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Four scouts scoop up well-earned honors
12/03/2007 7:12 PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Four long-time scouts were honored in the 24th annual Scout of the Year awards, announced Monday at the awards luncheon at the 106th annual Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville.

Sandy Johnson of the New York Mets, Tom Giordano of the Texas Rangers, and Jim Walton and Ed Sukla, both of the Major League Scouting Bureau, were the recipients of the awards which go to active scouts with 25 or more years of active experience in the business.

The program was founded in 1984 by a trio of scouts, Hugh Alexander, Tony Pacheco and Jim Russo, to bring recognition to the often-overlooked veteran visionaries of the player development system.

After legendary scout Howie Haak of the Pittsburgh Pirates was the sole honoree in the inaugural year, the program expanded to celebrate the careers of three scouts each year thereafter, one each from the East, Midwest and West regions.

Each summer, scouting directors submit the names of their active scouts who qualify, and that list is then circulated to other scouts to vote for that winter's winners. Scouts can only vote for nominees within their own region.

In addition, a fourth award has been added, the Director's Award, which goes to an "at-large" candidate.

This year's Director's Award went to Johnson, who began his pro baseball career when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school. He played second base, third base and shortstop in a Minor League career that lasted from 1958 to 1967. He managed briefly in the Brewers system, but has made his name as a scout over the last three-plus decades with Milwaukee, San Diego, Texas and Arizona as well as the Major League Scouting Bureau, before joining the Mets as vice president of scouting.

He clearly has an eye for catchers as Pudge Rodriguez, Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar Jr. all rank among the players he has been instrumental in signing over the years.

The awards were given out by longtime front-office guru Roland Hemond, who is currently special assistant to the president of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

When presenting the award to Johnson, Hemond was overcome with emotion and got a bit teary-eyed. The two worked closely together with Arizona when the organization was just getting off the ground.

"He is one of the key reasons for the quick success of the Diamondbacks," Hemond said.

Johnson made a point of thanking the Minor League owners, executives and league presidents for their cooperation and help to the scouts over the years, as well as singling out the area scouts who he felt don't get enough recognition.

The East Region winner, Tom Giordano of the Texas Rangers, is one of the most recognizable faces and personalities in the scouting world to anyone lucky enough to get to the games early and watch the men at work in the stands.

Giordano, who is nicknamed "T-Bone," has been in the game for 60 years, dating back to beginning his career, like Johnson, as a Minor League infielder in the Pittsburgh system. He played for seven years, starting in 1947, before moving on to manage in the Atlanta and Kansas City systems in the 1950.

Giordano's scouting career began with the Athletics in 1960 and, since then, he's also honed his craft with Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Milwaukee (as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 where, along with Johnson, he scouted for the team made famous in Jim Bouton's classic Ball Four). Since 2002, he has served as senior adviser to the GM and special assignment scout for the Texas Rangers.

Among Giordano's signings have been Ted Kubiak, Tom Kelly and Joe Kerrigan. He also worked in the Orioles development department during the rise of the Ripken brothers and Steve Finley.

Giordano said when he first found out he'd received the Scout of the Year award, "I was so proud and so pleased and so honored that I spent time going through a dictionary to find a word that described it better, but couldn't."

He was particularly honored to be following in the Scout of the Year footsteps of so many of his friends and colleagues who won before him.

In the Midwest, Jim Walton of the Major League Scouting Bureau received the honor. Well-known to years worth of "scout school" students, Walton is known as something of a guru as a teacher as well.

Now in his 42nd year as a scout after playing for six years for Washington, Cincinnati and Houston, he has worked for Houston and Milwaukee but has been with the Major League Scouting Bureau since 1976. In that capacity, working for MLB, he has been a national crosschecker, regional supervisor and area scout as well as an advance scout for the U.S. Olympic Team since 1999.

"I appreciate the working scouts who select us as honorees for this great award," Walton said.

For the West-based scouts, the nod went to the scouting bureau's Ed Sukla.

Originally a pitcher in the Angels organization in the 1960s and before that a nationally ranked tennis player, Sukla made his Major League debut in 1964 by striking out rookie hitter Tom Tresh. He went on to play in the Phillies and Giants organizations before retiring in 1975 and moving on to coaching for a year before joining the bureau in 1976.

Hemond had been working as the Angels' scouting director when the club drafted and signed Sukla as a young pitcher in the early 1960s, so it was particularly rewarding for him to be able to present the award to the veteran scout. And that worked both ways.

"This award is extra-special to me to have it presented by Roland Hemond," Sukla said. "I am truly flattered and truly humbled to receive this."

To be honored by their own colleagues, friends and even competitors makes the award that much more meaningful to the quartet of 2007 recipients.

They will be recognized at a reception Wednesday evening at Opryland, an event which has become one of the most eagerly antipated parties of the meetings by those in player development.

"This is the part of the agenda we (general managers) all look forward to," San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers said last year. "It's probably the best part of the meetings."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.