Touch 'em All: Jerry Krause on the drive for a ninth ring, catching batting practice as an intern for the Cubs and signing a one-eyed pitcher
Kauffman Stadium sees its fair share of celebrities – both sports related and a few non-sports stars – throughout the season. But you’d be a little surprised to see a guy with so much bling sitting out in the heat of an early August game against the White Sox.
Jerry Krause is a scout for the New York Mets and has been involved with baseball for most of the 47 years since he interned with the Cubs in 1961. But you probably recognize his name from his work in basketball. Krause was the mastermind behind the 1990s Chicago Bulls and their six championships. But since his retirement as General Manager of the Bulls in 2003, he’s back in baseball.
Around the Horn caught up with Krause and sat down with him for a Touch ’em All interview before one of the Boston games. We figured today’s off day was as good a time as any to post our interview with Krause, since he’s a current Mets’ scout and the Royals just finished their final series of the season in New York yesterday, plus we made our last trip to Chicago (he’s worked for three of the five franchises in the Windy City) last week and tomorrow we start a three game set with Cleveland (you guessed it, he spent time with the Indians too).
Around the Horn: Everybody knew who you were for so long and now you’re under the radar. So the first question is, what are you doing these days?
Jerry Krause: What am I doing? Scouting for the New York Mets. Got Major League Clubs, our farm system and whatever Omar Minaya wants me to do.
ATH: You did basketball for so long. What’s your baseball connection?
JK: Oh, I started baseball long before. I started baseball actually at the same time I started basketball. I started baseball in 1961, started in the NBA in 1963. Before I took the Bulls job, I had 16 years as a full-time Major League Baseball scout and 18 as a basketball scout.
JK: Well, I took a sabbatical. Yea, I obviously – I went to games, but I had a full-time situation for 18 years running a club.
ATH: So which one is better…
JK: I like to scout. I enjoy scouting. I scouted both sports for such a long time. I enjoyed running a club. I enjoyed building a club. That was fun. I like them both.
ATH: …actually the question was about which sport.
JK: It’s easier to scout basketball than it is to scout baseball because in baseball, you’re in a much different scenario. In basketball, everybody is running up and down in front of you all the time. You see offense, defense and everything that guy has to be able to do quite a bit during a game.
In baseball, you may go see a guy hit and he gets walked three or four times. Or you go see a pitcher and he may have an off day. There’s less time to judge in baseball than in basketball. In basketball, you’re going to see a guy all the time.
I like the challenge of both of them though, sure. That’s why I do it.
ATH: I read a bio that I found on you and it doesn’t give much information on your baseball career. Can you just talk about your baseball career.
JK: Was it in one of those wookie-uh, things on the net.
ATH: (slightly embarrassed) Yea.
JK: Oh geez. Some of those – I read a couple of those things. There’s so much wrong about those things its unreal. Nobody with any brains could have written any of that stuff.
I saw a couple of them that had me doing things that I’ve never did before and some of them with things I’m not doing that I did. You couldn’t get much from that.
ATH: (in defense) I just try to get a little background any way I can before an interview. (the New York Mets have Krause’s picture in their media guide, but no bio)
JK: No problem. Baseball. I started with the Cubs in ’61 as what would now be called an intern. I played at Bradley University.
What would now be called an intern, it was a flunkie. I did everything around the office. I ran for coffee, wound up catching batting practice, doing all kinds of stuff.
My first full-time job in baseball scouting-wise was with the Cleveland Indians in 1967. I had run the Portland club in 1966 for Cleveland. I was General Manager of the Portland club in ’66 in the Pacific Coast League for Cleveland. My first full-time scouting job was in ’67 with the Indians. I spent five years with Cleveland. Then Hank left and I left, Hank Peters. Then I went two years with Oakland, two years with Seattle. Then I had six years with the White Sox.
ATH: So you bounced around a lot?
JK: Not really. (editor’s note: apparently five – technically four because Portland was affiliated with Cleveland – clubs in the span of 11 years is not “bouncing around a lot” to Jerry) During that time I also worked basketball. Twelve of those years I did both sports back-to-back, so I worked year round. (pondering the question again) Uh… Bounced around? Cleveland, when somebody else left, I left for personal reasons. Went to Oakland for a couple of years and was fortunate enough to win a couple of championships. Took a couple of years off that I knew I needed. Seattle started up as an expansion team, joined them. I stayed there a couple of years and then Bill Veeck asked me to come to the White Sox. It was like my father calling me home, I couldn’t turn it down. So I went with Bill and was with him two years and then Jerry Reinsdorf bought the White Sox from Bill. I was with Jerry for the next four until he asked me to run the Bulls.
