Lucadello Suicide A Mystery To Family, Phils

Posted: May 15, 1989

FOSTORIA, Ohio — On a seasonably cool spring day here in northern Ohio - a week ago, to be exact - scout Tony Lucadello slipped downstairs to his workroom at his home on West Center Street. There, in a secluded area decorated with photographs from his 32 years with the Phillies, he wrote out his final draft report and in it recommended nine prospects from his region: eight from Ohio, one from Michigan. In handwriting characteristic of his dedicated professionalism - orderly, precise - he worded his observations across three pieces of paper and slid them inside an envelope, at the bottom of which he also recommended his successor: "Please consider Huey Hidgon to help in my area." Lucadello then drove to Meadowlark Park and there - in the solitude of a vacant high school field - drew a .32-caliber revolver and shot himself in the head.

No one can ever know the secret passions that can lead a person to suicide. In the case of Tony Lucadello, who signed Mike Schmidt and was certainly one of the greatest baseball scouts ever, it is indeed perplexing; at age 76, Lucadello had achieved a level of prestige that only a handful of scouts ever enjoy. Wife Virginia conceded that her husband had been treated for depression and had other health problems, but that he seemed to be "doing well" and began his final day as he always did when he was home: He rode out to a shopping center with his brother-in-law and returned at 11 a.m. or so to watch the news, then some game shows. When Virginia returned home from the hairdresser, Lucadello told her that he planned to scout a game that afternoon at New Reigel High School. Virginia remembered telling him:

"Wear a sweater, the weather is still a little cool."

The events that followed leave Virginia shaking her head. Wearing a burgundy sweater and slacks - and that inevitable houndstooth hat - Lucadello dropped his final scouting report to the Phillies in the mail, purchased some bullets and drove his Chevrolet Caprice to Meadowlark Park. He parked in the lot at one of the fields there. A police car passed, but instead of following his intuition and checking out the scene, the patrolman answered a call in the opposite direction. Less than fifteen minutes later, at approximately 3:10 p.m., the St. Wendelin High School baseball team arrived at the field in cars for practice. Someone saw a body; someone else recognized him as Tony Lucadello.

When St. Wendelin coach Paul Feasel arrived at Meadowlark Park and saw that someone was stricken, he immediately thought: heart attack. Feasel dashed out of his car. When he got closer - and saw it was Lucadello and that he had been shot - Feasel then wondered: Who did this? Lucadello still was breathing at that point, but Feasel remembered that he was unconscious and hemorrhaging

from the mouth. Feasel saw the revolver, and as he examined the skull for exit wounds - and found none - it slowly dawned on him: suicide. While the ambulance crew hurried Lucadello onto a stretcher for transport to Fostoria City Hospital and then via helicopter to Toledo's St. Vincent Medical Center, where he died at 7:03 that night, one of the state troopers showed Feasel a piece of stratch paper with writing on it that he had discovered in the Chevrolet.

"Can you make something of this?" the trooper asked.

Feasel remembered that it said: . . . to avoid going in retirement . . . would rather have assistant scouts under me . . . "

And at the bottom: " . . . God bless you . . . "

*

Leave Interstate 75 south of Toledo, pass wide, sprawling parcels of harrowed land, and there is Fostoria, a series of stoplights and railroad crossings deep in the cradle of Middle America. While it is true that some terrific talents have come out of this corner of the United States - Schmidt

from Ohio University, Orel Hershiser from Bowling Green and so on - it can be a frustrating area to scout. The spring weather is invariably cold and wet, but eventually it would always clear and there would be Tony Lucadello, that houndstooth down over his ears, roaming the perimeter of some high school diamond in Michigan, Indiana or Ohio. Lucadello signed 50 players who eventually graduated to the major leagues.

No one in Fostoria who knew Lucadello knew him well enough to say: "He killed himself because of . . . " Speculation has centered on the rumor that the Phillies had planned to ask him to retire. This was fueled in part by the piece of paper the police discovered at the scene - the so-called "suicide note" - but Virginia Lucadello discounts that as odd notations that her husband would often make to himself. While she and Lucadello occasionally would discuss "taking retirement," Virginia claims (as do the Phillies) that Lucadello never was in danger of losing his job. Jay Hankins, the Phillies' first-year director of scouting, said Lucadello was an "exceptional scout" and had a secure position with the organization.

