TOLEDO, OHIO -- He's a big, shy kid with a winning smile and a body built for power and speed, and as he carries his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame around the bases at Northfield High School, kicking up dust with his old tennis shoes, the gung-ho farmers and ruddy-faced teen-agers in the bleachers hoot and holler. He's Rodney Hampton, 17, pride and joy of the Pemberville American Legion Post 43 baseball team, and he's nervous. Earlier this afternoon, he glanced toward the outer reaches of right field and saw a jacketed figure in a Panama straw hat. That hat, he thought, means only one thing. The old man is here.

And he's right.

Far along the right-field line, nearly hidden behind the banged-up Pepsi scoreboard, the wind flapping his natty sport coat, is the old scout. His name is Tony Lucadello, 74, and he's a baseball legend. In 45 years of scouting amateur prospects, first for the Chicago Cubs and today for the Philadelphia Phillies, Lucadello has signed 49 major league ballplayers, more than any other scout, as far as anybody can tell. "He taught me more about scouting than any man in baseball," says Cubs President Dallas Green. Adds Joe McIlvaine, New York Mets vice president for baseball operations, "Scouts are a tremendously dedicated group, and Tony is one of their shining lights."

But it's a shining light rarely seen. In 31 years as full-time midwest scout for the Phillies, Lucadello has seen the Phillies play in person only nine times. (Once was last May when one of his more famous discoveries, Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, flew him to Philadelphia to celebrate Schmidt's 500th homer.) Instead he lives on the road, with sun in his eyes and dust on his shoes, following his team by newspaper box scores, and driving his leased 1985 Chevrolet Caprice 40,000 miles, eight months a year, through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and parts of Canada searching out kids with the right stuff.

Rodney, he thinks, is one of those. Standing along the right-field line behind first base, with a scorecard and pencil in his hand and eyes that see 600 high school and amateur ball games a year, he scans Rodney's hands, feet, waist, and batting stance. The kid, he thinks, is "crude as heck" but he's come a long way. Unknown to Rodney, Lucadello has watched him for four years -- from behind trees, from the shadow of light poles, from parking lots -- anywhere out of sight. If other area scouts knew he liked Rodney, they might add Rodney to their list of prospects without even seeing him play. And if that happened, the old man knew, the computerized major league baseball draft system -- the cursed draft -- might beat him again, and another team might sign Rodney.

The game has changed so much, he muses.

He watches as the kid takes a mammoth swing and pops out weakly. "Curve balls give him trouble," Lucadello grunts, pocketing the scorecard and pencil and making for a vantage point on the other side of the field. "But overall, he's got more pluses than minuses. He runs good, good speed, got a good arm, very strong, a lot of bat power, but he's crude. The only thing you can do for him is to let him play and talk to him. His bat power is a tremendous plus, though. He could be another Willie Mays.

"I just hope," the old scout says,"that I live to see it."

"We're going to Michigan," Lucadello announces. "We're gonna get lost." He's sitting behind the wheel of his car at a rural rail crossing outside Toledo, waiting for a freight train to rumble past. He's en route to an American Legion game in Blissfield, Mich., about an hour away. He'll take the back roads, which he prefers over the interstate. They're "my hunting grounds," he says. "Everybody knows about the kids in the city."

As the Ohio flatlands roll past, the old scout begins to unwind with one of the mainstays of scouting life: baseball stories.

Once, he says, he climbed 400 feet into a mine in Illinois, to try out a pitcher while 12 miners with headlamps lined up to light up the fastball. He sprawled on the floor of a cab in a Chicago ghetto to sign ex-Phillies infielder Fred Andrews. He signed Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks out of the old Negro Leagues and, in the process, traded stories with the legendary Satchel Paige. The games he's seen could fill a book of tall tales: Like the one where a batter smashed a drive to deep outfield that hit a pigeon in midair and still sailed out of the park. A player fielded the dead bird on the fly, and the umpire called the batter out. Or the one where a bolt of lightning hit a fly ball and split it into three pieces, caught by the second baseman, the shortstop and the center fielder.

He traded wisdom with legendary Branch Rickey, the Dodger sage who brought Jackie Robinson into the major leagues. He signed a pitcher named Dick Drott for the Chicago Cubs for $4,000 while another club was offering $100,000 by dabbing onion juice beneath his eye to make himself weep in Drott's living room at the prospect of the loss. The family wept along with him, he said, except for the dad. ("The dad was tough. He was thinking of that money.")

He signed Mike Schmidt through guile and shrewd timing. While other scouts were lining up at the Schmidt doorstep in Dayton, Ohio, Lucadello stayed so far out of sight he once watched Schmidt play from the back of a station wagon. He grew so adept at hiding that he'd call Schmidt's high school coach after a game and the coach would ask, "Where'd you hide this time?" Later, after Schmidt had two knee operations and other area scouts lost interest, Lucadello moved in and signed him. "I knew he was a late bloomer."

