Remembering T-Bone: Beloved ‘baseball lifer,’ who discovered Cal Ripken

PORT ST. LUCIE — In 2007, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., agent Tom O’Connell — still relatively unproven in the industry — sat behind home plate as the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals took on the Jupiter Hammerheads. He was there to monitor a player who, it turned out, never made it big.

“A young right-hander named Luke Gregerson struck out the side on 11 pitches,” O’Connell recalled on Thursday. “I was sitting with Tommy Giordano. As he was packing up, (Giordano) said, ‘O’Connell, i don’t know who you are here to see, but you’d better sign that guy right there. He’s going to be a big-leaguer. Good luck.’”

O’Connell still represents Gregerson, now back with the Cardinals following a circuitous journey, and the reliever has earned over $30 million in an impressive career. Count O’Connell among the thousands — no exaggeration there — who benefited from knowing Giordano, one of the game’s legendary talent evaluators.

Giordano, better known as “T-Bone,” died Thursday at age 93. He went into hospice care last week following a series of infections. To say that he will be missed does not do justice to the massive sadness that emerged upon the news breaking.

“Tom Giordano defined the term ‘baseball lifer,’” the Braves, Giordano’s employer until his passing, wrote in a statement. “…Tom’s baseball pedigree was unmatched, and helped make him the longest active scout in the sport last season.”

Giordano, born in Newark, played his first season of minor-league ball in 1948 for the York White Roses, a B-league affiliate (that was a classification then) for the Pirates. He played one season of big-league ball, getting in 11 games and tallying seven hits, including two home runs, for the Philadelphia Athletics — for those keeping score at home, that’s before the A’s moved to Kansas City and then Oakland.

He managed five seasons (1956-59 and 1969) in minor-league ball, but he’ll be best remembered for two attributes beyond his playing and managing. The first was his scouting acumen. While with the Orioles, he helped discover Cal Ripken Jr. While with the Indians, he helped evaluate Manny Ramirez.

The second was his personality, ever outgoing and welcoming, which made him one of the game’s finest ambassadors. In his final years, he toggled primarily between Yankee Stadium and the Rays’ Tropicana Field, as he had homes on Long Island and in Florida. He loved chatting people up in the press boxes.

As Rays senior director of communications Dave Haller tweeted on Thursday, Giordano was “a wonderfully kind man with a contagious smile and the best handshake I’ve ever encountered. Everyone who knew T-Bone was better for it.”

Count me along the everyone. He would always greet me with a “Davidoff!” — or sometimes he would get confused, as do many, and call me “David” — and tell me how much he enjoyed reading my work. But my favorite T-Bone memory occurred at the 2017 New York scouts dinner in Great Neck, when he saw me in January after a few months away from the ballparks..

“You’ve put on some weight!” T-Bone declared.

I laughed. “That’s why you’re the best scout, T-Bone!” I responded. He was right, after all. I had gained weight.

We’re all going to laugh less without T-Bone, one of the finest men the game has ever known. May he rest in peace.

— This week’s Pop Quiz question came from From Nick Sebastian of Emeryville, California: What future Hall of Famer gets mentioned in the song “Bloody Mary” from the legendary musical “South Pacific”?

— Last season, I wrote a column about Aaron Boone (and Joe Girardi) in which I cited a study by Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton. Well, a couple of weeks ago, the Mets hired Carleton in their continuing efforts to bolster their analytics group. And just last week, as coincidence would have it, I finished Carleton’s book, “The Shift.” I highly recommend it, and as a bonus, now you can read it and monitor whether the Mets violate any of his statistically-backed assertions.

— The Pop Quiz answer is Joe DiMaggio. If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected]

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