Tom Greenwade, 81, a legendary baseball scout who roamed Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas for the New York Yankees for more than 35 years, discovering and signing such greats as Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard and Bobby Murcer, died of congestive heart failure Aug. 10 at a nursing home in Ash Grove, Mo.

Mr. Greenwade, who lived in Willard, Mo., was a minor league pitcher and manager before beginning his scouting career with the old St. Louis Browns in 1941. He later worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he helped persuade the club to sign Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became the first black player in the modern major leagues.

In 1949, Mr. Greenwade joined the Yankee organization, and he never really retired. At his death he was still carried on the books as a scout for the "Near South."

Scouting, which was little heralded, involves seemingly endless travel, and quick calls for expert judgment of baseball talent. Mr. Greenwade's son, Bunch, said that in a typical year his father would make about a dozen trips, each lasting about a week, during which he would take in a dozen games.

Today, college baseball is a testing ground for talent. But in Mr. Greenwade's time, the scout was the point man of organized baseball: a talent judge and business negotiator. He found his prospects in the small towns of America's heartland, playing amateur or American Legion ball in their spare time from jobs in factories, mines or farms.

Of the thousands of players a scout would look at, only a small number would make it to a major league roster. Few would become stars.

But Mr. Greenwade had an uncanny ability to spot future stars. His son, who often accompanied him on trips, said that his father's secret was that he judged the whole person, not just the talent. The elder Mr. Greenwade would emphasize that the player was still growing, physically and intellectually, so the first aspect he would look for was desire.

"Desire can make up for a multitude of weaknesses," he would tell his son.

Players he signed included Elston Howard, a brilliant catcher and slugger who won an American Most Valuable Player Award; Hank Bauer and Bill Virdon, both longtime outfielders and major league managers; pitchers Tom Sturdivant and Ralph Terry, who helped anchor Yankee pitching staffs in the 1950s and 1960s, and Bobby Murcer, a fleet outfielder who hit with great power.

But Mr. Greenwade's greatest find was the man who would later be called the "Commerce Comet."

Based in Springfield, Mo., Mr. Greenwade was on a 1948 swing when he decided to scout an amateur third baseman named Billy Johnson. He thought Johnson was pretty good, but was more impressed by a Commerce, Okla., high school junior who played alongside Johnson at shortstop.

The kid had trouble in the field, but he was a switch-hitter of great power. That night when Mr. Greenwade was scouting, the kid hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate. They both cleared the stadium and landed in a nearby river. The kid was Mickey Mantle.

As Mantle recounted in his autobiography, "The Mick," Mr. Greenwade was "a reedy old guy with a nice friendly smile. He says, 'How would you like to play for the Yankees?' I give him a look, totally flabbergasted. He says, 'Well, I can't talk officially because you're still in high school, but don't sign with anyone else, and the day you graduate I'll be back.' "

Upon Mantle's graduation in 1949, Mr. Greenwade returned and promptly got the lad "excused" from commencement exercises so he could play in a game in Coffeyville, Kan. Mantle singled and again hit a home run from each side of the plate.

Having confirmed Mantle's talent, Mr. Greenwade set about signing him up and, because money was involved, he did it by disguising his interest.

Mantle wrote this account of Mr. Greenwade's conversation with his father: " 'I'm afraid Mickey may never reach the Yankees. Right now I'd have to rate him a lousy shortstop. Sloppy. Erratic arm. And he's small. Get him in front of some really strong pitching . . . . ' Then without blinking an eye, he says, 'However, I'm willing to take a risk.' "

The offer that was finally accepted was for Mantle to play ball that summer at the Independence, Mo., club, which was part of the Yankee farm system. The offer was for $400 with a "bonus" of $1,100 for signing.

Although Mantle never made it as a shortstop, the rest is history. Winner of the 1956 American League triple crown, Mantle was named league MVP three times and hit 536 home runs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.

Mr. Greenwade was born in Willard, where his father ran a small lumber mill. As a young man he was a fastballing, right-handed pitcher. He never reached the majors, but he was named MVP of the Northern League, going 22-2 with a Caspar, Wyo., teams.

After stints as a manager and scout with the Browns, he joined Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers. When Rickey decided to break baseball's color line, he had Mr. Greenwade follow Jackie Robinson for 50 days. Mr. Greenwade told Rickey that Robinson not only could play in the majors, but that he could take the pressure of being the first black in the majors.

In addition to his son, Bunch, Mr. Greenwade's survivors include his wife, Florence, one daughter, Angie McCroskey, all of Willard; a halfsister, Wanda Clippard of Independence; two stepsisters, Cuma Glynn and Vera Payne, both of Springfield, Mo., and five grandchildren.