Elmer Gray was a scout with the Cincinnati Reds in 1969 when he recommended that the club draft a raw kid from Donora, Pa. He stuck to his convictions even though most people around baseball wondered whether the player in question could be a Major Leaguer.
That player was Ken Griffey Sr., a 29th-round selection who went on to become a three-time all star player during a 19-year career in the majors and was a key piece of the “Big Red Machine” teams that won World Series in 1975 and 1976.
That was one of many proud moments Mr. Gray enjoyed during his scouting career of 62 years.
Mr. Gray, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh and worked as a scout with the Pirates from 1984 to 2012, died Monday of heart failure at his home in Dormont. He was 91.
Although finding Mr. Griffey was the signature moment of his career, he also had a big hand in building the Pirates into a powerhouse in the early 1990s.
He was the director of scouting during the 1980s and oversaw drafts that produced Barry Bonds, Jeff King, Tim Wakefield, Orlando Merced and Stan Belinda, as well as Moises Alou, who went on to stardom with the Montreal Expos after he was traded for Zane Smith in 1990.
Jon Mercurio, a scout for the Phillies who got his start with the Pirates in the 1980s and worked for the club for 20 years, is one of many scouts who consider Mr. Gray a mentor.
“In this business, a lot of your success can be determined by who you sort of discover or guys you liked that turned out to be stars that maybe not many other scouts knew about – and if you look at his record of doing that over a long, long period of time, it is very impressive,” Mr. Mercurio said.
“But the thing is, he would never, ever take credit. He’d always say, ‘It is a team of us that found this guy.’ ’’
Mr. Mercurio said he loved listening to Mr. Gray’s stories from his early days as a scout, especially the one about signing Mr. Griffey.
As the story goes, Mr. Griffey told people he received a $15 signing bonus, but the reality was he didn’t get any bonus. Instead, Mr. Gray had gone to Mr. Griffey’s house two days after he signed, but he wasn’t home. Mr. Gray gave Mr. Griffey’s brother $25 so the player could buy spikes and a jock strap.
“He always told that story about giving Ken Griffey his bonus, and it was funny every time,” Mr. Mercurio said, “especially since Griffey swears he only received $15, so his brother must have pocketed $10.”
Lisa Tenney, one of Mr. Gray’s four daughters, said her dad loved working as a scout and had an eye for raw talent. But beyond that, he loved people and it showed in the way he went about his business every day.
“One of his talents was teaching young scouts his old-time baseball scouting methods and, while the statistical analysis was important, in his mind there was nothing like being able to look at young players and see their talent and tools,” she said.
Mr. Gray grew up in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood and graduated from South Hills High School in 1940 and joined the Army.
After serving during World War II, Mr. Gray played minor league and semi-pro baseball for eight years until 1950, when he joined the St. Louis Browns as a scout.
He then worked for the Baltimore Orioles (the Browns became the Orioles) and then for the Reds from 1967 to 1984. In 1984, he was hired by Pirates general manager Pete Petersen to become director of scouting, a position he held until 1989, when he became the team’s administrator of operations. Mr. Gray retired from full-time scouting in 1994 but continued to work for the Pirates part time in various roles through the 2012 season.
“Everyone in the Pirates family is saddened by the news of Elmer’s passing,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement this week. “He was a tremendous baseball man who was respected by all in the game for his more than 60 years of dedicated service to the sport.”
Mr. Gray was elected to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. He was named Scout of the Year in 1991, and in 1993, he was inducted into the Mid-Atlantic MLB Scouts Hall of Fame.
The Pirates honored Mr. Gray with the “Pride of the Pirates” award, and he also received Legend in Scouting recognition from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation in 2013.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth Scharding “Butch” Gray. In addition to his daughter, Mrs. Tenney, he is survived by three other daughters, Mary Beth Giger, Elaine Gorr and Stasi Longo; 12 grandchildren; and 21 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will continue from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Laughlin Memorial Chapel in Mt. Lebanon. A Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Bernard Church with interment to follow at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation or to St. Bernard Church, 311 Washington Road, Pittsburgh 15216.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1720.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter: @paulzeise