SPORTS: Sequim resident, former Mariners general manager, to receive lifetime achievement award this weekend

SEQUIM — Former Seattle Mariners general manager Hal Keller dedicated more than half his life to baseball.

The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation will honor the Sequim resident for that contribution at the seventh annual “In The Spirit of the Game” Sports and Entertainment Spectacular on Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.

Keller will receive the “George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award in Scouting,” one of several awards to be given out at the gala event.

The award is for long and meritorious service in the world of professional baseball scouting. Of course, Keller jokes, his was “mostly long.”

“I famously told a young man one time . . . ‘Just remember, managers get fired and general managers don’t,'” the 82-year-old said during a telephone interview. “Well, they do now.”

Much has changed since Keller first donned a Washington Senators uniform in 1949.

Free agency, the relocation of franchises out west, the designated hitter, the popularization of closers and middle relievers . . . Keller saw it all during a career in baseball that spanned 52 years.

“Baseball essentially stays the same, the game that is,” he said. “But it’s just different now. Free agency changed the whole complexion of baseball.

“I understand from the players’ standpoint, it’s nice to make some money . . . but I’m not sure long term that it’s best for the game.

“A small market team like Kansas City has very little chance of competing with the big markets. Seattle had the same problem at the time when I was working [there]. We almost had to pay to get games televised.”

Keller served in front-office positions with the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers organization for 17 years before moving to Seattle in 1979.

Former Mariners owner George Argyros, who will present Keller’s award on Saturday night, hired him to oversee the Mariners’ minor league operations and scouting.

Players like Spike Owen, Dave Henderson and 1984 AL rookie of the year Alvin Davis developed under his watch.

Keller was eventually named general manager in 1984. He drafted 94-game winner Billy Swift with his very first draft pick.

Yet after presiding over back-to-back 74-win seasons, he decided to take a break.

“It’s a pressure-packed job,” said Keller. “The game had kind of passed me by.

“Contractual business was much tougher with the players than it was in the old days, and I felt the pressure. My blood pressure felt it. And I thought it was best for me to retire.”

Keller didn’t stay away long, joining the Detroit Tigers organization on a part-time basis a few years later.

After that he worked as a scout for the Anaheim Angels, helping the franchise find players like Garrett Anderson, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon.

Those three would eventually help lead Anaheim to its only World Series title in 2002.

By that time, however, he had retired and bought a place in Sequim to live with his second wife, Carol.

“I’m not at all active but I have people that call,” Keller said. “I try to keep up with what my acquaintances are doing. You need to. They move around a lot more now than they used to.”

Dennis Gilbert, chairman of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, said Keller’s name came up quickly when the group’s board met to select honorees this yet.

“Everybody on our board talked about him,” said Gilbert, who actually negotiated with Keller as an agent during the mid-1980s.

“He’s a very well thought of person in the baseball community. [Argyros] was really excited to talk about him.”

Pittsburgh Pirates scout Bill Bryk will also be honored at the event, as well as Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Robin Roberts and Bob Feller.

World Series champion manager Tony La Russa is also among a group that will receive recognition.

The annual gala will be attended by 1,500 guests. It will be co-hosted by Larry King and former pitcher Rob Dibble.

Comedian Joe Piscopo will serve as Master of Ceremonies.