First, let me thank all you for reading this series thus far. I was pleasantly surprised with how many kind words I’ve received because of it. You know how to make a dude feel loved.
Second, Bobby Scales? Remember him. He, like Matt Murton, Micah Hoffpauir, and Randy Wells, is someone who epitomizes the Where Are They Now criteria. I remember listening to WGN’s piece on Bobby when he got his first break into the majors. It gave me goosebumps and brought a tear to my eye. His is the story of extreme perseverance and hard work. Those aren’t just cliches. Those are two true attributes that Bobby had during his time as a player in baseball.
Bobby Scales was drafted by the Padres in the 1999 amateur draft out of the University of Michigan. He didn’t see a Major League field until 11 years later when the Chicago Cubs called him up to replace Big-Z, who had just hit the DL. You read that right: 11 years. If you were a person who went to high school and then a 4-year college, Bobby Scales was in the minors longer than you did those two things. I almost quit college several times because it was “hard.” I hated my science and math classes and wanted to play Xbox and watch baseball instead. So while I was in sweatpants swearing at my TV in one capacity or another, Bobby Scales, meanwhile, was working his ass off chasing his dream.
[Brett: And it’s not like he wasn’t having success in the minors, either. Check out his track record – how in the world was this guy not getting a chance any sooner?]
Bobby was kind enough to respond in great detail to several of my questions. This, again, is a gentle reminder that baseball players are human just like you and me.
Myles: You played in the minors for 11 years–that’s a long time. How did you stay motivated?
Bobby: I think one of the God given talents that I was blessed with was the ability to look in the mirror and be very real and honest with myself. The motivation to stay in the minor leagues for as long as I did was two fold for me. Every year, either on the drive or plane ride back home, I had a practice of reviewing the year. I would ask several questions: [First], on a daily basis, did I do everything in my power to get better? Secondly, did I actually improve from the time that I got off the plane in spring training to the last out of the final game? I never put a time limit on how long I would play until I got called up. If the answers to those questions were both “yes” then unless there was some type of off field issue that required my attention, I would continue to play. Honestly, it got much harder as I got older. Getting into your mid 20’s and some of your friends are in the business world or doing other things and starting to make a little money and establishing themselves meanwhile I was 25, a AA backup making $1,500 a month living with my parents in the off-season. I typically had thoughts like that when I got home from a season and flipped on the TV and I see a guy that either played with or against that is in the Big Leagues in September. My wife and I got married in 2005, we had a little apartment in Athens, Ga where my wife was in grad school getting her PH.d. I had just gotten home from the season and there was a game on and a guy (I know his name but I won’t share it) was walking up to the plate and I lost my mind. I remember dog cussing the TV like a lunatic, “This @#$%#$$ guy is not a better $%^#&*% player than me! No !@#$%^& way”. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch baseball after the minor league season was over because it was genuine anger. I was going to see someone with a big league uniform on that I had played circles around during the season and I am watching this clown on TV!?! I honestly, in my soul, felt like there are guys that got chance after chance to prove themselves and I had to play until I got mine, that’s how I stayed motivated.
Myles: Can you describe the feeling of getting called up after such a long time grinding away?
Bobby: I got the call standing in line on an off day in Memphis at, “The Flying Fish”. I’m standing there waiting on my catfish and shrimp combo plate when my phone rang. Bobby Dickerson was on the other end and he told me to come to his room after I got back to the hotel. We had a very young AAA team and we were not playing well. I was 31 and I thought since I was the vet on the team he was trying to get the pulse of the clubhouse. I got in his room and he told me that I was going up but might not get activated because Aramis Ramirez had a calf strain. He was going to test it tomorrow and if he was a couple days away they were going to send me back. If it was an longer then I would get activated and that would be that. So, for my own sanity I just went on the assumption that he would be fine and I would get sent back. I’m glad I went about it that way because that is exactly what happened. May 1, 2009 I got on the first flight from Memphis to Chicago, found out that I wasn’t getting activated and I was in a cab on the way back to O’hare to go back to Memphis before the first pitch in Wrigley that night. So what was the feeling? Anxiety, because in 2006 I played with a guy that had 11 seasons in the minors, he was supposed to start the second game of a DH for his first start in the big leagues. His whole family flew in from California to see him get his opportunity. Rain. Both games got rained out which put the starters back on schedule so they didn’t need him. This guy was 32 and he never got that opportunity again. I’m going to be honest, he was fantastic in AAA for us that year and competed his tail off on his day to pitch and wasn’t the most popular guy in the clubhouse but no one deserved that. Was I going to be him?
Myles: What was it like walking into Wrigley that first time?
Bobby: Wrigley Field is hallowed ground, period. The idea that I was able to play in the same space as all of the giants of not just baseball but pro football as well. Tinkers, Evers, Chance, Pafko, Banks, Williams, Santo, Jenkins, Ryno. Not to mention people like Halas, Sayers and Butkis. You kidding me!? The place is small reminiscent of a time gone by. The bricks, the ivy the surrounding neighborhood has a life and a rhythm all its own. You can’t make it up and its hard to express but you can feel it! Yes, they need to renovate it and upgrade some things to make it a little bit more friendly to the modern player and enhance the fan experience, but they need to be extremely careful not to strip the building of the very things that make Wrigley, Wrigley.
Myles: What is the biggest different from the minors to the majors that perhaps a fan wouldn’t realize or appreciate?
