Riding With Roland
One of the great things about baseball is that it still brings excitement to fans whether they’re 7 or 70. And, no matter when it happened, you’ll always remember that time you got to meet an icon of the game. For some, it’s that autographed baseball you got from your favorite player. For others, it was the chance to talk with a player, coach or manager during Spring Training or at a sports function. Or maybe you had the unique opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with someone whose plaque hangs in Cooperstown.
My retirement community has a very active Sports Club filled with the most knowledgeable baseball fans you’ll ever meet. We attend a number of games at Chase Field in Phoenix each season and also gather at local ballparks for Spring Training and the Arizona Fall League. In addition, at least a dozen times each year, we are privileged to have guest speakers who give of their time and come talk with us about the national pastime. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to host Fergie Jenkins, Matt Williams, Josh Hamilton, John D’Acquisto, Peter Magowan (former owner of the Giants), Jeff Idelson (HOF President) Bernie Pleskoff (MLB.com writer), Daron Sutton, legendary scouts Art Stewart & Mel Didier as well as many others.
Of all our visitors over the last decade, the most frequent and most accommodating has been Roland Hemond, Special Assistant to the President & CEO of the Diamondbacks. He has made multiple presentations to the Club, has attended numerous functions and has also used his influence to bring in other speakers. At our recent holiday party, Roland was a featured guest and received a plaque from the group in thanks of his contributions over the years. I had the enviable task of picking him up at his Phoenix home for the 45-minute drive out to our community, which allowed me to talk baseball with one of the most famous executives in the history of the game. Of course, a few detours would have helped because his first big-league job was in 1952.
Talking with Roland is akin to attending a class in baseball history. In 1949, he was in the Coast Guard and stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Along with 68,000 other people, he was in Yankee Stadium on October 2nd for the one-game playoff for the American League Pennant between the Yankees & Red Sox. In the car last week, he gave me a virtual play-by play of the game from Ellis Kinder’s tough luck loss (allowing only one run in 7 innings for the Sox) to Jerry Coleman’s 3 RBI’s in the bottom of the 8th that put the game out of reach for the Yanks. We also came to the realization that “small world” moments are always part of the game. Roland’s first big league job was with the Boston Braves in 1952 and he admitted that occasionally, he would sneak over to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox and the great stars of the American League. There’s a good chance that a six-year old boy was also in attendance, as that’s the same year my Uncle first began taking me to the ballpark.
So, for the casual fan, who is Roland Hemond? The resume is impressive…
> 1952-60 – Worked in the front office of the Boston/Milwaukee Braves (Eddie Mathews’ rookie year was ’52, Hank Aaron’s was ’54).
> Scouting and Farm Director of the expansion Los Angeles Angels from 1961-70.
> Became the Assistant GM of the White Sox in 1971 was the GM from 1973-85.
> General Manager of the Orioles from 1988-95.
> Senior Executive VP for the Diamondbacks from 1996-2000.
> Executive Advisor for the White Sox from 2000-07 and then back to the D’Backs in 2008.
> Considered the architect of the Arizona Fall League, which began in 1992 and is still recognized as the premier developmental program in baseball.
His success and reputation in the game can be measured by the awards he has received….
> Selected as MLB’s Executive of the Year three times (1972, 1983 & 1989).
> The New York baseball writers presented him with the prestigious William J. Slocumb Award.
> The Honors Award from the Baseball Coaches of America.
> In 2011, the Baseball Hall of Fame selected him as only the second recipient of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for his extraordinary efforts to enhance the game’s positive impact on society. Presented in Cooperstown, the honor is bestowed upon an individual whose efforts broadened the game’s appeal and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the late O’Neil, the former negro league player who passed away in 2006 at age 94.
You would think that a person with this history might be slightly full of himself, but if you meet Roland, you find that the exact opposite is true. During our visit, he told a little tale on himself from the 1970’s. One of the other AL teams was attempting to get a pitcher through waivers late in the season, so they could trade him to a contender. Sometimes teams will put in a claim in these situations in order to block the prospective deal and then the original team will just pull the player back. Roland put in the waiver claim and then the team didn’t pull back the player. When he informed his staff, the first thing they said was, “where are we going to get the $20,000 for the claim?” If that doesn’t show you how the business of baseball has changed in the last 40 years, nothing will. Of course, they found the money and the Pitcher won 20 games in both of the next two seasons.
Roland’s mlb.com bio also tells you about what it was like to be a GM in during that 25+ year span. The stats say that he negotiated 135 trades involving 428 players. In just the first few years in Chicago, there were deals including Ron Santo, Dick Allen & Goose Gossage. During his Orioles tenure, trades show the names of Brady Anderson, Curt Schilling, Fred Lynn & Harold Baines. The best piece of trivia, however, might be that in 1976, Roland traded Tony LaRussa.
The history of the game comes in many shapes & sizes…and people. It’s nice to know that even men who didn’t wear the uniform can still be baseball treasures.