A former Cleveland city recreation director who raised funds and oversaw the construction of Tinsley Park, Lou Fitzgerald spent 55 years as a Minor League manager or scout for the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles organizations, as well as being a Super Scout on the ground level of the beginning of the Florida Marlins expansion team.
“After I retired from Braves in 1992, a friend called me and said this new team was hiring five people to evaluate talent,” he said. They wanted him to be one of them, Fitzgerald related. “Each of the other Major League teams had to make a list of players available for the new teams to draft. We went through the list of players to decide which ones we wanted to be a part of the first Florida Marlins team.”
Five years later Fitzgerald got a championship ring after the team he helped put together won the 1997 World Series.
Finally retiring from baseball in 2003, the now 91-year-old Fitzgerald has been named a recipient of the 2011 “Legends in Scouting Award.”
The award is to be given out at the 8th annual In the Spirit of the Game Awards Dinner Jan. 15 in Los Angeles, Fitzgerald will be honored by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Board of Directors.
“Dad is thrilled about this (award) and we are hoping everything works out for me and him to be able to attend the banquet,” Fitzgerald’s son Mike said earlier this week.
Among the many honors already paid to his lifetime achievement in the sport, Fitzgerald is a member of four hall of fames — Old Timers Halls of Fames in Chattanooga in 1981 and Cleveland in 1984, as well as the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame (1988) and the Bradley Central Basketball Hall of Fame (2005).
The Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame honored him a second time in 2007 with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Starting out as a player-manager, Fitzgerald won Manager of the Year honors five times, coached five All-Star teams and his teams won five league titles during his 19 years as a Minor League manager.
“Dad coached several guys who went on to play in the Major Leagues,” son Mike related. “I remember getting to be a bat boy for guys like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub and Dusty Baker.”
“I managed in AA for a while,” Fitzgerald said. “I managed Johnny Bench while I was in Buffalo. When he made his Hall of Fame speech, he thanked me. A reporter had interviewed him while he was playing, and Bench said that I was the best hitting coach he had ever had.”
After his playing and coaching days, Fitzgerald was hired as a scout to evaluate young talent, signing among many others Atlanta’s Chipper Jones.
Displayed in the Atlanta Braves locker room is a large photo of Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux with Fitzgerald’s original scouting report underneath.