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With Baseball Roots, Rizzo on Solid Ground

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009; Page E01

LAKELAND, Fla., March 5 -- Phil Rizzo never had much to give, just his evaluation. He was a scout, a baseball lifer, and he took small paychecks to travel to far places and watch ballplayers with distant chances of getting someplace larger. He never took a vacation, not one. Sometimes, when scouting didn't pay enough, he worked other jobs, too. Even then, he watched baseball every night.

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He played by the old-school rules. Never wore jeans. Associated with the old-timers. Knew that honesty, brutal honesty, was the surest way to keep a job.

"I started before all the gimmicks," Phil said on Thursday. "No stopwatches. No speed guns. You used your guts. Your eyes. You saw the kid run. You saw him go through the paces."

Sometimes, the life grew into a lament -- almost. "I never earned more than $55,000," Phil said, "and that was only after 25 years. My first year, I worked for the Washington Senators. You ever heard of them? That job lasted one month. I got my paycheck, and then they asked for two dollars back because of a meal. You're on the road constantly. You never see your family. You go into one-horse towns, go to the gas station and ask where the school is."

The hardest thing about scouting? Knowing.

"Being able to look at a guy and say, yes, that is a major leaguer," Phil said.

Or, being able to look at a guy and say no.

Twenty-three years ago, Phil looked at his own son, Mike, and said no. Phil gave Mike his evaluation, right there at the family kitchen table. Mike was 25. And for the first time, Mike Rizzo, named on Wednesday as the Washington Nationals' acting general manager, considered the alternatives to a big league career.

Until that conversation, Mike viewed himself as a future major league player. He'd spent a few years in the California Angels' system, rising to Class AAA. He had soft hands, a decent bat. He couldn't run a lick, but he knew this. He knew this because Phil, from the moment Mike was old enough to stand it, had taken his son into the alleyway outside their house, drawn chalk lines 60 yards apart and ordered him to run sprints.

Just the honest evaluation: Mike needed to get faster.

"It was one of the points of emphasis I needed to improve on to be a player," Mike said.

Said Phil, "He probably got slow [in his career] because I ran him to death."

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