Old-School Scout: Rusty Gerhardt ’72
“You’re going to be a pretty good pitcher someday, kid!” Pete Rose told Rusty Gerhardt as he walked off the practice field.
“Someday?” Rusty thought. “I got your butt out.”
The night before, Gerhardt was pitching for the San Diego Padres and got Rose, famed switch-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds, to hit into a double play.
“I never got him again,” Gerhardt laughs. “If you look at all his base hits, my name’s in there quite a bit. He had me figured out after that first at-bat.”
Raised in Baltimore, Gerhardt found his way onto Clemson’s baseball team at age 17 in 1968 thanks to a recruiter and the offer of a partial scholarship. His first morning on campus, he showed up to the dining hall’s training table, a spread specifically for athletes, which was laden with steaming grits. “Is it like oatmeal or something?” he asked his teammates. The response was a mixture of humor and alarm.
Gerhardt was a productive pitcher at Clemson, and after four years, he signed with the Padres. “I bet I pitched over 300 innings that year,” he says. “Thinking back, I probably ripped something in [my arm], but they didn’t fix you back then like they do now.” He played six more years with the Padres, even though his arm “wasn’t ever the same.”
In the MLB, it was a natural progression from player to coach to manager for Gerhardt. Then, in 1989, he was hired by the MLB Scouting Bureau and was mentored by one of the great scouts at the time, Jim Walton.
“This guy worked with me,” Gerhardt says. “This guy traveled with me for the first couple of years, just trained me the right way — to know what to look for.”
What to look for, according to Gerhardt, are similarities between a prospective player and a big leaguer. With a vast mental library filled with player idiosyncrasies, he traveled across the country watching high school, college and minor league games looking for Eddie Murray-like swings and Dave Stieb-like sliders.
“There are certain things that aren’t coachable,” he explains. “[Only] guys who are exceptionally strong or exceptionally quick can overcome mechanical faults.”
Two years before he was set to retire, the MLB dissolved its scouting bureau, leading some teams to start scouting players using analysts and number crunching. Gerhardt understands this shift in the industry but sometimes worries about all-stars falling through the computational cracks: “[MLB teams] don’t make a move unless the analytics say you should do it.”
Despite the changes, Gerhardt still keeps his hand in the game. When he’s not taking vacations away from his New London, Texas, home with his wife or his old Clemson teammates, he’s scouting for Program 15, a baseball program for young players run by scouts, instructors and coordinators, many of whom Gerhardt worked with in the MLB.
“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” he laughs.