PEORIA, Ariz. — Larry Beinfest, a man who gets paid to evaluate baseball talent, made his first tough call 12 years ago, when he decided a young shortstop from Cal wasn't good enough for big-time college baseball.
So Beinfest quit the team.
"I was short on athletic talent," Beinfest said, "but I was strong in administration."
Administrative skills combined with a love for baseball has taken Beinfest to his position as the Seattle Mariners' director of player development. He is in charge of more than 150 minor league players on six teams, including the JetHawks.
Not bad for a 32-year-old Chatsworth High graduate who once appeared headed for a career in radio advertising.
After three years of playing shortstop for the Chancellors--highlighted by his sharing the West Valley League player of the year award with Bret Saberhagen in 1982--and two years at Nevada Reno, Beinfest transferred to Cal. That was where he hit the ceiling of his abilities.
He graduated from Cal and took a job selling advertising time for a Los Angeles radio station.
Beinfest landed that job in part because his uncle was a friend of Jeff Smulyan, the communications magnate who owned the station. Beinfest's connection with Smulyan came in handy again in 1989, when Smulyan bought the Mariners.
Beinfest was hired soon thereafter for a newly created position in the Mariner front office--assistant to the director of player development.
Although Beinfest got his foot in the door through personal connections, he continued to rise in the player development department long after Smulyan sold the team in 1992.
Beinfest was originally in charge of organizing minor league spring training, extended spring training, ordering equipment and other administrative duties.
After a few years, he was promoted to assistant director of player development. That meant he could spend less time ordering pitching machines and more time evaluating pitchers.
Last fall, when Jim Beattie left the Seattle organization to become the Montreal Expos' general manager, Beinfest was promoted to the top position in the department.
"I think Larry was ready to take it on," Beattie said. "It was kind of a slam dunk. He did an excellent job when I worked with him. He understands the game and he can evaluate talent."
Beinfest's job description is simple: Turn minor leaguers into major leaguers.
Actually, only about one in 20 minor league players will ever play in a major league game. In an effort to identify the best prospects, Beinfest will attend a baseball game virtually every night during the season.
Beinfest will spend most of his time watching the triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers, since those players are closest to the majors. But he will also make several trips a season to Wilmington, N.C.; Appleton, Wis.; Everett, Wash.; Peoria, Ariz.; and Lancaster, sites of the other minor league clubs.
He will sift through computerized game reports filed every night by the manager of each club, noting the development--or lack thereof--of every player in the Mariner system.
Beinfest will use the volumes of information he collects to determine promotions and demotions within the system, except for moves involving the major league roster. On those, Beinfest will make recommendations to Woody Woodward, the general manager.
The most satisfying moments for Beinfest are when a product of the Mariner farm system makes a major league impact, like last fall when 22-year-old Bob Wolcott pitched for the Mariners in the first game of the American League Championship series against the Cleveland Indians.
"It feels really good," Beinfest said. "I remember picking Bob Wolcott up at the airport when we first signed him."
Beinfest said the toughest part of his job is when he has to release a player. It's a difficult lesson--one Beinfest learned 12 years ago.
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Mariners' Farm System
Tacoma Rainers (AAA): Pacific CoaST League Cheney Stadium
Port City Roosters (AA): Southern League Brooks Field at UNC-Wilmington
Lancaster JetHawks (A): California League Lancaster Stadium
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A): Midwest League Goodland Field
Everett AquaSox (A): Northwest League Memorial Stadium
Peoria Mariners (Rookie): Arizona League Peoria Sports Complex