|Courtesy of OOTP|
Pat Gillick is widely regarded as the architect that built the Blue Jays dynasty in the late eighties and early nineties; a team that won five division titles and two consecutive World Series.
But look a little closer, and you’ll see there’s another man who helped lay the groundwork for that perennial contender. He is the man who had his fingerprints throughout the entire Blue Jays organization.
If Pat Gillick was the architect, he was the man who was built the frame of a Blue Jays dynasty. His name is … Epy Guerrero.
For this week’s Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the life of the late Epifano Obdulio Guerrero. Epy passed away Thursday, but his legacy will forever remain as a pioneer for signing and developing some of the best Latin players to ever play the game.
Pat Gillick was often credited from turning the Blue Jays franchise, but Epy Guerrero had a large part to do with the Blue Jays success. Guerrero was essentially Gillick’s right-hand man on the ground, scouting and signing the best talent.
The two spent nearly 30 years working together, bouncing around from the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and eventually settled with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979. By all accounts, Pat Gillick taught Epy Guerrero everything he knew about scouting:
Everywhere you look on the Blue Jays roster, there were the fingerprints of Epy Guerrero. He recommended the Blue Jays go after George Bell, Kelly Gruber and Manny Lee in the Rule 5 Draft. Epy also suggested the Blue Jays convert Pat Borders from a third baseman into a catcher.
Guerrero also persuaded the Blue Jays front office to acquire players like Fred McGriff, Roberto Alomar, Juan Guzman, Alfredo Griffin and countless others.
If ever there was a scout who could spot a diamond in the rough, it was Epy Guerrero. By all accounts he was a tremendous scout, but sometimes he spotted those skilled players in rather unorthodox ways.
Epy Guerrero signed Damaso Garcia simply after watching him play soccer. Many overlooked Tony Fernandez because he walked with a limp as a child, but Epy saw potential and paid for knee surgery for Fernandez and subsequently signed him to a contract.
We have confirmation of the Tony Fernandez story via Enrique Rojas of ESPN:
Not only did Epy Guerrero had a strong influence on which Latin players the Blue Jays went after, but he also prevented the Blue Jays from letting go of a diamond in the rough. And that would be their current face of the franchise, Jose Bautista.
Bob Elliott has a fantastic piece from last year in which he confirms that Guerrero convinced the Blue Jays to not trade Jose Bautista.
“Guerrero said he ran into then manager Cito Gaston at the winter meetings in Las Vegas in December of 2008. Guerrero said Gaston told him that the Jays were about to trade Bautista and asked him to take a look at the hitter when he returned home.
“I phoned Cito after seeing Jose play for Licey and said ‘you better keep this kid,’ ” Guerrero said. “He was figuring out the timing on the leg kick, getting it down right.”
Bautista does not doubt the story.”
It’s remarkable to think that Epy Guerrero picked up on that, but then again, it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering he saw something in George Bell, Carlos Delgado, Damaso Garcia, Tony Fernandez, and many other Latin players.
Epy Guerrero had a supreme eye for talent, but not everyone agreed with his evaluations of certain players. Of course there was one famous player that got away from the Blue Jays despite a glowing review from Guerrero, and that’s future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.
To get a closer look at the young Dominican, Gord Ash sent Mel Queen (the man famous for rebuilding Roy Halladay) to scout Pedro Martinez. Queen wasn’t quite as fond of Pedro as Guerrero was, and thus Martinez slipped through the Blue Jays fingers.
To this day, Epy Guerrero’s Training Complex in Santo Domingo is one of the preeminent baseball development camps in the Dominican Republic. It’s a place where young people learn to eat, breathe and sleep baseball.
In fact, Steve Clarke lists a visit to the Epy Guerrero Training Complex as one of his 100 Things Blue Jays Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Now more than ever, I think people will be making the trek to Santo Domingo to check it out in person.
Epy Guerrero has many accolades to his name, but most importantly I think he’ll be remembered for cultivating some of the best Latin talent the Major Leagues has ever seen.
He was the one man who planted the seed for Blue Jays player in the Dominican Republic. Epy Guerrero made the Toronto Blue Jays a team that Latin American kids dreamt of playing for.
Bio info courtesy of SABR