Hankins opened an envelope at a conference table at Veterans Stadium and withdrew the final draft report Lucadello filed; the Phillies received it three days after the suicide. Contrary to previous reports, which stated that Lucadello had penned an explanatory letter to the Phillies, it appears that no such letter exists; Hankins has not received it and Virginia Lucadello doubts it ever was written. "No," she said, shaking her head vigorously. "I would have been aware of it; I always checked his formal correspondences for spelling." Lucadello did leave a letter in a sealed envelope to his family - Virginia, daughter Toni Pope and granddaughter Laney - but its contents shed no light on the suicide. Lucadello had written it seven years ago in the event of his death and, according to Virginia, said only that "he loved us," that ''he had a long life," and that "we should not be sad."

Virginia Lucadello lit a cigarette in her living room and asked rhetorically: "Why? Only Tony knows that. He had had a cold this spring and at 76 - face it - a person is not going to have the energy he once did. The highways just seemed to get longer as he got older; the life of a scout is a lonely one. I remember every year Tony would say, 'Maybe I should retire,' but every year, as soon as his contract would come, he would sign it and send it back." Virginia sighed and added:

"Such a loss. Such a needless loss. I have no idea why he did this."

Nor does Hankins. "I am still shocked," said Hankins, a former scout

himself. "We were planning changes here, but not with Lucadello. He had his job for life."

That said - and there is no evidence to contradict that statement - it also should be said that Lucadello could well have sensed that his position with the organization had diminished. In part due to a 1983 decision to enter the Major League Scouting Bureau, Hankins acknowledged that the Phillies asked Lucadello last September to trim his staff of salaried part-time scouts from five to three. "Lucadello protested vehemently," Hankins recalled. Hankins also heard it had troubled Lucadello that the Phillies had not selected one of his recommendations as a high draft choice "since 1977."

"That happens to scouts," Hankins said. "I spoke with (Lucadello) on . . . Thursday, I believe . . . and he seemed upbeat. He told me he had this cold and had an appointment at 4 o'clock with his doctor, but had some prospects he thought the Phillies could get and he would be back on the job Friday. I said, 'OK.' "

Virginia Lucadello stamped out her cigarette in an ashtray. "Scouting was his whole life," she said. "Other people have hobbies, he had scouting. In January and February he would send out letters to the high school coaches in the area and ask for schedules, and as soon as the weather broke he would be out the door and off to some high school or college field. Baseball owned his heart and soul."

"Order the lake perch," Tony Lucadello told the reporter seated across the table from him at a Fostoria diner, and he ordered it for himself. The Daily News had come to Fostoria in March 1987, in the preparation of an article on Mike Schmidt, then on the verge of hitting his 500th home run. Lucadello had persuaded the Phillies to draft Schmidt in the second round in June 1971, and now, nearly 16 years later, Lucadello still was looking for another one: that perfect blend of athleticism and discipline. Lucadello sipped a cup of coffee, and as he spoke of Schmidt - in a voice deep with pride - he lowered his head.

"There are no more Schmidts," Lucadello said. "Quality players are disappearing from the sandlots of America. Know why?"

He reached for a packet of sugar. "Because," he said, "players no longer have a grasp of the fundamentals. The quality of major league baseball is declining each year. I fear for it, I truly do."

Scouting - and indeed baseball - had evolved dramatically since Lucadello entered it six decades ago. An ex-shortstop for the Fostoria Redbirds, then a Class D affiliate of the Cardinals, Lucadello was a scrappy, little guy who was too short to ever make to the major leagues. While brother Johnny Lucadello did get to the majors with the Cardinals and Yankees, Tony met and married Virginia and settled in Fostoria. He began his career as a scout with the Cubs in 1945, had a hand in securing Ernie Banks for them, and switched allegiances to the Phillies in 1957. Known for his spirited resourcefulness, his attention to arcane detail, Lucadello remembered how - instead of sitting with the scouts from other teams behind home plate - he would hide behind a tree and sometimes even in one to throw others off his scent. "He represented the organization well," Schmidt remembered. "He will be missed."

