Jim Sandoval passed away last week. Jacob Pomrenke wrote a bit about Jim's life at SABR's website, but Jim was a friend of mine, so I want to offer a few words of my own about a great baseball man.
I was 18, and I was at SABR 41 in Long Beach, California. I had saved up money for several months to make the trip happen, but my parents chipped in to cover most of the cost as a gift for graduating high school. It turned out to be one of the most important things I ever did for a number of reasons, among them meeting Jim Sandoval. At the first-time attendees' reception on the first night of the conference, I was greeted by Marc Appleman, who quickly introduced me to Vince Gennaro. I got to talking with them about my interest in baseball, and when scouting came up, I was swiftly introduced to Jim.
By day, Jim was a middle school history teacher. By night, he was an associate scout for the Twins and the co-chairman of the SABR Scouts Committee. He had an eye for talent, and he loved what he did. Jim appreciated the difficult life that many scouts live, and he conveyed that life to SABR members by researching all sorts of information about scouts. His work on the Who-Signed-Who database is incredible. (That's exactly what it sounds like; a database of scouts who have signed baseball players throughout the game's long history. It isn't complete, but it gets closer every day.) His work on the Scouts Committee newsletter was great; he offered up anecdotes about scouts and the players they scouted and signed. And Jim's best work of all might have been Can He Play? A Look at Baseball Scouts and Their Profession. Jim and Bill Nowlin edited the book, which covers the history of the profession of baseball scouting. It's an awesome book, and a must-read for people interested in baseball scouting.
When I met Jim, our conversation started off slowly. He was a reserved man, but before long, he came out of his shell, at least a little bit. We got to talking about some of the players he had scouted recently. Jim did some pro coverage and often went to see the Hunstville Stars, the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. He had seen Brett Lawrie, Mark Rogers, and Wily Peralta, but we talked mostly about a player who had played for the Jacksonville Suns: Mike Stanton, the man who would one day go by Giancarlo. Jim had never put an 80 on a power grade before he saw Stanton, but he said that Stanton wasn't a tough call. He knew that someday Stanton was going to be a monster.
Jim and I stayed in touch after SABR 41. He gave me advice about what I should be doing to become a better scout, and he told me about some high follows he had heard about in my area. A year later, this past summer, we met again in Minneapolis at SABR 42 and got to skip the introductions and go straight to baseball banter. On the final day of the conference, Jim invited Terry Ryan to the annual Scouts Committee meeting. Terry came and actually offered some advice for the committee in its research process. The legendary Roland Hemond also chimed in, and you could see the joy in Jim's smile. It was a great day.
Later in the summer I sent Jim some notes on Phillip Ervin, an outfielder from Samford who impressed me in the Cape League. Jim was going to follow him this spring, even though Samford was a bit far from his normal area (roughly two hours away). This is a testament to what Jim would do in pursuit of baseball knowledge. He was a great baseball man, and he forgot more about the game than most of us will ever know.
Jim helped me become a better scout, and I'm going to miss him dearly. The Scouts Committee meeting at SABR 43 in Philadelphia will be a difficult time without him, but Jim has laid the foundation for more baseball research, and the committee will continue to produce top-notch research. Jim's work was excellent, and it will allow him to live on and to continue educating people about the game.
Rest in peace, my friend.