By Gary Libman
Texas Rangers baseball club owner Tom Hicks recently told USA Today that he’s tired of losing money and wants his team to live within its means. Tailor-made to help meet that goal is Grady Fuson ’78, hired by Hicks last November as an assistant general manager.
In his previous job as director of scouting for the Oakland Athletics, Fuson helped win the American League West in 2000 and the American League Wild Card in 2001 by drafting or signing talented young players, including pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. The players fit Oakland’s small-market salary structure because they earned less than more established stars.
“Who’s developed more good major league players than Oakland in the last decade?” asks Fuson. “The reason the A’s are in the hunt with a $30 million payroll is because they’re doing it with young kids and their ability is comparable to clubs trying to get it done with a $60, $70, or $100 million payroll.”
If Fuson continues to develop young talent, the Rangers can avoid contracts such as those they signed recently with shortstop Alex Rodriguez (10-years, $252 million) and pitcher Chan Ho Park (five-years, $65 million).
As the Rangers charted a new direction in player development, however, Fuson’s arrival was tinged with controversy. Major league baseball fined Texas an undisclosed amount for hiring Fuson as assistant general manager because Oakland had granted him permission to interview only for the job of general manager. Hicks filled that position with former Cleveland GM John Hart.
While working as Hart’s right-hand man, Fuson, 46, continues an interest that began in youth baseball. The former middle infielder played at Kearny High in San Diego and two years in junior college before attending Puget Sound.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” Fuson says. “When I was recruited, I had never heard of Puget Sound.
“It was a much different environment from Southern California,” he says. “With the weather and the rain, it’s not conducive to playing like you can every day in Southern California. Taking ground balls on concrete and hitting inside was very new to me. The fields were always wet and muddy. You figure out how to survive. It kind of toughens you up a little bit.”
Fuson finished his course work in physical education, played two years of minor league baseball, and returned to Tacoma to student teach and graduate. In 1980 he served as Puget Sound’s assistant baseball coach and in 1981 became the youngest NCAA Division I head baseball coach in the country. (UPS baseball was Division I in those days.)
Shortly before spring training in 1982, Oakland hired him as its Pacific Northwest area scout and as a coach for its minor league team in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“I had a unique job,” he says. “I would scout an area all the way up until the draft [in June]. Then I would coach or manage one of our minor league teams.
“That’s what I wanted to do my whole life—coach and manage in professional baseball. … I had no aspirations in or knowledge of scouting. It was very comfortable. Plus the money was good. I started at $17,000 and went to $21,000 in 1983 and thought I was a wealthy man. Plus I had a car, expenses, and all that kind of stuff.”
Fuson continued to scout and manage for the A’s until 1995, when he became director of scouting.
“I miss [managing],” he says. “If I was to die today, that would be one thing I’d regret that I didn’t stay with. But the writing was on the wall. I was a two-year minor league player with not a big name in the game. And to get to the big leagues [as a manager], sometimes that’s a political process and the big name is what they’re looking for.
“I was having some success scouting. … I basically had a decision to make—which side of the field to stay on. And I thought the best thing for me and my career was to stick with scouting. And I believe, now that I’m sitting here in year 2002, I did the right thing.”