Roger Jongewaard, who served as the Mariners’ lead talent evaluator for nearly two decades (1984-04) and oversaw amateur drafts that netted the franchise Ken Griffey Jr. (1987) and Alex Rodriguez (1993), died Monday of an apparent heart attack. News of Jongewaard’s death was first reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale on Twitter. Jongewaard was 76.
Jongewaard, who resigned from the Mariners Oct. 31, 2004, most recently worked as a California-based scout for the Florida Marlins.
Griffey, a Cincinnati high schooler when the Mariners selected him in 1987, became Jongewaard’s most significant draft selection. At the time of the 1987 amateur draft, then-owner George Argyros did not want to sign a high school player, in large part because Patrick Lennon, whom the Mariners selected in the first round in 1986, had not panned out.
Jongewaard had to talk Argyros, who preferred college pitcher Mike Harkey from Argyros’ native Orange County, CA., into approving the selection of Griffey.
“Argyros told me if Griffey didn’t make it, it would be my butt,” Jongewaard told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004.
Griffey hit 630 home runs, including 417 for the Mariners in a first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Harkey, the fourth overall pick of the 1987 draft, went 36-36, 4.49 ERA in an eight-year career that ended in 1997, the year Griffey was the American League’s unanimous MVP.
Jongewaard joined the Mariners in 1985 as the club’s director of scouting after working for the California Angels, New York Mets and Detroit Tigers. In 1989, the Mariners promoted Jongewaard to Director of Scouting and Player Development.
Jongewaard attended Long Beach (CA.) High School. After graduating in 1954, he signed as a catcher with the Milwaukee Braves. In 1959, Jongewaard joined the Seattle Rainiers, for whom he played four games (0-for-7 at the plate).
Jongewaard wound up becoming best known as the catcher in many of the episodes of the original “Home Run Derby” TV series.
After his six-year minor league playing career, Jongewaard ran a series of restaurants in Southern California. He returned to baseball in 1969 with the Angels. He moved on to scouting with the Texas Rangers in 1973 and to the New York Mets in 1976. In 1982, the Detroit Tigers named Jongewaard as a special assignment scout to GM Bill Lajoie, a position he held until the Mariners hired him four years later.
In 1999, Topps Baseball Card Co. recognized Jongewaard for distinguished service to the game.
When Jongewaard left the Mariners, he said, “For the first 12 years, all our first-round picks made it to the big leagues, which I think anyone will tell you is unusual.”
That group included Griffey, Rodriguez, Tino Martinez (1988), Ron Villone (1992), Jason Varitek (1994), Jose Cruz Jr. (1995) and Gil Meche (1996).
Jongewaard had some misses, most notably catcher Ryan Christianson (1999), pitcher Sam Hays (2000) and John Mayberry (2002), but came back with OF Adam Jones (2003), traded to Baltimore after Jongewaard departed.
Jongewaard also led the club’s diversification into international markets. His scouts came up with Chin Soo Choo and Cha Seung Baek.
During his time with the Mets, Jongewaard signed Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell and Lenny Dykstra.