But during that time, I had scouted in basketball for Baltimore for five years and I was with the Bulls for four or five. And then with Phoenix, five I think, Jerry Colangelo. And then I was with the Lakers for two. When I joined Bill and I joined the White Sox, I was the head scout for the Lakers and the Midwestern Supervisor for Seattle. When I joined Bill, I gave up the basketball and stayed with him. I couldn’t go back to basketball until Jerry asked me to run the club. (editor’s note: if this isn’t “bouncing around a lot” ATH isn’t sure what would constitute bouncing around a lot to Jerry)
ATH: During your time in professional sports, both basketball and baseball, what would you say is your crowning achievement?
JK: (laughs) There’s an old saying about perseverance. I think when you scout, if you scout very long, you’ve made mistakes. To stick around you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to make positive things. You’ve got to persevere.
I’m proud of the individual players that I’ve been associated with and drafted. I’m proud of the time with the Bulls. We were able to win six world championships and took a team that was Michael (Jordan) and – at the end of Michael’s rookie year – 11 other guys that we didn’t want. And had to get rid of all those 11 other guys. And five years later, we were fortunate enough to win the first championship.
I’ve had a lot of fun through the years. To pinpoint me on individuals, certainly Earl Monroe, Jerry Sloan, Wes Unseld, guys like that, that you take personal satisfaction drafting those guys. Earl and Wes are in the Hall of Fame, Jerry should be and I think will be.
Baseball-wise, some of the deals we were able to help make, some of the guys you sign. I was able to help bring Ozzie Guillen to Chicago, was able to help bring (A.J.) Pierzynski there. Signing Eddie Farmer for what we signed him for was a lot of fun. Jackie Heidemann was another player that played in the big leagues for a while. The thing I think I’ve enjoyed the most is the individual players in the sense of kids, you see them as kids and in the end they become men. Some of them you have friendships with, some of them you don’t. Dealing with them is much different that it used to be.
I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing. I haven’t worked yet. I haven’t worked nine to five yet. I haven’t had to do the things that the average guy does in life. It’s life’s toy store in a lot of ways. I’ve been very, very fortunate. I’ve worked under great people. If I could pinpoint one thing, it’s probably the people I’ve been associated with. The Veecks, certainly Jerry and some of the great scouts I’ve been associated with.
ATH: So the people make the job?
JK: My wife tells a story on me. I once signed a little left-handed pitcher with one eye out of a small town in Southern Illinois. He never got past Double-A. He’s given me so much satisfaction. I signed him for $500. Today he tells me, “No, you gave me $750.” He’s a friend after 35-40 years now. He’s very successful in business. He’s been really successful. He’s grown up; he’s done just a heck of a job. I signed him off a farm and he never got past Double-A. But he’s given me great personal satisfaction.
My wife and I were sitting a few years ago at a game and he’s a Bulls’ season ticket holder. He drives 150 miles up and 150 miles back to see every game. He came in the room where we were sitting and eating and he left and I said “He’s a great kid.” She looked at me and said, “He’s a 40-year old man now. He’s not a kid. You still think he’s 17.” And I probably do.
But people like that, who you sign or have something to do with; they are special in your life. Billy Cartwright is another one. He’s very special in my life. We acquired Billy in a trade. Billy’s a friend, he’s a special human being. They don’t make people like Bill Cartwright. And many, many others like that.
ATH: How do you go about signing a one-eyed pitcher?
JK: At that time, there was one other scout that knew about him. And a friend of mine who was coaching the legion team in central Illinois, who I played with, called me. He said the Cubs were in on this guy – it was a scout who I knew very well. So I went and saw him. The other scout went and saw him. We set a date up at the house where we went in and made bids. I think he bid $250 and I bid $500.
The funny part of it was, I signed him twice. He got to High-A and I want to say Baltimore drafted him in the Minor League draft. We were about to release him. And Baltimore drafted him. They released him in spring training and I think the scout that drafted him got fired. I went to Hank Peters and said, “Hank, my boy is out there again.” And “He said, go sign him Jerry, what the hell.” And so I did.
But you do what you have to do. I’ve signed guys for $500 or $30 million a year or more than that. It’s part of what you do. The thing about it is that $30 million a year guy is just as human as the guy who you signed for $500. It’s good to keep that in mind. Professional sports are a people business. It’s just like General Motors or any other business in the world because if you can’t judge people, you’ll be a lousy scout and you won’t last very long. I’ve given motivational talks on that and I learn just as much from them as I hope they’ve learned from me.
ATH: How does your wife put up with you being on the road so often?
