Famed White Sox executive Roland Hemond dies at 92

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Roland Hemond speaks in July 2011 after receiving the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award during a National Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.

    Roland Hemond speaks in July 2011 after receiving the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award during a National Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. Associated Press

  • White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf escorts Roland Hemond to the podium for an award ceremony in 2003.

    White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf escorts Roland Hemond to the podium for an award ceremony in 2003. Daily Herald File Photo

 
Updated 12/13/2021 5:11 PM

Doug Melvin didn't know Roland Hemond when Hemond became Melvin's boss as general manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1988.

"Roland took me to lunch and said, 'Let's have some fun,' " Melvin recalled.

 

Before passing in his sleep late Sunday night at his son Jay's Colorado home, Hemond, 92, provided a large degree of hope and joy to those associated with his 70 years as an executive, mentor and steward of the game, its employees and fans.

Hemond's contributions ran deeper than the trades he orchestrated for slugger Dick Allen and pitcher Stan Bahnsen that resurrected a floundering Chicago White Sox franchise prior to the 1972 season.

In January 1984, Hemond and a 24-year-old Dan Evans left old Comiskey Park around 1 a.m. after deciding to select future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver as a free-agent compensation pick from the New York Mets.

The giddiness over their intentions became disconcerting when Evans discovered his modest vehicle that was to transport Hemond to his Gold Coast residence was vandalized and smashed.

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In the midst of their pedestrian drive along Lake Shore Drive, Hemond quipped to Evans, "You lost your windshield, but we got Seaver. Don't you ever forget tonight!"

Hemond's people skills were unmatched in a sport increasingly influenced by technology and algorithms.

"He was one of the best sponsors of young people in the game," said Melvin, a former GM with the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers. "He wanted me to get better as a leader, as an executive and a person."

Hemond's tree of future executives included South Side natives David Dombrowski and Tim Purpura, Walt Jocketty, Ken Williams, Bill Smith Jr., Derrick Hall, Melvin and Evans.

"I sat in meetings I didn't belong in," said Evans, who ascended from an intern in the early 1980s with the White Sox to Los Angeles Dodgers GM in 2001. "It was never about him. He had an exceptional feel for people and doing things the right way."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hemond also hired scout Jerry Krause, who recommended the White Sox acquire a young shortstop named Ozzie Guillen, before Krause constructed a dynasty with the Bulls.

"There is not a person in this game over the past 70 years who has not benefitted from his judgment, friendship, mentorship and his many creative ideas that forever changed the game of baseball on the field and in the front office," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement.

Perhaps Hemond's biggest move in White Sox history was hiring 34-year-old Tony La Russa as manager in August of 1979. La Russa directed the White Sox to the 1983 American League West title that helped springboard a Hall of Fame career.

"My great good fortune was to have him as my first GM," La Russa tweeted. "He remained a mentor throughout the years and his impact continues forever through all of us he helped!"

Hemond was a three-time recipient of Major League Baseball's Executive of the Year award and was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 with the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hemond's vision was responsible for the formation of the 30-year-old Arizona Fall League, which gave exposure to prospects and players bidding for spots on 40-man rosters.

Hemond was a major supporter of scouts and nonuniformed personnel receiving a pension. Melvin recalled Hemond making a passionate speech to major league owners about the need for providing assistance for the "unsung heroes of the game."

During games or idle time, Hemond would take the time to take a notepad, napkin or matchbox out of his jacket to respond to a comment or elaborate on a thought.

The habit was so feverish that Melvin presented Hemond with a jacket decorated with sewn-in pockets.

Prior to the formal announcement of his dismissal as GM of the White Sox near the end of the 1985 season, Hemond alerted Evans and wished him the best.

When Evans was fired by the Dodgers in 2005, Hemond made the first call and kept checking on his well-being.

"He was that guy for me," Evans said.

Born in Central Falls, RI, Hemond started working for the minor league Hartford Chiefs in 1951 before joining the Milwaukee Braves two years later.

Hemond served for 10 seasons as farm director of the expansion Los Angeles Angels (1961-1970) before the White Sox hired him as their director of player personnel and was accompanied by Chuck Tanner as manager.

Hemond inherited a 106-loss franchise and turned it into an 87-win team in two years. The 1977 South Side Hitmen won 90 games and increased their home attendance by 700,000.

Much of that foundation was set up at the 1975 Winter Meetings in South Florida, where then-owner Bill Veeck and Hemond placed a table in the hotel lobby with an "Open for Business" sign that resulted in six trades involving 22 players.

With the Orioles, Hemond transformed a 107-loss team in 1988 into an 87-win team in 1989 that wasn't eliminated from the playoffs until the second-to-last game.

Hemond served as a senior executive with the expansion Diamondbacks (1996-2000, 2007-2020) and White Sox (2001-2006). Hemond was Williams' first hire after taking over as GM of the White Sox.

Many of Hemond's pupils and former White Sox co-workers attended a dinner honoring his induction into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame last month in Phoenix.

Hemond is survived by wife Margo; children Susan, Tere, Robert, Jay and Ryan; and four grandchildren.

@MDGonzales

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