(This is the first of a three-part series on Mike Toomey, who is preparing for his 45th year as a baseball coach or scout.)
By CHRIS MCMANES — From the time he was a child playing catch in the backyard with his dad, Mike Toomey dreamed of winning a World Series. Years later and several trips around the world, his dream came true.
Toomey, who grew up in Hyattsville, was a scout with the Kansas City Royals when they won the 2015 World Series. His ability to evaluate talent and pick up opponent tendencies played a key role in Kansas City hoisting its first world championship trophy in 30 years.
As the Royals closed in on the American League Central Division championship, Toomey and fellow scout Mike Pazik ramped up their work providing the team with valuable information on their opponents. When Kansas City defeated the New York Mets four games to one, they joined in the celebration.
“We were right there celebrating with the players in the clubhouse after the game,” Toomey said. “It was a tremendous thrill to win a World Series. An experience I’ll never forget.”
When Toomey retired as a special assistant to Royals General Manager Dayton Moore in October, he ended a 38-year career in professional baseball. Kansas City’s loss is DeMatha’s gain as new Stags Coach Steve Miller has hired Toomey to serve on his staff.
“I couldn’t find a better guy,” Miller said. “To have him come back and share 40 years of knowledge as a scout, manager, head coach and clinician, I’m very, very lucky.”
The job gives Toomey the opportunity to do what he likes best – coach young people.
“I enjoy teaching and working with youngsters more than I did scouting,” Toomey said.
“I think you have more of a chance to change a person’s life, to have an impact every day.”
Toomey has been honored for his playing, coaching and scouting ability by being inducted into five Halls of Fame.
Ross Natoli, who played for Toomey at George Washington and has been head coach at Catholic University since 1985, still reaches out to his mentor for advice.
“No matter what he’s doing, whether it’s scouting, working with individuals players of any age, professionally or at the amateur level, he does it with an unrivaled passion for the game,” Natoli said. “He’s the best baseball man I know.”
Toomey joined the Royals in 2006. The team won the 2014 American League championship before falling to the San Francisco Giants in seven games. Toomey and Pazik did advance playoff scouting during both of Kansas City’s pennant-winning seasons. For four to five weeks, they, along with director of pro scouting Alec Zumwalt, focused on teams the club might meet in the playoffs.
“We knew every little thing they would do, every tendency. When they would hit-and-run, when they would steal, when pitchers would tip pitches,” Toomey said. “We had about an 80-page report on each team.”
In the 2015 playoffs, the Royals beat the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays en route to the World Series. Toomey and Pazik accompanied the club as it closed in on the title.
“We actually traveled with the team. So we really felt a part of that championship,” Toomey said. “Mike did the pitchers, and I did the hitters. He was a good partner. We worked well together.”
It takes far more than Major League players and coaches to win the Fall Classic.
“We had a lot of people who were part of it,” Toomey said. “Our trainers, all of our minor-league coaches who developed those guys. [Mike and I], we played a small part in it.”
Toomey also walked in the parade in Kansas City to honor the champs.
“It was a beautiful fall day,” he said. “We had a section for the scouts. You had all these fans cheering you and thanking you. It was a wonderful experience.”
From manager to scout
Toomey began his pro baseball career in 1980 as manager of the Alexandria (Va.) Dukes, a Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Because the team was occasionally short of players, he even batted four times. In 1981, Alexandria’s shortstop was Rafael Belliard, who played 17 years with Pittsburgh and the Atlanta Braves.
Mike Quade, who played second base and center field for the Dukes, went on to manage the Chicago Cubs and is now a roving instructor in the Minnesota Twins organization.
The Carolina League of the early 1980s was loaded with future Major League middle infielders. The group included Julio Franco, who played for eight big league teams across 23 seasons; Jose Oquendo (Mets, St. Louis Cardinals); and Tony Fernandez, who spent the bulk of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Darryl Strawberry, an eight-time Major League All-Star, was an outfielder for the Lynchburg (Va.) Mets in 1981. When assessing a player’s big league potential, Toomey still compares them to those Carolina League stars.