JK: That’s why we’ve stayed married so long (jokingly). I’ve been home about half the time. She’s raised the kids and done a heck of a job with it. We kid, we’ve been married 30, I’ve probably been home 15. But she’s special. When we got married, I was making nothing and she was making nothing. We were scrapping. I don’t think she ever thought that we’d be able to do what we’ve done in life.
Certainly I hoped I would, but who knew. I had some goals in life. I think there’s a certain part of me that was driven. People who know me say I was driven. I don’t know if I’m as driven now as I was then. I’m driven now in the sense that I’m still a perfectionist in scouting. I think there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.
Both games, life has been good to me. I grew up in a tough neighborhood that you wouldn’t want to go back into right now. If you went into the neighborhood where I grew up – spent most of my childhood – you wouldn’t want to go in there at night. It’s a tough neighborhood. It’s in the middle of Chicago and it’s a tough neighborhood. I came out of there with very little natural ability and I’ve been very fortunate to the people that took a liking to me.
If it ended tomorrow, I’m fine with it.
JK: Well, it’s been very easy. I don’t have to deal with the media. I don’t have the pressure. My health got a lot better when I quit general managing. I don’t have that stress. That pounding – that only general managers can understand. I don’t think you can understand it unless you do it. And when young guys get general managers positions, I don’t think they understand it until one day it hits them and they’re like “Oh, God.”
I’m more at ease with myself than I was. I’m a grandfather now. That’s a big difference. I wasn’t a grandfather 10 years ago. I have two grandchildren who are the light of my life, both of them. I’ve had a long marriage. That woman has put up with me for over 30 years now, that’s pretty good.
10 years ago, we probably won our last championship 10 years ago. The rebuilding of that club was a tough thing to do. I’m probably a little more content in life. I’m older. I’m 10 years older. I’m not the crazy kid I used to be. And when I say crazy kid, I mean I never asked anyone to do anything I never did, so I did it all myself. The guys who worked for me, hopefully learned something. I learned at the feet of the great scouts and the older people in the game. And the game – both of them, when I say “the game” – you have to treat the game with reverence. I still get a tremendous kick out of talking with the old-timers. I sit here with Art Stewart here in Kansas City, and really enjoy Art. I’ve know Art since I was 14-years old. I got to Pittsburgh and spent time with Chuck Tanner. You go places around the country and see old friends. That’s a fun part of my life right now.
ATH: Is that part of what keeps you going? The other day for one of the White Sox-Royals games, it was 114 outside at first pitch and you were still sitting out there, working.
JK: I think the competitiveness of it probably keeps me going. I enjoy the competition. I really enjoy working with Omar Minaya and John Ricco and the Mets’ staff. It’s my fourth year over there. I like the people I work with, I enjoy the atmosphere. I work with some young kids over there and I enjoy being able to teach them the things which were taught to me.
The competitor in me, there’s still a drive. I want to get another ring. I’ve got eight and I’m not satisfied with them. I want another one.
Yea, I want this one bad with the Mets because I know what Omar’s gone through and what he’s had to battle. I really want it for him and for our younger guys so they can understand that.
I want it for myself, selfishly, I want another one. And it isn’t the ring itself. It’s the fun in winning it. Every fall now, since I’ve been with the Mets, I’ve had the opportunity to advance scout – prepare for the World Series. That’s fun. That really gets down to the nitty-gritty of scouting. That’s where you can help a team win a championship. The good ones have that effect and you like to put yourself in a position where you’re one of the good ones and you can have an effect. So that’s fun. Every year you’re competing to win a championship, that’s important.
Somebody asked me the other day what I did and I said I was a private in Omar’s army. The lady looked at me like I was nuts. I said “I’m a private in Omar Minaya’s Army.” I like being a private now. I enjoy it. My days of being a general are over.
ATH: As a general you can do a lot. But in your current role, you’re on the front lines. If a guy tips a pitch or something like that, you can catch it and help the team in a very specific way.
JK: Well those things, I like the scouting part of it. Omar’s sent me around the world. I’ve been to Japan and I’ve done projects for him. I like that idea that I can be versatile enough to help him.
I enjoy the competition. My health is better than it has been in a long time. Towards the end with the Bulls, it got rough. It got mentally and physically tough at the end because you battle your head off for 18 years. You just fight the battle and you’re the face of the franchise for so long. I don’t have to deal with agents. I don’t have to deal with media people and you reach a certain point of your life that you don’t want to deal with that stuff.
The thing that, as you’ve been sitting here talking to me, the thing that probably strikes me more than anything else, it’s a “we thing” in this game, it’s not an “I thing.” People who use the word I, we try not to use it too much. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself sometimes. It’s a “we” game. Both of them are “we” games. Both of them are team games. Sports should be a “we” thing, unless you’re a golfer, or a tennis player. Competitive team sports are “we” things.