Brewers assistant reflects on scouting Jeter
Having signed Yankees' star, Groch weighs in on retirement of 'marquee player'
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers special assistant Dick Groch spoke like a proud father Wednesday about Yankees star Derek Jeter, who announced he would retire at the end of this season. Groch was the Yankees scout who signed Jeter out of Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1992.
"It's been quite a ride," Groch said.
Because of Groch's own demanding summer schedule, and the usual hubbub that surrounds Jeter on the days they happen to be at the same ballpark, the two have communicated mostly via email in recent years. Groch also scouted and signed Jeter's agent, Casey Close, so four or five times a year, Groch will write a message to Close that gets passed along to Jeter.
"Last week I sent Casey an email," Groch said. "And I said, 'Case, best to The Captain. Tell him to take it easy through Spring Training. Be sure that he's ready to play.' And before the end, I said, 'If he goes out, Case, be sure that he doesn't go out 9-1-1. I don't want to see him dragged off the field. Be sure he goes off as a New York Yankee player, and that he gets the same thing that [Mariano Rivera] did. And make sure that last year, that he plays shortstop. Don't let him move to third base or to left field. He should go out in a position that brought the New York Yankees a special player.'"
On Wednesday, Groch learned that his premonition was coming true when a Toronto radio station called for reaction to Jeter's announcement that the 2014 season would be his last.
"People tell me, 'You signed a good player,'" Groch said. "But, no -- and I know I sound a little bit vain -- I signed a franchise. This is a marquee player, and there are very few. Babe Ruth was a marquee player. All the money that Babe Ruth made for the Yankees more than paid his salary. And now people say Derek Jeter is overpaid, but he was a marquee player, and the amount of money he made for the New York Yankees in 20 years more than paid his debt. That's a special guy, and this is the way you want him to go out."
In his message, Groch encouraged Jeter to remain involved in the game beyond the end of his playing career, either in the Yankees' front office or in the Commissioner's Office.
"It would be a tremendous disservice not to have him" in one of those roles, Groch said. "For what he did in baseball as a player, and what he has left in his career, he has so much of a contribution left. He can make our game better on a lot of levels.
"He has his foundation, and he will continue his foundation. That's also part of what we don't see. We see his contributions as a baseball player, but we don't see the humanitarian and philanthropist that he is. So he's only passed the first hurdle of the contributions he can make to baseball and society."
Groch chuckled and added, "I thought I was pretty profound with that."
Groch and his wife, Nancy, were invited guests of Jeter's and the Yankees' when Jeter was on the doorstep of 3,000 hits. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin gave Groch a hall pass to follow the Yankees as long as it took, so the old scout and the shortstop met on the field at Yankee Stadium with Jeter at 2,998 hits. Groch knew Jeter was eager to get it over with, but he joked that he should take his time. Instead, Jeter went 5-for-5 including a home run for No. 3,000.
"In traditional Jeter approach to the unbelievable, what does he do?" Groch said. "I was sitting behind the dugout on the third base line, and [Yankees third base coach] Robby Thomson turned around and looked at me and threw his hands in the air, like, 'What else?'"
Groch already has plans to be at Miller Park on May 9-11, when Jeter and the Yankees make a rare Interleague visit to Milwaukee.