“They were a great blueprint for me to project a kid going forward,” he said. “I always referred back to them when I scouted.”
Toomey managed the Dukes for two years before former Giants scouting director Bob Fontaine, Sr. asked him if he’d like to scout. He originally turned it down: “I told him, ‘No, I don’t want any part of that.’”
Fontaine persisted and requested Toomey take a train to Philadelphia and meet with ex-San Francisco catcher Tom Haller, then an executive with the Giants.
“I signed a two-year contract in the train station that day, and here I am almost 40 years later,” Toomey said. “It was a good ride. I’ve had a lot of great experiences, met a lot of great people.”
You really have to love baseball to be a scout. When Toomey started, his territory included Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and Kentucky. He went from town to town in an “old Pontiac station wagon” and stayed in roadside motels.
“All I did was drive,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to fly back then.”
In 1986, Toomey signed catcher Kirt Manwaring out of Coastal Carolina. He made his Major League debut with the Giants the following year and played 13 seasons in the big leagues. While working for the Texas Rangers in 1995, Toomey signed Mike Venafro of Takoma Park. He played professionally for 13 years, seven in the Majors. He is referenced in the best-selling book, Moneyball, and the 2011 movie by the same name.
Manwaring and Venafro are among nearly 20 amateur players Toomey scouted to make it to the Major Leagues.
In December of 2010, Toomey played a key role in the Royals getting outfielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for pitching ace Zack Greinke.
It was Toomey’s treasure trove of information on Cain and Escobar that helped convince Kansas City to make the trade. The players were important parts of the Royals’ drive to the World Series in 2014 and ’15.
“Those are two kids that I recommended we get,” Toomey said. “They played an integral part of our team those years.”
Thirty-six years before he became DeMatha head coach, Miller recalled Toomey working him out on a 32-degree day in February 1983 at Northwestern High School. On Toomey’s recommendation, San Francisco selected Miller in the 13th round of the ’83 MLB Draft.
The 1981 DeMatha graduate and University of Maryland product played five seasons in the minors, rising as high as Triple-A. In the late ’80s, Miller was an assistant under Natoli at Catholic U.
Miller, Natoli and Toomey have been good friends for more than 30 years.
“Mike loves the game so much. He has a passion for it that’s unmatched,” Miller said. “Keeping up with him, to this day, is a challenge. He has not lost a step, believe me.”
Toomey also scouted for the Mets and Cleveland Indians. He was with the Giants (1989) and Mets (2000) when they won National League pennants. He joined the Montreal Expos in 2002 and stayed with the club when it became the Washington Nationals three years later.
Diamond lost its luster
Toomey’s primary job with Kansas City was to scout minor leaguers so the Royals would have plenty of information on players it might wish to trade for or sign as free agents.
After Toomey would scout a game, he had to write a report on his laptop about each player on both teams. Whether he played or not. So, in addition to observing how a player performed, he looked at things like how he handled adversity, how he interacted with fans, coaches and teammates, and whether he carried himself like a professional. He said writing a report on up to 50 players a game got to be tiring.
“It was very time-consuming,” Toomey said. “Between all the travel and the paperwork, it started to take the fun out of scouting for me.”
Major League teams’ reliance on number-crunching huge amounts of data also took its toll. Today’s managers and players are provided with so much information about things like the best place to position yourself in the field and what type of pitch you’re liable to see on a particular count. It’s also why you see extreme defensive shifts.
“I think the voice of the scout has kind of been drowned out by the analytics,” Toomey said. “I hate to say this, but they’ve kind of taken the fun out of it.”
(Part two of this series will focus on Mike Toomey’s early baseball career and the impact his parents had on him.)
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has coached freshman baseball at DeMatha the past three years and at St. Jerome since 2013. He received pitching instruction from Mike Toomey when Toomey coached at George Washington.