Billy Blitzer is saving the game he loves
Luck or fate.
Perhaps Billy Blitzer had a bit of each.
He just retired after 46 years as a professional baseball scout and 39 years with the Chicago Cubs. On Nov. 13, he’ll be inducted into the New York State Hall of Fame.
“I dreamed of playing major league baseball as a kid,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “And I saw that dream end in my senior year at Lincoln High School.”
Blitzer said there was a sophomore on that Lincoln team who could run like the wind, pitch and I knew he was better than me and everyone else on that team. That kid, a future major-leaguer, was Lee Mazzilli.
Mazzilli enjoyed a major league career as an outfielder for the New York Mets, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays from 1976 through 1989. He was an MLB All-Star in 1979.
But what about Blitzer?
“I played baseball at Division III Hunter College,” said the Seagate resident, “and coached youth baseball in the summer. I still wanted to stay in the game.”
He first coached junior and senior high school kids while still a Hunter College student during the summer, and then luck hit … or was it fate?
“An old man came to one of our games, sat by me, and said, ‘I’d like to talk to you,’” he said.
That man was Ralph DiLullo, of the then-Major League Scouting Bureau. DiLullo saw something in Blitzer’s coaching ability, with kids about his same age. Blitzer was invited to one of DiLullo’s open scouting camps and his future was set, but that didn’t happen so fast.
He served as head baseball coach at Hunter College from ’77-’79and he was scouting at the tender age of 21, becoming the youngest head baseball coach in the nation at 23.
In 1982, he was offered a full-time scouting position with the Chicago Cubs, covering the Northeast – and he never left the Cubs’ organization.
As a professional scout he was responsible for evaluating other teams’ minor league talent. Among his most recent finds are: Shawon Dunston, who was the top overall pick in the 1982 amateur draft from Thomas Jefferson High School, Jamie Moyer, pitcher, and other notables as third baseman Gary Scott, infielder Alex Arias, first-round pick and outfielder Derrick May and pitcher Greg Smith.
Now it’s time for Blitzer to take center stage.
He’ll receive the Meritorious Service Award by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers of America. The award named after former New York sportswriters Bill Slocum and Jack Lang will add Blitzer’s name alongside such notables as Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Stan Musial,you get the picture.
“A scout has never been honored like this before,” he said, “and I am shocked, honored and speechless.” The award will be presented at the annual dinner, next January.
And now Billy Blitzer, instead of scouting talent for major league baseball, will help save the game he loves.
He’s been tabbed to the advisory board of the group with the same name.
“I met one of the founders of the group, Kevin Gallagher,” he said, “and we’re just trying to revive the great game of baseball.”
Blitzer mentions he sees less participation involving kids, and notices less kids in the stands attending games.
“The kids aren’t watching or even playing the game like we did as kids,” he said. “We need to tell Major League Baseball to do something, to get people involved.”
Gallagher’s book, “Teach Your Kid to Hit… So They Don’t Quit,” was the genesis of the Save the Game movement. The hope is that the initiative will ensure the revitalization of the game toward a healthy business future.
The initiative started with a one million signature petition-for-change to gain momentum toward a national movement, while grabbing the attention of MLB executives on a league and team level (Information can be obtained here to sign the petition).
Save the Game is a no-brainer for Billy Blitzer, baseball has always been an integral part of his life since playing Little League at Coney Island’s Kaiser Park.
Today, he’s being honored for his work, he even has his own baseball trading card(one of very few scouts with such a deal).
The only baseball he sees now are the Brooklyn Cyclones.
“I’ll walk the one-and-a-half miles on the boardwalk from my house to see them,” he says, “and I’m thinking how I can improve the game all the time.”
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR
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