Because Tom Greenwade, professional baseball's most successful scout, worked the four-state area that included Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, he signed many of the Major League Baseball players from the MOzarks.
There was, of course, Bill Virdon, who played basketball for Drury College and baseball for a Springfield town team where Greenwade saw him play and signed him to a Yankees contract. Virdon was then almost immediately traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom he won National League Rookie of the Year in 1955, and then traded the next year to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Virdon played for the 1960 World Series champion Pirates, won a Gold Glove Award in 1962, and went on to manage four different Major League teams, including the Yankees, from 1972-1984.
Greenwade also signed Southwest Missouri State basketball star Jerry Lumpe of Warsaw, Missouri to a baseball contract. Lumpe was with the Yankees during their 1957 and '58 years when they played in the World Series. Then he was traded to the Kansas City Athletics in 1959.
Of course, not all of Greenwade’s local signees made it to have stellar careers in the big leagues. Another of Greenwade's area signees had all the tools to make it to the big show, but was injured as a minor league player and his career was over.
He was Oliver Smith, who was a 1954 graduate of Nixa High School. Smith played baseball with the Springfield American Legion team where he caught Greenwade's attention. He was a power hitter who specialized in the home run ball, but only played in 26 games with the Yankees farm club at McAlester, Oklahoma, before being injured.
Another was a star baseball player from Hillcrest High School in Springfield named Wayne Ryan. Greenwade signed him in 1969. Ryan went to spring training that year, but was cut. Later, Montreal wanted to sign him to a Triple-A contract, but according to Ryan in a story in the Springfield News-Leader in 1989, he asked for too much money and the deal fell through.
Ryan would remain in Springfield, where he became a star player on a fast pitch softball team that made numerous trips to the national tournament.
Greenwade cared about the players he signed, and they knew it and loved him for it. A 1972 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recounted how Greenwade had run into Bill Virdon in a hotel lobby in Chicago. After a warm greeting, Virdon quipped, “Don't tell me you want my bonus money back,” to which both friends laughed heartily.
According to an article in the Redlands Daily Facts of Oct. 10, 1963, once when he went to Fort Leonard Wood to watch a young player and future Greenwade-signee named Whitey Herzog play semi-pro ball, Greenwade asked Whitey if he was doing okay with what he was making money-wise. Herzog said he was okay, that he was making $70 a month. Greenwade then extracted a couple of $100 bills from his wallet and handed them to Whitey.
When Mickey Mantle had surgeries on his knee at a Springfield hospital in 1953 and again in 1954, Greenwade was there, helping keep the crowd of well wishers out of Mantle's room so he could rest and recover. In 1957, Greenwade and Mantle were vice-president and president respectively, of a firm that purchased the Shadow Rock Park Hotel in Forsyth.
Greenwade also became good friends with Nixa native and big-league player Mickey Owen. Greenwade even spent some time instructing at Mickey Owen's Baseball School near Miller, beginning in the 1950s. Greenwade and Owen were both on the board of the National Baseball Congress in 1960. They also attended a Lions Club Banquet in Windsor that year, where they regaled the crowd with baseball stories.
In addition to instructing young baseball players at tryout camps and at Mickey Owen's Baseball School, Greenwade coached the Willard High School baseball team for several years in a strictly volunteer capacity.
In 1957, Greenwade was chosen by Look Magazine for an illustrated feature article. An article in the Leader and Press prior to the Look feature said that a crew from the magazine would come to Springfield to go on a scouting trip with Greenwade and finish up at the Shadow Rock Hotel in Forsyth, where they would “photograph Greenwade with a group of young ball players in action.”
Note that Greenwade, a man to never miss an opportunity, was bringing the national press to the hotel he and Mickey Mantle had purchased in Forsyth. That article was in the April 15, 1958 edition of Look.
By 1960, Greenwade had signed in excess of 160 young players to professional baseball contracts. The Look magazine article in 1958 had noted that 42 of his signees had actually made it to the big leagues, which was an impressive percentage.
Also by 1960, the Ban Johnson non-pro baseball league that included many teams in southwest Missouri was renamed the Tom Greenwade Ban Johnson League. Eventually it would become just the Tom Greenwade League.
Greenwade's long and fruitful career as a professional baseball scout came to an end in 1978 after 37 years serving in that capacity for major league teams.
Next week: Tom Greenwade, the Gentleman Scout.