Patience and resolve have been his keys, along with a keen baseball mind and a gentlemanly manner that evokes an era gone by. He was born in Texas, the son of Italian immigrants who moved to Illinois when he was a boy so his father could work in the coal mines. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals minor league club in Fostoria, Ohio, in 1936 as an infielder, but left baseball as a player two years later. (Chicago White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes had told him -- Lucadello was 5-foot-6 and built like a bird -- "you're too small.") After his first season in Fostoria, however, and with the help of baseball legend Rogers Hornsby, he signed his younger brother Johnny Lucadello to the old St. Louis Browns farm system. His brother was the first of his 49 signees to make the big leagues. Others include future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, pure hitters Alex Johnson and Larry Hisle, and Mike Marshall and Grant Jackson.

He settled in Fostoria, 35 miles south of Toledo, still his home today, and was working for the Fostoria Screw Co. in 1942 when the Chicago Cubs offered him a part-time scouting job. Two years and two major league signees later, Cubs owner Philip Wrigley summoned him to Chicago. "Young man," Wrigley told him, "you were born to be a scout." He was elevated to full-time scout, his salary a breathtaking $3,600 a year. He left the Cubs in 1957 when ex-Phillies owner Robert Carpenter offered to double his salary. Today, an experienced scout like Lucadello can expect to make up to $40,000 a year. Starting scouts bring home about $18,000.

It's a small salary for one of the most important jobs in baseball. A team's scouting and farm system is its future, and with the soaring salaries of today's free-agent players, homegrown talent is more important than ever. The Phillies, consistent contenders who won the 1980 World Series, spend $5 million a year on their farm system, a fairly large sum compared with other teams, according to General Manager Bill Giles. Last year's world champion New York Mets are reputed to have one of the better farm systems in baseball, one that scouted and developed most of the players on last year's World Series team. By contrast, the Orioles were once considered to have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but today theirs is ranked among the worst. "The Orioles' present problems are directly attributable to the lack of production in their farm system in the last 10, 12 years," says one major league baseball executive.

Which makes the job of the area scout that much more important. One of the keys to area scouting, Lucadello says, is developing a rapport with amateur coaches in your area. Lucadello, always impeccable in jacket, tie and hat, doesn't smoke, drink or swear, and is a fixture with high school and amateur coaches in the four states he covers. "I've had this team for 27 years and I've known Tony about 25 years," says Bob Pyle, coach of the WBLY American Legion team based in Springfield, Ohio. "He's one of the best scouts in the game. He's a gentleman. He'll call and talk to you, ask you about the kids. He never comes to see a kid just once. If a kid's a 'no prospect,' he's honest with him. It's not an ego thing with him."

Adds Frosty Brown, 40, manager of the Troy (Ohio) Post 43 American Legion squad, "He's got a long line of people who respect him. A lot of scouts blow a lot of smoke. They mislead the kids, they try to coach, they show up only at big tournament games. Tony will come around any time. He doesn't show up with a jugs gun {a radar device used to time pitchers} and Phillies logos all over him. He knows a prospect when he sees one. With modern-day scouting, I don't think Babe Ruth would be a prospect."

"There are four kinds of scouts," Lucadello says, barreling along in his car along the back roads of Ohio. "They all begin with the letter 'P.' " A "projection" scout, who projects what a young ballplayer will do down the road; a "performance" scout, the majority, who judges a player on his performance, sometimes on a given day; a "picker," who picks on the player's weakest points until he doesn't like him any more; and a "poor" scout, who "runs up and down the highway looking for a ball game." Lucadello is a projection scout, and "I'm the only scout that scouts the way I scout."

Most scouts perch themselves behind home plate, often using radar guns to time the throwing speed of pitchers and stopwatches to time base runners. Lucadello uses only his eyes, and he wanders the field, usually starting on the right side of the plate outside of first base and working his way all around. "Just like a ballplayer always has to be in position to play, I have to be in position to see him," he says.

He keeps his eyes below the waist where, he says, 87 percent of the game is played, concentrating first on a player's feet. "Whatever his position, he has to be able to pick up his feet," Lucadello says. "If he can't position his feet, he can't play this game." He looks for five elements that all scouts look for -- throwing arm, fielding, speed, hitting for average and hitting with power -- and then he looks for the extra qualities that make a ballplayer into what he calls a "first division" major league ballplayer.

What he can't see, and where most scouts make mistakes, is the inside of a ballplayer: his guts, his desire to win. Lucadello says his biggest mistake was a kid out of Cincinnati named Pete Rose, the future Hall of Fame player and now manager of the Cincinnati Reds. "He couldn't run, he couldn't throw. If I scouted him today I wouldn't sign him," he says. "But what goes on inside of him goes far beyond what any scout can see. There will never be another Pete Rose."

Instinct and perseverance are the keys to scouting, the old scout says, motoring along the bouncy roadway, which leads him to another story: "There was a pitcher, Don Scott, in Marion, Ohio. A lefty. Every time he pitched, there were 25 scouts watching him. After watching him a few times, I noticed this shortstop. About 130 pounds, 5-foot-7, a little guy. Finally it got so I liked the little guy more than the pitcher." The shortstop wasn't drafted by any team, but when Lucadello approached him, the kid announced he was going to Ohio Northern University and wasn't sure about baseball.

