SAN FRANCISCO – Everyone in baseball knows the name Marco Scutaro now.
The 36-year-old Venezuelan second baseman is one of the feel-good stories of October for the San Francisco Giants. He was the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series, a trade deadline day acquisition from Colorado who batted .500 in the NLCS to get the Giants to their second World Series in three years.
Scutaro’s big-league career has spanned nearly 1,300 games with six teams and he finally made his first appearance in the Fall Classic on Wednesday at AT&T Park in Game One against the Detroit Tigers.
“You always dream this could happen but you go through the years and you’re like, ‘Well, we’ll see. Maybe not,’ ” Scutaro admitted here Tuesday on Media Day. “I’ve played with a lot of guys who spent a lot of years in the big leagues who never got this far. You get to a point in your career where nothing is more important than this.”
Scutaro certainly appreciates it. He never reached the big leagues until age 26, playing nearly 800 minor-league games before finally getting a call-up to the New York Mets in 2002. A lot of that time was spent in Buffalo, and Bisons fans knew him by a different name from 1997-2000.
Back then, his first name was “Marcos” (with an S) and his last name of “SCOOT-a-row” was pronounced “Scoot-TAR-row.” As it turns out, the folks on public relations staffs in Cleveland and Buffalo had it wrong but he was just too shy, especially since his English wasn’t great, to correct them.
“A lot of times coming up it was even Marcus with a ‘u,’ ” Scutaro said in 2001 when he returned to Buffalo with Indianapolis. “They asked me when I got to Indy whether it was Marco or Marcos. I don’t know why they asked, but I told them Marco.”
Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Brian Graham managed Scutaro in 1997, when the shy 21-year-old veteran got three call-ups from Class A Kinston and meshed fine with a Bisons team full of key veterans (Jeff Manto, Torey Lovullo, Casey Candaele) and star prospects (Richie Sexson, Enrique Wilson, Einar Diaz).
“We had him in spring training and I loved his makeup,” Graham said by phone Wednesday from his home in Pittsburgh. “He was versatile. When you get those guys who are tough players and know they can compete, those are the guys that will have success. Makeup is a deciding factor.”
Graham is now the director of minor-league instruction for the Baltimore Orioles and said he was talking about Scutaro this week with fellow Orioles exec Lee Thomas (the general manager of the 1993 National League champion Phillies).
“I told Lee the whole story,” Graham said. “We bypassed guys in Double-A but they really wanted to keep the Double-A team intact. I specifically asked for him. He has no fear. Mark Shapiro told me that we really should send somebody from Double-A and after I asked about three times for Scutaro, he agreed.”
What did Graham call him? Marcos, like everybody else.
“I was in Boston last year for a game when he was with the Red Sox and I was teasing him about that,” Graham said. “I told him, ‘You change your name, nobody knows you.’ It was just that when he came to the U.S., he went by whatever people called him. He just went with it. As he gained some notoriety, he was able to speak up and ask to have his real family name.”
Scutaro became a regular for the Bisons in 1999, batting .273 in 129 games. And he hit .275 in 2000 before being dealt to Milwaukee as a player to be named later in Cleveland’s deal for closer Bob Wickman. Off to Indianapolis, Scutaro played on a team that won the Triple-A World Series.
Scutaro had a nice career in Buffalo but his name isn’t on any of the franchise leader boards. Other than the name snafu, he’s best know for a walk-off grand slam that beat Syracuse in 1999 – and was the only walk-off slam in Coca-Cola Field’s first 23 seasons (Fernando Martinez hit one in 2011). But he never got a chance in Cleveland and wondered if he’d ever make the big leagues.
“A lot of days back then I thought that,” he said. “I just said to myself that is the only thing I could control was just play. I couldn’t control office decisions. You play hard, keep doing good.
“Look at Cleveland: Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Thome, Travis Fryman. God’s timing is perfect. I guess he had a plan for me. All those years I spent in the minor leagues with Cleveland were good, so when I finally had my chance I was mature.”
By any name, Scutaro has now established himself as a productive big-leaguer. This is his ninth straight year of playing more than 100 games in the big leagues. He spent four years in Oakland, losing in the ALCS to Detroit in 2006, then moved to Toronto and Boston, where he was part of the Red Sox’s epic collapse in September 2011.
It certainly wasn’t his fault. Scutaro hit .387 last September for Boston – and .405 over the fateful final 10 games of the season. He also drove in 21 runs.
“Winning is so much fun and being on the other side just stinks,” Scutaro said. “Think about what happened the whole month, it just wasn’t for us. Everything just went wrong.”
Scutaro was hitting .271 this year in Colorado before getting dealt to the Giants. He batted .362 in 61 games during the regular season and hasn’t cooled off in the postseason.
Scutaro’s teammates have taken to calling him “Blockbuster,” as in he was the key acquisition in a blockbuster trade. He’s had a similar kind of impact to what Cody Ross did for the Giants two years ago.
“Cody was a threat to hit a home run every time up and Scutaro is getting a hit every time up,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey. “Those were both huge moves for us and you can’t say enough about the job Scutaro has done here.”