Like many kids growing up during the Great Depression, George Genovese was bitten by the baseball bug, and it’s held firm ever since.
So great was the hold on the Staten Island, New York native, that Genovese has been a player, manager, and scout.
“From the time I was a little boy, I always wanted to play baseball,’’ said the 92-year-old Genovese this past Friday from his home in North Hollywood. “My older brothers taught me baseball. I could run. I could catch, and I could throw. I had dreams of going to the big leagues, and I made it, though briefly.’’
After a stellar high school career, Genovese had a tryout and after a kind word from legendary General Manager Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson, the 5-foot-6, 145-pounder eventually made it to the big leagues in 1950 with the Washington Senators.
Before that, Genovese, a left-handed slap hitter, had a productive minor league stretch that spanned from 1940 until 1957, excluding three years in the service during World War II, playing in at least 1,387 games, garnering 1,162 hits, including 241 extra-base hits.
Genovese’s claim to fame, though, came as a well-respected scout from 1964 through 1995, primarily with the San Francisco Giants and most recently the Dodgers.
With the Giants, Genovese signed nearly 50 players who reached the majors including Bobby Bonds, Chili Davis, Garry Maddox, George Foster, Dave Kingman, Gary Matthews, Jack Clark, Royce Clayton, Rob Deer, and Matt Williams.
Was there one who stood out? Genovese, a shortstop, said it was Bonds, the father of Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader. The elder Bonds finished with 332 homers, 1,024 runs batted in, a .268 batting average, and was a three-time All-Star.
“Bobby had a track scholarship,’’ he said, “and he wasn’t a good hitter. But when he hit the ball, it was gone. Bobby was married in high school, and he couldn’t afford to take the track scholarship. He said, Mr. Genovese, if I can get a $10,000 signing bonus, I’ll sign. He could throw and he had a good arm. He had all the tools.”
One key in being able to judge talent is putting your heart into your work. “I like what I do,’’ Genovese said. “I always try to understand the boy. If I know he’s serious, you get them to work out. I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing for them. If you’re any good, time will tell. I promised them they would meet [all-time great] Willie Mays, and they did. He was an idol for many of them.”
Genovese, who managed in the minors from 1952 until 1963, winning the league championship in 1955 with the Tigres del Mexico, then went to the league finals in 1957, and the playoffs in 1962 and 1963 with the El Paso Sun Kings, was an instructor, and recalled spending time teaching Maddox and Foster how to throw a baseball.
Maddox was one of the best center fielders ever winning eight Gold Gloves, and Foster, a left fielder who hit 348 homers with 1,239 RBIs, made a memorable double play throw to Cincinnati Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench in the ninth inning of Game 6 in the 1975 World Series at Boston’s Fenway Park that preserved a 6-6 tie, which Carlton Fisk broke with a solo homer in the 12th.
Genovese, a candidate for the Giants’ managerial job in 1977, is a Dodgers’ adviser, and still spends time at the Stadium. No, he never lost his love for the game.
There is a photo gallery of Genovese online at www.thetolucantimes.com.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.