August 19, 2004 - Eastern League (EL) - Reading Fightin Phils
Gene Schall is one of those rare individuals who has success written all over him. He covered himself with class and dignity in 12 professional baseball seasons, and now he is in his second year as an amateur scout with the Phillies, covering six states, including Pennsylvania.
The 34-year-old Harleysville resident can look to his personal future and be confident it radiates good fortune. If he stays in the game, he has the makings of one of the bright, new general managers who are beginning to dominate major league baseball. If he decides to enter the business world - he double-majored in business and psychology at Villanova - he may find himself running a Fortune 500 company someday. And if he opts to go it alone - he has a computer networking background - it wouldn't surprise anybody if he wound up owning a ballclub.
As a first baseman and later left fielder, Schall was never a super-star. Oh, he consistently put up decent numbers, he enjoyed his heroic moments, but if you were asked to describe Gene Schall as a player, you probably would settle on "solid."
He hit .287 with 152 home runs and 640 RBIs in parts of 10 minor-league seasons, the last nine in Triple-A. He never slugged more than 22 homers or knocked in more than 89 runs, but he was a team player who could be counted on to play the game right.
Picked by the Phillies in the fourth round of the 1991 June draft - he led the NCAA in hitting his junior year (.484) and was a first-team All-American - two years later Schall enjoyed a breakthrough season in Reading.
He hit .326 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs in Reading before being promoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in July.
"It was my first full season, so I finally had a chance to go through the player-development system and start to retain some of the things they were trying to teach," said Schall, who was at FirstEnergy Stadium to run one of several tryout camps the Phillies promote throughout the summer. "That was the first time where, it was Double-A, you're playing every day, and you have a chance to get comfortable.
"The thing about Reading and Scranton that people don't understand is that they have true fans. And it's not just because they're affiliated with the Phillies. There's a group here in Reading that will become attached to the players and make it easier for them to live in that transient lifestyle. Until you get to other places and you see that's not the case, then you really start to have a special appreciation for those two areas, because people go out of their way to make you feel welcome. That's why a lot of players either come back here or live in the area or still make some connection with it. I don't think there's anybody I ever heard of with the Phillies organization that ever said anything negative about Reading or Scranton from that standpoint."
At Scranton in 1994, Schall hit .285 with 16 home runs and 89 RBIs and captured the Paul Owens Award as the top minor league position player in the organization. A year later he finished the season in Philadelphia, where he hit .231 in 65 at-bats. He got 66 at-bats in 1996, this time hitting .273 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
He would never sit in a major-league clubhouse again as a player.
"You start to see where you profile as a player," he said. "You get stereotyped in this game. Once you get to Double-A you get a label put on you. You fall into that fringe category of the position you play -- first base, left field: Not really productive enough to produce the home runs that are required to start at that position (in the big leagues).
"I was 18 to 22 home runs a year; basically guys now are 30-plus home runs at those positions. I didn't bring speed to the table, I didn't bring a lot of defense to the table, so in the National League I didn't give the manager a lot of flexibility off the bench, except the bat. I fell into that Triple-A, 4-A category where you're in that in-between range. You can put up adequate numbers, but not enough to put you over the hump."
Injuries dominated Schall's career the last couple of years, and he took the uniform off for the last time in 2002, when a nagging hip flexor took the fun out of the game.
Now he travels to high school and college ballparks, looking to sign young talent that may someday help the big club win a pennant.
"As of right now I'm enjoying it (scouting)," he said. "In another three or four years we'll see. I don't want to get caught up in saying this is what I want to do and this is where I want to be. A lot of those decisions are made out of your control and power. I mean, a lot of it is a political type thing. I've watched too many frustrated people try to force themselves into a position by trying to control what other people do and think. Those people are going to make decisions based on performance, and they're going to make decisions on connections and the way they want to develop an organization.
"I try to look to the future without being too narrow-minded about how things are going to play out, so I want to enjoy what I'm doing here. And as I did as a player, after every couple of years I would make an evaluation of where I am, am I happy with what I'm doing, do I see a future in it, do I see a progression, and then from that point make a decision."
Schall says he is "extremely pleased" with his baseball legacy. And he has nothing but respect and admiration for the many players who toil in the high minors, clinging to the dream.
"I tell those guys, just because the industry doesn't label you a super-star or a perennial major leaguer, just to get to this level and stay around a couple of years, that's quite an accomplishment," he said.
He should know.