The adoption of the annual free-agent draft in 1965 changed some of that: Instead of having an equal chance of selling his organization to every top player in his area, a scout now had to formulate a draft list, submit it to the front office and hope that the top player on the list was still available when his team drafted. The new system required scouts to look harder for talent, project skills in less obvious prospects, and Lucadello continued to do well. In addition to recommending Schmidt, who scared off some scouts

because of a sore shoulder and chronically weak knees, Lucadello discovered Fergie Jenkins, Grant Jackson, Alex Johnson, Toby Harrah and others during his tenure with the Phillies. Virginia Lucadello remembered how her husband would bring some of them to Fostoria to work out at the YMCA before spring training.

"Six or so players would come here each February and eat and sleep at the house," she said. "I remember before dinner they would gather in the kitchen and say, 'Mrs. Lucadello, can we help you with something?' Of course afterwards - when there were dishes to be done - none of them volunteered to help. Tony would have them all in the living room talking baseball."

One of the players Lucadello had been especially fond of was Matt Stone. Now a freshman shortstop at Fostoria's Elmwood High School - and one of the better high school prospects in Ohio - Stone improved dramatically with the help of Lucadello. When, four years ago, father Gene Stone asked Lucadello how his son could broaden his skills, Lucadello told him to construct a concrete wall in his back yard and said Matt should throw a ball off it 100 times each day. This, according to Lucadello, would teach arm motion, increase strength and develop footwork. Matt practiced diligently, and sometimes would even wipe the snow from the base of the wall and practice in the winter. Stone and Lucadello grew close.

The Wall is in disrepair now, cracked in places, and Stone chipped a piece of paint from it. Standing in the cool Ohio evening, Stone remembered that Lucadello was "like a second father" and while Stone continues to be saddened and shocked, part of him also is angry. "Why did he have to do this?" Matt asked his father. Gene Stone shook his head. "Who knows, son?" he said. Aware that Lucadello had an operation to improve the circulation in his legs and concerned that he would have trouble getting around, Gene Stone remembered a conversation he had with Lucadello a few years ago. Stone thought little of it, but now, in the wake of the suicide, he wonders.

"One of his friends committed suicide," Stone said. "I forget who it was, but I remembered Tony saying: 'If at some point I can no longer work or get sick, I would do the same thing.' " Gene Stone picked a pebble from the ground and added:

"I knew he was down, but who knew he would do this?"

One of the part-time scouts who worked for Lucadello spoke with him the evening before the suicide. Norman Kramer, of Fort Wayne, Ind., had been with Lucadello for 22 years and, oddly, had not heard from him in three weeks. Kramer called on Saturday evening, but Virginia Lucadello told him that her husband was still suffering the effects of the flu and was in bed. When Lucadello returned his call on Sunday, Kramer immediately noticed that something seemed wrong. Unlike the old Tony, who seemed forever upbeat, forever eager to hear that one of his prospects was doing well, this Tony seemed remote. When Kramer told him that Tom Marsh had five home runs in 14 games at Class A Spartanburg, a report that should have excited him, Lucadello only said: "Really?"

"We hung up and I told my wife, 'Something is wrong with Tony,' " Kramer remembered, "Then I heard the news."

The telephone at 814 W. Center St. started ringing Monday evening, continued Tuesday and through the week. As word of what happened spread - to Philadelphia and the hundreds of high schools and college fields Lucadello had visited during his career - calls came in from across the United States. Phillies owner Bill Giles called, as did former owner Ruly Carpenter, Hankins and other representatives of the organization; so did the college and high school coaches Lucadello had known; and so did his fellow scouts.

Virginia Lucadello answered each. In between - with the help of her sisters - she completed the funeral arrangements and announced that, although her husband would be interred in a private ceremony, a public memorial would be held in Fostoria in June. While neighbors flocked to her house with condolences, and brought covered dishes with sandwiches and cakes, Virginia led a visitor downstairs and pointed to the photographs that adorned the walls. There was one of Dallas Green, the former Phillies manager now with the Yankees; one of Giles seated at a desk; one of Schmidt; one of Matt Stone, at age 12, standing at The Wall; and dozens of others. On a bed in the room were three houndstooth hats and a briefcase. Virginia opened it, but there were only a few pieces of paper in it.

Virginia snapped it shut and, as she turned to leave, said: "Can he really be gone? Somehow it feels like he is just off on another road trip."

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