As the 2011 season professional baseball warms up, it will be more than just New York Yankees fans and other franchises watching the performance of the team’s “core four” veterans who have helped lead the team to a record five World Series championships and seven American League pennants since 1996.
As the four — shortstop Derek Jeter, 37, pitcher Mariano Rivera, 40, catcher Jorge Posada, 39, and pitcher Andy Pettitte, 38 — begin to show their age at a time when two of the players’ contracts are expiring, Yankees former executive Bill Livesey, a 1962 graduate of the College of Education at the University of Maine, will be watching with a trained eye. Considered one of the best baseball scouts in the business, Livesey — a former UMaine athlete and coach from Brewster, Mass., and Yankees’ vice president of player development and scouting — oversaw the signing and development of the core four in the early 1990s. It is the longest athletic dynasty in baseball history, but it could end this year.
Livesey’s scouting contributions to the Yankees include 19 years from 1977 to 1995 and, after a 13-year stint in player development for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets, back with the Yankees as a major league professional scout from 2008 to the present.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman calls Livesey a “baseball purist” and “one of the game’s better evaluators of talent, one of the best baseball men that’s around,” crediting Livesey’s role in the resurgence of the Yankees franchise.
“He’s a Bill Parcells type. He just knows talent,” Cashman says. “He’s got a fiery demeanor. If he’s got a position to take on a player, you’re going to know it. Most of the time, he’s spot on. He’s right up there with the best because he is one of the best.”
Now 70, at an age when most people are well into retirement, the Florida resident is getting ready for more national and international scouting forays and prospective player analysis in the minor and major leagues, including Japan and Latin America. He has no plans to retire.
“I still enjoy it,” Livesey says. “I tell everybody you have to have something to retire from and you have to have something to retire to. Regardless, I’d be at games.”
We asked Livesey to share his thoughts about his accomplished career and recollections of his four years at UMaine.
How did you get started in scouting?
Jack Butterfield, my UMaine coach and mentor, became scouting and player development director for the Yankees and in fall 1977, offered me a job managing and scouting.
What does it take to be a good baseball scout, and what does one look for?
Good scouts have a keen sense of awareness and a passion for the job. And it’s greatly beneficial to have had many baseball player comparisons to draw from, whether obtained as a fan, player or coach.
How much pressure are professional scouts under?
Most professional scouts put great pressure on themselves to be a part of making good decisions for the organization.
What, exactly, is player development?
In a nutshell, it’s teaching very talented young players to play championship baseball at the major league level. There is a ladder system of minor league teams in place on which players move upward toward the major leagues. They become proficient in each league before arriving at the major leagues. Hopefully, the process will produce a major league player who has impact upon arrival and longevity in the game.
How has the business — how has baseball — changed since you started scouting?
The game hasn’t changed, but there have been a lot of changes in the game. The financial investment in the player has dramatically risen and competition from the other sports for the best athletes has increased considerably.
What is the most exciting or rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is playing a part in building a championship organization that produces players, coaches, scouts and executives for the major leagues.
What was it like working for late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner? Was he larger than life, as he has often been characterized?
Mr. Steinbrenner was a very demanding boss who expected excellence and was willing to give you all the resources necessary to get the job done. He demanded the pursuit of excellence in everything.
You were an accomplished athlete at UMaine. What sports and positions did you play? Did you ever play professional or semi-pro baseball?
I played basketball my freshman and sophomore years at the point guard position. Baseball was my primary sport, playing my freshman year and three varsity years, captaining the team as a senior. I played in the Cape Cod Baseball League during my time at UMaine in the summers and later went on to manage in the league.
What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?
I received four varsity letters, was named to several post-season teams and captained baseball at UMaine.
Why did you choose to attend UMaine?
My high school coach, Elmer “Doc” Biggers, was a UMaine alumnus and also several schoolmates had attended UMaine.
How did UMaine prepare you for what you are doing today?
I felt very well prepared in all areas, but exceptionally prepared in my area of passion. My coaches were outstanding in their fields — Jim Butterfield coached freshman basketball and baseball, Brian McCall was the varsity basketball coach and Jack Butterfield was my varsity baseball coach. Jack Butterfield was not only an outstanding coach, but was a mentor to me and became a close friend. We were taught championship standards and the proper approach to same.
How did your UMaine experience shape who you are now?
Many faculty members at UMaine contributed to my growth as a student-athlete, but in the profession I chose, the Athletic Department was full of outstanding coaches who prepared us to compete at a high level. We pursued excellence.
What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
Receiving my degree.
Favorite professor or mentor?
Although many made an impression on me, none made more of an impact than Jack Butterfield, from whom I received many baseball lessons, as well as life lessons.
Class that nearly did you in?
I have managed to forget that class, but it was math-related.
Best UMaine tradition?
Loyalty of UMaine people and their support of UMaine athletics.
What was your favorite place on campus?
Memorial Gymnasium and athletic complex.
While in Orono, I spent too much time at the Student Union.
If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have graduated in four years.
What advice would you offer UMaine students today?
Take advantage of all the opportunities and experiences on campus and find an area about which you are passionate. You will enjoy it and there is a good chance that you will succeed.
Image Description: Bill Livesey