Some folks don't know what they want in life until it's almost too late, then they scramble to make up for lost time.

That's what celebrated baseball scout John "Red" Murff did in a fascinating life he chronicled with co-author Mike Capps, a Sam Houston State University grad. Capps isn't the only one impressed with Murff's story if the interest movie producers are showing in "The Scout: Searching for the Best in Baseball," is any indicator.

Finding himself enthralled with Murff's colorful tales of life on the road, it occurred to Capps that others might enjoy the anecdotes.

"I said we need to write a book about these stories and he replied, 'Yeah, yeah,'" said Capps, recalling Murff's apathetic reaction. But even an old baseball scout can learn new tricks it seems. Not only is a sequel to "The Scout" in the works, but Murff has written a children's book all on his own, prompted by the insatiable curiosity of his grandson.

"It all started with Ben's questions," Murff said. "Ben and I were feeding catfish; they would come to the surface with their whiskers sticking out. The first thing he asked was, 'What's its name?'"

Murff's answers prompted additional questions, and so on, and so on, until Murff realized he had the makings of a good children's story. "The Adventures of Little Whiskers Fin," as the resulting book was dubbed, made Murff something of a celebrity on the Texas grade school circuit, leading to frequent classroom appearances for the Brenham resident.

But Murff's true claim to fame springs from baseball, both on and off the diamond as a player and scout for 43 years.

While Murff's place in the annals of the sport was secured long ago, his baseball career almost died before it started when he chose job security in the military and private industry over pursuing his dream.

Then at age 29 - young by most standards, ancient for a baseball rookie - Murff left a factory job to pitch in the Texas League and was eventually named minor league player of the year by "The Sporting News" in 1955. That alone made Murff something of a legend, but the late bloomer would settle for nothing less than playing in the majors. He succeeded.

"Thirty-five years old and I walked into that clubhouse like I was a rookie," Murff said of his first day in the big leagues as a pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves. Starting at an age when most players have retired, Murff earned the respect of opponents during his two-year stint with the Braves. Then a back injury ended his playing days to close the final chapter on a storybook career - or so it seemed.

Rebounding from his injury, Murff tried his hand at managing a minor league team before moving on to his true calling, scouting. Capps calls Murff the finest purveyor of baseball talent ever. Murff signed some 200 players in 33 years for teams like the Houston Colt .45s, the New York Mets, the Montreal Expos, the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs.

Scouting even brought Murff together with his future co-author, Capps, who was a good enough high school player to merit Murff's attention. Murff didn't sign Capps, yet he still remembered him almost 20 years later when Capps interviewed him on the occasion of Nolan Ryan's signing with the Texas Rangers. Murff was the genius who saw potential in Ryan when the fastballer was still an unpolished, gangly high school pitcher uncourted by any team.

Capps quotes Ryan as saying, "I didn't know what I had. No one did. Only Red Murff."

Another major leaguer signed by Murff, catcher Jerry Grote of the 1969 world champion New York Mets, once said if there's ever a hall of fame for scouts the first inductee should be Red Murff.

Like Murff, Capps is a baseball fanatic who can't resist popping into ballparks wherever he finds them. So it's no surprise the two became fast friends. Capps even scouted part-time with Murff over a five-year stretch.

How Capps managed to talent scout and carry on a frenetic TV journalism career should be the subject of a time-management study.

Capps is best known for his live broadcast at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco as it burned before the eyes of a stunned nation. He was nominated for an Emmy and received a 1994 Cable Ace Award for that piece of work.

In addition, Capps has reported live for CNN during the overthrow of Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, the Midwest floods in 1993 and from the Persian Gulf area during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

"I was in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and in Iraq with the Kurds for six weeks," Capps said. "I managed not to get my head shot off."

Meanwhile, Murff will be a featured speaker at the 14th annual SHSU Book Festival on March 16, which celebrates children's literature.

"His (children's) books are moralistic in point," said Mary Berry, coordinator of the Book Festival, at which Murff will discuss the importance of staying in school, reading and responsible behavior.

In addition to Murff, well-known children's authors Tomie dePaola, Jerry Stanley and Angela Shelf Medearis will speak to festival goers. Workshops for would-be children's book authors will also be held at the festival's Lowman Student Center location. Those interested in attending should call 294-1151 and ask for Dr. Mary Berry or Hedith Sauceda.


Written by Paul Sturrock.

March 15, 1996