"So in September, I called the kid's house, just to see if he went to school. Something told me that kid wasn't in school. Something told me he wasn't a good student." Sure enough, the kid was living at home, working in a factory. "We worked out about four Sundays in a row, me, him, and his friend. I wanted to sign him, but he wouldn't sign unless I signed his buddy. He refused to sign unless I signed his buddy. His buddy," Lucadello scoffs, "wasn't good enough for high school ball.

"I called Paul Owens {former general manager of the Phillies}. I said 'Look, I was gonna give him $1,000 to sign. I'll give 'em both $500 apiece.'

"Two weeks later, Ruly Carpenter {the owner of the Phillies} called: 'You just signed a guy who plays like a girl.'

"I said, 'Owens will tell you. We want the other kid.' "

"Ruly said, 'He don't look that good either.'

"I told him, 'You watch.' "

The kid was Toby Harrah, and while his talentless buddy never made the grade, Harrah went into the Phillies minor league system for a year and was drafted into the majors by the old Washington Senators. He retired two years ago from the Texas Rangers. "He played 15 years in the majors," Lucadello says proudly. "He's a millionaire now."

The old scout smiles.

"Toby probably wouldn't tell you that story."

The game is over at Northfield High School and Pemberville's star player Rodney Hampton had a lousy day. Three pop outs and a ground out and the old man saw every minute of it. "I have a few doubts about myself," Rodney says, leaning against the dugout wall, but he need not worry. "I don't care that he didn't get a hit today," Lucadello says, from his newly found perch in the bleachers. "I know this kid could be a gem." He's so confident that he weaseled Rodney through the major league draft system -- the draft that Lucadello hates -- so the Phils could sign him.

The baseball draft system, instituted in 1965, changed the game for the old-time scouts like Lucadello. In the old days, pre-1965, a scout saw a ballplayer, wooed him, wooed his family and signed him. In that era, Lucadello, with his natty appearance, gentlemanly reputation and used-car salesmanship guile, won player after player because families trusted him.

But today's draft system makes a scout's character and salesmanship less useful. Each scout in pro baseball must submit to his team a list of preferred prospects that is seen by all 26 teams and compiled into a master list. On draft day every June, teams draft players from that master list in an order based on the team's standings the previous season. The Phillies, for example, usually finish high in the standings, and thus draft behind other teams that have poor records. After all 26 teams have their pick at the available players, the first round is completed and the second round begins, and the third, and so on. This means that most of Lucadello's top picks -- who are usually known to other area scouts once his list is submitted -- are often drafted by the time the Phillies get their turn to draft. The trick then, for an area scout like Lucadello, is to submit a prospect's name low on one's list, hoping another team won't take notice or check out the kid or doesn't like him for some reason. Rodney was at the bottom of Lucadello's list of prospects this year, and while the Los Angeles Dodgers showed some interest in him, the Phillies drafted him low, in the 34th round.

Now that the Phils have him, Lucadello will work with him all summer, giving him bats and batting instruction, working on his basics, until Rodney signs with the team and leaves for the Phillies Instructional League in the fall.

It is that love and dedication to the game, which he shares with small-town mid-America where baseball is still an integral part of community life, that wins Lucadello admiration from the lords of the game.

"Scouts come into contact with the public -- face to face -- more than any other people in baseball," says Ruly Carpenter, ex-owner of the Phillies who has known Lucadello more than two decades. "Tony is one of the great ambassadors of the game." Adds Bill Giles, current Phillies president and general manager, "He has the highest character of any baseball person I've ever known."

Character, of course, doesn't make the nights go faster in the old motels where Lucadello spends his nights, nor does it help him drive the hundreds of miles alone to scout as many as three games a day. It's a lonely life, and Lucadello, a husband, father and grandfather who celebrates his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Virginia, 70, next year, often ponders retirement -- then just as quickly discards the idea. "This is my life. It's all I've ever done. What would I do if I retired? I'm not handy around the house."

His wife, mother of their one daughter Toni, an elementary schoolteacher in Fostoria, agrees. "Tony loves baseball. It keeps him going. I always say a man is fortunate if his job is his hobby. Probably the reason we've been married 50 years is because when he gets home, we have so much to talk about. We don't have time to fight."

For Lucadello, the fight for now is still out there on the back roads, where the groundhogs have to be chased off the field and the chipmunks scamper past the dugouts of the visiting team.

Sitting in the bleachers at the Northfield High School while his prospect Rodney packs up to go, the old scout rubs his jaw and watches the kid silently. This kid is his "sleeper." He could go all the way. It sure would be nice. He hasn't had a big leaguer in a while. It seems to him that he's hearing himself referred to as a midwest "legend" in the past tense too much. It seems the draft has really done him in these past few years. It seems like the big club doesn't call him up as much as it used to. Maybe they think he's too old. But the old scout has a few tricks left. Like Rodney here, or that other kid, he muses. The one in Wayne, Ohio. Matt Stone. He's only 13. "Runs like a deer," the old scout says. "Good arm. Good bat. Good footwork. Couldn't play a lick when he was 9, but he's got the mechanics of a college player right now. I showed him some things. He runs the 100-yard dash in 12.1. I like that kid ...