Rick Rizzs remembers Roger Jongewaard
By Shannon Drayer
Late last night came the word that Roger Jongewaard, the man who was responsible for drafting Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and other Mariners greats, had died of a heart attack at the age of 76.
Roger had come to the organization as the scouting director in 1985, just two years after Rick Rizzs joined the broadcast crew. On the pregame show today I asked Rick to put into words what Roger had meant to this organization.
“The thing that stands out is that for his first 12 years every one of his first-round picks made it to the major leagues,” he answered. “He was a dedicated baseball man. Baseball was his life. He knew talent, and to have a guy like this in the organization for that long of time was absolutely wonderful for this organization at that point.”
Of course, the Griffey draft came up. If you don’t know the story, Rick relays it. Getting Griffey into the organization was not a slam dunk.
“In ’87 he really went out on a limb to go get Ken Griffey Jr.,” Rizzs remembered. “George Argyros was the owner at the time and they wanted to sign Mike Harkey, the college pitcher, and he said, ‘No, we wanted the high school outfielder from Cincinnati, he’s got the blood lines, he has got the talent’ and George says, ‘If this doesn’t work out it could be your job.’ Roger and Dick Balderson fortunately, thankfully, talked George into taking Ken Griffey Jr. but it was Roger who did all the leg work.”
Today many were remembering Roger the person. I didn’t have the years with him that Rick did but I did remember that he was a wonderful story teller. To hear him talking about players or scouting trips was an absolute treat. Rick had the same experience.
“It was like going back in time and hearing all those stories,” he said of sitting down to talk with Roger. “He goes way back. Remember the old TV show Home Run Derby? He was the catcher. He knew all these guys. He had wonderful stories about Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and people like that. But you would sit down and he would give you his perspective on the game of baseball, from a scout’s perspective. He would let you know if he had the talent, the ability, the heart, the character, the determination to play in the big leagues. To have a guy like that around was very, very big for the organization.”
“It is a sad loss, not only for the Mariners but for baseball. He knew everybody,” Rizzs said. “A sad, sad day.”