(Yonhap Interview) 'Perfectionist' baseball scout Poitevint values drive, work ethic in players
By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- Ray Poitevint, in his sixth decade of scouting in Major League Baseball (MLB), has seen the game evolve a great deal during his career.
Poitevint, now an executive advisor of international baseball for the Baltimore Orioles, still believes in time-honored values when he evaluates players.
"Drive, determination, trust," Poitevint said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Friday. "I've always been strong on them. You have to have that type of characteristics to be a winner."
Poitevint was in South Korea last week to watch Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) players. At age 83, the veteran scout said he still watches up to eight baseball games a day, not to mention the cross-ocean trips he makes from his home in California.
He has a special connection with South Korea, having served as a paratrooper for the U.S. military during the 1950-53 Korean War. Poitevint was part of the amphibious Incheon Landing operation, whose successful execution shifted momentum for South Korea and the U.N. forces in September 1950.
And Poitevint boasts a long and mostly successful history with scouting South Koreans. In 1979, while with the Milwaukee Brewers, Poitevint scouted pitcher Park Chul-soon, the first South Korean to join a big league organization. He said Park was "as good a pitcher as I've signed, better than 95 percent (of them)."
The right-hander only reached as far as Double-A but returned home to dominate the KBO in its inaugural season in 1982, winning 22 consecutive decisions -- a KBO record that still stands today -- and leading his OB (now Doosan) Bears to the championship.
The scout ventured even deeper into Asia as the executive director of international scouting for the Boston Red Sox, starting in the late 1990s. During his tenure, the Red Sox signed South Korean pitchers Cho Jin-ho, Kim Sun-woo, Lee Sang-hoon, Song Seung-jun and Chae Tae-in, among others. Cho was the second South Korean to reach the MLB, after Park Chan-ho of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kim and Lee also played in the big leagues.
Song pitched in Triple-A in three different seasons and is now a starter for the Lotte Giants in the KBO. Chae, who signed as a pitcher but was soon released after suffering a shoulder injury, is currently an infielder for the KBO's Samsung Lions.
Poitevint said young Korean pitchers' "power legs" perked his interest.
"Their fastballs were better than Latin Americans' because they had more power," Poitevint said. "It came from their legs. They needed a lot of instruction, but they were dedicated."
Poitevint wasn't only going after budding South Koreans, of course. The long list of players he scouted and helped get signed by big league clubs includes Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, one of only four players in MLB history with at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, and Dennis Martinez, an All-Star pitcher with 245 career wins.
When Poitevint was bringing South Koreans to the Red Sox, Dan Duquette was his general manager (GM). They had previously worked together in Milwaukee and Montreal. And in January last year, two months into his job as the O's GM, Duquette announced his hiring of the veteran scout. Now, the tandem that put three South Koreans in the MLB with Boston is trying to duplicate their accomplishment in Baltimore.
The Orioles haven't always had success with South Korean players. In November 2011, they agreed to terms with right-handed submariner Chong Tae-hyon, a KBO veteran, with Poitevint actually acting as his agent. The pitcher, however, failed a physical, and instead signed with the Lotte Giants in the KBO.
Then in February last year, the O's botched the signing of high school sophomore Kim Seong-min when they failed to tender a status check, as required by MLB teams seeking to acquire a South Korean player.
The Orioles issued an apology for their mishap. The left-hander's contract was not approved by the MLB for 30 days, and Baltimore ultimately didn't sign him.
Poitevint spoke at length about his frustration with the administrative blunder and regretted that the Orioles missed out on "a great athlete" who could throw a fastball 91 miles per hour.
But Poitevint was willing to let bygones be bygones and focus on players the O's may sign in the future.
Last Thursday, Poitevint attended a game at Munhak Stadium in Incheon, where the SK Wyverns hosted the Lions. He kept a close eye on an infielder who, in his words, had "an above average" speed running from the batter's box to first base.
Poitevint also noted, however, that the player didn't hustle down the first base line after hitting a grounder to third for what ended up being a double play.
In other words, the player committed a cardinal sin in Poitevint's book.
"You can't loaf and become the best," Poitevint said. "He might be the best in Korea. What's he going to do, just turn it on when he gets out of Korea? I don't think he can do that. I am not going to slow down just because I think (infielders) are going to get me (out at first)."
Poitevint expects a lot out of players that he scouts and tries to get signed. When asked if he considers himself a perfectionist, Poitevint said, without hesitation, "That's a definite yes."
Poitevint also discussed the promise for left-hander Yoon Jung-hyun, who signed with the O's in July as the latest South Korean project for the Poitevint-Duquette duo.
The scout said Yoon, a college dropout in South Korea, wasn't in good shape when the O's first spotted him, but he has since made progress.
"He's got a good delivery," Poitevint said of the 20-year-old pitcher. "He can surprise a lot of people. A couple of years from now, you might look at him as a top draft choice."