Snow just an early sign of spring to longtime Pirates scout

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Elmer Gray is that rare Pittsburgher not troubled by the snow.

As a lifelong baseball fan and longtime Pittsburgh Pirates scout, he knows that snow means the cry "play ball!" is just around the corner.

Mr. Gray, 86, of Dormont, uses a walker but still attends "as many Pirates games as I can.".

He said he couldn't wait until opening day on April 5.

"I just hope we get off to a good start," he said on the heels of the Pirates' 2009 record-setting 17th consecutive losing season.

Mr. Gray, who is entering his 60th year as a Major League Baseball scout, was honored with the club's annual Pride of the Pirates Award in 2008.

He still works as a part-time scout in the region.

"Elmer continues to be an active member of our baseball operations department and is a great asset to the Pirates organization and the game of baseball," said Pirates president Frank Coonelly.

"Elmer played a large role in putting together the Pirates championship teams in the 1990s," he said.

Mr. Gray began playing baseball as a boy on the Warrington playground in Beltzhoover. Later, stationed with the Army on an island in the Pacific during World War II, he played infield positions such as shortstop in an eight-team league.

New York Yankees star Joe DiMaggio was part of that league, giving Mr. Gray an early introduction to baseball legends.

Other big leaguers in the service told him to get in touch with them after the war, leading to a minor league contract with the St. Louis Browns -- now the Baltimore Orioles -- in 1951.

But after five years he said he realized that he needed to make more money to support his wife and growing family.

He told management he was interested in minor league managing. With no openings, he agreed to work as a part-time scout in the Western Pennsylvania area.

In the late 1960s, he joined the Cincinnati Reds as a scouting supervisor. He signed Ken Griffey Sr. -- who became an integral part of the powerhouse Big Red Machine in the 1970s -- after watching him play in high school and summer leagues in Donora.

In 1984, Mr. Gray was named the Pirates' scouting director, overseeing the first-round draft of future seven-time Most Valuable Player Barry Bonds. In 1988, Mr. Gray became the club's administrator of baseball operations.

Until the sun rises again over a green, dry baseball diamond inside PNC Park, Mr. Gray bides his time with the memorabilia in "Papa's Dugout" in his game room.

Among its treasures are a clock with baseballs for the numbers 3, 6, 9 and 12; a wind chime with rods made to look like a bat, glove, cap, player and umpire; and a cabinet with baseball bats as handles that holds Pirates bobble head statues, vintage sports magazines, team photographs and souvenir ticket stubs.

He has a snapshot of himself with Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. There are photographs of Pirates Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski and signed pictures of Mr. Griffey and Reds catching great Johnny Bench, the latter addressed to "Stasi."

Stasi is one of the four daughters of Mr. Gray and his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1997.

When he is not attending a Pirates game, he listens to them on radio or watches them on television. Newspapers with box scores and player statistics are never far from reach, he said.

"I watch the games as a fan and as a scout, and I am always looking for speed," he said.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: . First Published February 18, 2010 11:30 AM


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