Mike Brito, an expert in finding talented players for the Dodgers for more than four decades, passed away on Thursday night, the Dodgers announced.
It’s easy to associate Brito with Fernando Valenzuela, who Brito found in Mexico and signed as a special assignment scout for the Dodgers. After all, that move alone cemented Brito’s legendary status. But he was so much more than that.
Brito began as a scout with the Dodgers in 1978, and the first player he signed was Bobby Castillo, who taught Valenzuela the screwball during instructional league in 1979.
In all, Brito was instrumental in signing over 30 players who reached the big leagues, including Ismael Valdez, Juan Castro, and Antonio Osuna. He also helped to sign current Dodgers Julio Urías and Victor González plus outfielder Yasiel Puig on the same scouting trip to Mexico in 2012.
Kyle Glaser called Brito a pioneer in opening up MLB to Mexican talent in December, when Brito won the Tony Gwynn lifetime achievement award from Baseball America:
“My best memory is in ’79, when he signed me for the Dodgers,” Valenzuela said, “and he traveled with me from Mexico through the California League for about a month. I think he’s always tried to help young players from Mexico and it’s great.
“He signed a lot of players and he’s pretty good. He’s never done it for attention. He’s tried to give opportunities to the players.”
Brito gained legendary status in Mexico, such that many kids grew up hoped he would sign them for the Dodgers. Dennys Reyes grew up right-handed, and when he was a kid on one of Brito’s Mexican Winter League stops said one day he wanted to sign with the Dodgers, recounting to Steve Dilbeck story in the San Bernardino Sun in 1997 that Brito told him “Sorry, I only sign left-handers.”
Flippant or not, Brito’s advice was heeded by Reyes, who learned to throw left-handed and later was, in fact, signed by Brito to pitch for the Dodgers. When Reyes debuted for the Dodgers in 1997, his start snapped a major league record string of 681 Dodgers games started by right-handed pitchers.
In addition to scouting, Brito gained notoriety, especially during Valenzuela’s career, as the very visible man in the Panama hat behind home plate at Dodger Stadium, usually smoking a cigar, with a radar gun, tracking pitches.
In 1988, Brito told the San Bernardino Sun he takes his radar gun everywhere. “Even when I go to the jungle,” he said. “You never know where you’re going to find a pitcher. He could be throwing stones and killing birds in the jungle.”
Brito was a fixture at Dodger Stadium, even this year. Still wearing the trademark Panama hat, Brito always had a smile, and often wore his multiple championship rings at once, a reminder of his tremendous influence on the Dodgers.
He was named to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, and won international scout of the year in 2014.
“My heart is very heavy today,” Valenzuela said in a statement. “Mike was a great man and instrumental in my success as a baseball player on and off the field. No one loved the Dodger organization more than Mike and we will all miss him very much. My prayers go out to his wife, Rosario, and all of his family and friends.”