Turn Back The Clock: February 17th, 1990-The Signing of a Future Legend


Every once in awhile, a scout will come across a special talent, in a strange place. Someone that nobody had previously seen or heard about, and while obviously, superstars or future legends rarely fly under the radar so far, that they are just low-level signings, but it does indeed happen. For example, the Big Train, Walter Johnson, was discovered pitching in a semi-pro league in Idaho of all places. Many questioned how someone of Johnson’s superior talent and velocity levels, could go unnoticed for so long. Scouting and signing players was a much different game 100 years ago, than it is today, or even 25 years ago, the date of today’s focus.

Herb Raybourn was no newbie to the game of scouting. He had worked for several big league teams during a career that has spanned more than four decades. Herb began his scouting career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969, a couple of stints with the New York Yankees in the 1970’s and again in the early 1990’s, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Kansas City Royals. While Raybourn had scouted and signed some pretty solid players, including Carlos Maldonado, Lance Carter, Kevin Mench, and former Yankees’ outfielder, Ricky Ledee

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No Hall of Famers in that group for sure, but all of the aforementioned player reached the big leagues, and enjoyed some success at different levels. However, it was on this day, a quarter-century ago, that Raybourn found his masterpiece. While doing some scouting in Central America, Raybourn found himself in Panama, watching a very skinny young man, 20-years old, who had what Raybourn later stated, was an effortless pitching motion. Unfortunately, the size of the young man wasn’t all too impressive, nor was the velocity of his fastball, which was clocked at 85-87 mph.

The skinny Panamanian, who weighed a meager 155 lbs., hadn’t been a pitcher very long. As a matter of fact, he was his team’s shortstop, when he was called upon to replace the team’s pitcher on next to no notice. While the shortstop had never previously pitched, he did well enough to earn an invite to the Yankees’ tryout camp that was operated by Chico Heron. Heron had passed along information to Raybourn, who had just returned to the Yankees scouting department after a 13-year hiatus. Raybourn as previously mentioned, traveled to Panama to watch this youngster, along with several others work out. While the 20-year old’s pitching talent was raw to say the least, Raybourn thought highly enough of the kid to sign him to a contract worth approximately $3,000.

Yes, by now, I’m sure you know who this future legend of the New York Yankees was. He made his big league debut as a starting pitcher, and didn’t fair too well. A conversion to the bullpen created a Hall of Fame opportunity for the set-up man, who later became the Major League Baseball all-time leader in saves, postseason saves, and postseason ERA. Of course I’m referring to the Sandman, Mariano Rivera, who was signed today, 25 years ago, on February 17th, 1990.

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