M's Scout Hopes To Play, Too -- Weissmann Revives `Competitive Fire' As `Player-Scout'

PEORIA, Ariz. - Scouting for the Mariners the past year in California, Craig Weissmann might have been tempted to give the last player he reported on one of the better signing contracts in baseball.

It could have topped the $1.9 million deal the Seattle club gave Alex Rodriguez in 1993, and might have gone beyond the millions of dollars the Yankees and Athletics tossed respectively at pitchers Brien Taylor and Todd Van Poppel in previous years.

Although Weissmann has set scouting aside to participate in the replacement/minor-league camp here, he still thinks highly of the guy. In fact, he looks him over every day.

It's he.

"I might have tried the big bonus to sign," laughed the right-hander, 34 years old with a slight resemblance to actor Tom Berenger. "But it had to go through the front office for approval. Somehow, I don't think it would have slipped through the cracks."

Weissmann figures he's richer for the experience of being here. Not for the money, but for the chance to put a uniform on for the first time since he pitched in Torino - that's Italy, ball fans - three years ago.

"It's almost like the competitive fire is part of the uniform," he said. "I had bounced around pretty good, wound up with a bad shoulder that I had repaired after I came back from pitching in Europe. I completed my degree (international business) that winter and retired."

He scouted in the Los Angeles area for San Diego for two years and jumped at an offer from Roger Jongewaard to work the Orange County area for Seattle last year. It meant he could live at home in San Diego.

"Working kids out, I threw a lot of batting practice and my arm felt better than it had in years," Weissmann said. "People told me I should still be pitching. So when the idea of replacement teams came up I asked."

He asked Jongewaard, who scouted him for the Mets . . . in 1979. The Cubs took him that year in the June draft, but three years later Jongewaard got him over to New York in a trade. It was the first bounce of an 11-year ricochet in which he changed organizations seven times, including twice with the St. Louis Cardinals. And never in that time did he get above Class AA.

"I followed his career," Jongewaard said. "There are some guys you never forget and Craig is one of them. I've seen kids with more ability, but never more determination. He's never been afraid. He's always gone right after hitters."

Jongewaard projected him as a pitching coach, but the first job that opened in the Seattle system was scouting in Southern California, key territory. "We regard Craig highly," Jongewaard said, when the importance of Weissmann's area came up. "He's one of the guys we plan on building around."

In response to Weissmann's question about climbing back on a mound for Seattle's replacement team, Jongewaard set aside reservations about age and conditioning. He knew Weissmann had been throwing and that he stayed in shape. "I said, `In your case, yes,' " Jongewaard said. "I had a couple of other scouts ask - former players. But they hadn't stayed in the shape Craig has."

As a scout, Weissmann signed a half-dozen players who will be here when the full minor-league camp opens March 10. He also recommended left-hander John Miglio as a possible replacement player and now, almost 15 years after they were pro rookies together with Sarasota of the Gulf Coast League, Miglio and Weissmann are teammates again.

"This situation has created a lot of oddities in baseball," Weissmann said. "A lot of the minor-leaguers have a tough choice coming up, whether to play in exhibition games with replacement players or not. For me, it's not that bad a situation. As a scout, I went through earthquakes, fires, riots, things in life that put this baseball situation in perspective."

One of the oddities in baseball today is surely Weissmann himself. There have been player-coaches and player-managers. "But how often do you hear of a player-scout?" he wondered. "I may be the only one ever."