up until that point, I thought I'd play in the major leagues for 10 years," Mike says. "I always said they'd have to pull the uniform off my back, and they did. It was a slap in the face."
What to do? Mike could explore other playing opportunities, or he could take his father's advice.
"I said 'Let me tell you something about this game - you know you could be a hang-arounder and be a baseball bum, or you could go another route and stay in baseball as a coach, a scout, a manager, whatever,'" Phil says.
Mike had promised his mother, Bernadine, that he'd get an education someday, and the perfect opportunity arose. University of Illinois coach Ted Flora needed an assistant coach and, in return for his expertise, Mike would be able to finish his education.
"It really was a life preserver," Mike says. "I jumped at the chance."
After earning a degree, Mike soon moved to scouting. His first job was with the White Sox, for whom Phil was also a scout.
A really close family
Rizzos occupied three of the houses in the cul-de-sac where Phil and Bernadine live before Mike and his wife Sheilah and son Michael Jr., moved to Phoenix in 2000.
"Typical Italian family," Mike says of the Rizzo cul-de-sac. "Tough on the in-laws, but my wife loved being there."
Phil helped Mike's family move, and it was at Mike's first draft, in 2000, that Phil had his proudest moment. He watched as his son - a guy who paid his playing, coaching and scouting dues - organized and delegated and trusted the guys he had hired.
"I never realized my son can get up in front of people, being a boss, and he amazed me when he got up and made his spiel," Phil says. "The way he ran that draft - like he's been there, a veteran.
"He actually (bleeping) amazed me that he knew that much about positioning players in the draft and running the draft. I'm just proud that he's my son.
"Mike, he's not like me. I'm not smart. I'm street-smart, but I don't have all the right words to use half the time. But Mike is sharp. He's smart."
Mike says the modern scouting director had better have his wits about him. Each one does his job differently; Mike must know about salary structure and signing bonuses and agents, as well as have an idea of what's up with the 47 full- or part-time Arizona scouts on the amateur, pro, major-league and international levels.
"It's turned into one of the more difficult jobs in baseball," Mike says. "It's a lot of work. It's a very demanding job. I get a fax bundle (at) every hotel I walk into."
During the months leading up to the 2001 draft, Mike personally watched 230 players, and at the end of June visited Arizona's rookie-ball club in Yakima, Wash., to greet some of the recently signed draftees.
And yes, though he has no timetable, Mike wants to be a general manager.
"I think he would be a great one," Phil says. "I hear nothing but great things about him from other people."
My son, the boss
Mike's family returns to Phil's house for Christmas, but other than that, the two don't see each other that much anymore.
"Sometime he's in town, I don't even know he's in town," Phil says.
As Phil says, that's the way it should be, a boss trusting his scout.
"If I wasn't doing my job, (Mike) could fire me on the spot," Phil says on the way home from the Cubs game. "He couldn't fire me, because I'd quit. I'd say 'Mike, it's best I don't work for you.'
"It would never come to that, that I would be his crutch. I don't need the money. I don't owe anybody anything, and that's a great feeling. I don't need the (bleeping) job, but you know what?
"I work harder now than I ever did because I work for my son and I want him to look good."
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COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
COPYRIGHT 2009 Paddock Publications
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