Bobby: I think the thing that fans need to realize in general, whether we are talking about the minors or the big leagues, is how hard people in this game work. Coaches get to the field at 12:30 for a 7pm game. Players arrive between 1pm and 2pm for a 7pm game. Of course most of the Cub home games are 1:20 starts, so guys are in there 6-7am going over the information that will be important for that afternoon’s ball game. Yes, even the minimum salary rookie makes a boat load of money, but the results that you get on the field are the culmination of hours of physical and mental work done by the coaches and players. There are no accidents or happenstance.
Myles: Lou Pinella also played in the minors a long time. Did he have any advice for you? What was it like to play for him?
Bobby: Lou was awesome! He is old school to the core of him and that was fine by me. He expected you to play well and really wasn’t interested in hearing a whole lot of excuses. He was hard on you, but he was fair. That’s all you can ask. I feel like he gained an appreciation for me during Spring of 2009. It was late in camp and I had done very well and he called on me to bunt and I popped it up. The catcher caught it and I got the ice stare all the way back to the dugout. “Scalesey, what the #$%!”? At that point there was nothing to say, I just told the truth “Skip, I f(*%$^ it up, wont happen again”. Put my helmet and bat in the rack and walked to the other end of the dugout. When I sat down I didn’t look down that way but I could feel him staring at me. I think he wanted to chew on me some more but because I didn’t come up with some nonsense excuse or reason why I didn’t get the bunt down, he kind of respected that. The next day he pinch hit me in a very similar situation and I thought for sure I was getting another bunt. When I looked down at Quade for the sign it was hit and run. Runner took off and I hit a 15 hopper through the vacated hole at shortstop on an absolutely terrible pitch. I ended up scoring on a Ryan Theriot double and when I got back to the dugout all I got was “Nice job, son”. I didn’t say anything back, didn’t need too, he wasn’t interested in any of my commentary. He wasn’t going to love you up and if you weren’t strong between your ears it was going to be tough for you to play for him. The funny part is I caught him when he had mellowed out!!!!
Myles: What were some of the key differences between US ball and Japanese ball? Did your family travel with you out of the states?
Bobby: When I got to Japan, I met the club on the road and we were playing Seibu. As the deal was nearing completion I was speaking quite a bit with Micah Hoffpauir about just about everything from what clothes to bring to how the team was. The day before I left he said “Get your mind right brother, it’s just different over here”! When you’re in Japan playing, right before BP starts is “Gaijin time”. Gaijin literally means outside person. All of the foreign players from both teams would get together and just talk. You would talk about just about anything because it was the 20-25 minutes out of your day where you didn’t need your translator to survive. During my first “Gaijin time” a guy named Jose Fernandez who is still playing over there told me the truest words I ever heard over there. He said “Brother, take all of the knowledge that you have about baseball and throw it in the garbage. It doesn’t mean a thing in Japan”! Boy was he right.
Fast forward to late in the 2011 season, we are facing Tanaka at his place and we are down 2-0. I led off the 8th inning with a single and Hoffy was hitting behind me. Micah had already hit a double and a single off Tanaka. I’m standing on first looking at him saying, “Let’s go”. The second I do that I see him get called back to the dugout for our pinch bunter/base runner. The way the rosters are constructed you can have that guy active on your roster every night that can do just that. I remember thinking to myself “If we bunt right here, I might lose it”. Sure enough the third base coach fired out the signs and the bunt was on! We are down two runs with six outs to go and take out a hitter that has scalded two balls in as many at bats to bunt a run that doesn’t matter to second base? The bunt gets down and I end up at second and eventually scoring on a two out jam shot over the second baseman’s head. We went quietly in the ninth to lose 2-1. There is and will never be anything presented to me that will make that move seem logical in my mind. I have told that story 100 times at least and people still don’t believe me. When you ask a question of why they do certain things most of the time it is met with “That’s Japanese Style”. Something like that would happen almost every day.
[Wow, that would drive me nuts as a fan.]
Myles: As a Director of Player Development for the Angels, what all does that entail? I have to imagine that your experiences as a player are extremely valuable for young kids looking to play ball.
Bobby: As far as my new role goes, I am responsible for the development of all of the players in our minor league system. I am responsible for staffing decisions as far as coaches, trainers and strength staff go. I have been entrusted with a great deal of responsibility and it is something that I don’t take lightly. I think the best thing I did as a player was relate to the players on my team and in the clubhouse. Those same skills serve me well in the job that I do now. I have to be able to relate to all of the players and coaches in the system. My colleagues and I have to set standards for our organization that will be carried out at each and every level. The most effective way to sell this vision is to get to know all of the people that make up the minor league system. Obviously, I’m not doing this myself and I have had a great deal of guidance from my boss and former Cub Scott Servais who is our Assistant General Manager. There are long hours but I do enjoy the task of helping guys get better as men which allows them to progress faster in getting better as baseball players
Bobby Scales is obviously the man.
- Staying committed to a dream is hard and not everyone can do it. Bobby Scales did it.
- Bobby wants to renovate Wrigley in the right way (like most of us).
- Micah Hoffpauir made Tanaka look silly back in 2011.
- Once again, Japanese play baseball differently and players love Sweet Lou.
Once again, thanks to Bobby for his time.
“Where Are They Now” Status: Showing young players how to be professionals.