Roland Hemond, 92, made massive impacts on White Sox, baseball

When Chuck Tanner, the manager of the White Sox during their exciting revival in the early 1970s, died in 2011, we had a discussion about the figures most responsible for keeping the Sox in Chicago during a time when destinations like Milwaukee and Denver beckoned.

I gave Tanner the third spot. In second was Dick Allen, whose MVP season in 1972 and second home run title in 1974 gave the White Sox an offensive juggernaut the Sox lacked since Shoeless Joe Jackson.

At the top of the list was Roland Hemond. He was granted control as director of player personnel after the White Sox hit their nadir, drawing fewer than 500,000 fans in 1970. He had the imagination to trade for Allen and give him the kind of environment to allow him to work his magic, including the hiring of Tanner. And when the core of those teams — and the ownership of John Allyn — ran their course, he helped reinvent the White Sox yet again with encouragement from Bill Veeck for their magical South Side Hitmen season of 1977.

And when Jerry Reinsdorf’s group bought the team in 1981, Hemond survived a transition to a third owner and engineered the Winning Ugly White Sox of 1983, the franchise’s first division-winning team in 24 years.

Hemond, who died on Monday at the age of 92, performed one heroic feat after another in keeping the White Sox relevant when circumstances could have conspired to shuttle them off to another city, but the list of miracles is only half the reason why he’s the closest thing Major League Baseball had to a living saint. It’s either him or Buck O’Neil, which makes it fitting that Hemond was the first person to win the honor established in O’Neil’s name.

Beyond his track record is a larger impact captured by the tributes that came rolling in from all directions. His career spanned 70 years, joining the Braves at the tail end of their Boston days and in the scouting ranks and moving with them to Milwaukee, where they won a World Series with Hemond as the assistant scouting director. He then advanced into a scouting director position for the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961. Following his time with the White Sox from 1970 through 1985, Hemond served as the general manager for the Baltimore Orioles, before taking over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first five years of their existence. He rejoined the White Sox as an executive adviser during the transition from Ron Schueler to Kenny Williams. In 2007, he returned to the Diamondbacks as a special assistant to the president.

In between the jobs with the Orioles and Diamondbacks, Hemond worked for Major League Baseball, during which he founded the Arizona Fall League in 1992.

Te variety of experiences allowed him to touch a lot of lives and develop a ton of talent beneath him. Besides identifying La Russa’s talent as a manager in 1980, Hemond’s leadership tree includes Williams, Dave Dombrowski and Walt Jocketty as World Series-winning architects who got their starts under his guidance.

Hemond had a great eye for talent, but it was accompanied by a rare humanity in a cutthroat environment. It’s not uncommon to hear only kind things said about a person shortly after they die. It’s much more rare to hear nothing but kind things said about a person who is being fired. When Jerry Reinsdorf decided to replace Hemond at GM with Hawk Harrelson in October of 1985, he could only offer praise.

The stories being shared after Hemond’s death paint the picture of a prince.

Hemond left every team in a better position than he found it, and he seemingly did it while being the best person he could be. He also found ways to improve the game outside of rosters. His legacy includes the foundation of the Arizona Fall League in 1992, and his impact on scouts reaches even further:

As a co-founder of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, Hemond was instrumental in providing financial assistance to any talent evaluators who had fallen on hard times. As president of the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America, he also helped provide college scholarships to former players and others connected with the game. In 1983, he single-handedly convinced baseball owners to approve a pension plan for non-uniformed personnel, which he later called his greatest contribution to the sport. It was a decision that positively affected thousands of families. Like his old boss, Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck, he was always thinking of “the little guy.”

On one hand, it’s unfortunate that Hemond’s passing occurred during a lockout. Then again, the reflections on his life and work should remind everybody of the immeasurable rewards of investing in people.

(Photo by Eric Enfermero)

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Amar

A wonderful tribute Jim, thank you.

asinwreck

One of the many joys of the 2005 championship is it gave Kenny Williams’s advisor a ring, proving that nice guys can finish first.

They also don’t have to die young. What a full, rich life, spent treating people with kindness and dignity while having an extraordinary influence on the game he loved.

In addition to Jim’s lovely tribute, I will note that as MLB has a self-imposed communications blackout, the league and several figures currently associated with teams have released statements about Roland Hemond’s effect on them. Roland Hemond meant the world to the White Sox, and meant so much to this game. I’m glad he got so many honors in the last decade of his life, so that he had a clear sense of what these tributes would sound like.

To Err is Herrmann

This is a well-deserved tribute to a man who did so much for the White Sox and for baseball. I remember him as a kid and we knew even then that he was doing amazing work, and we knew he was a good man. I did not know much about him, though, so I appreciate this thoughtful look at his life. A role model for anyone.

mikeschach

A hero of my childhood as he kept saving the team and keeping them in Chicago, making amazing trade after trade. The sheer shock and joy of a hitter like Dick Allen for kids who grew up on go-go speed, pitching and defense was unimaginable.

Some small math-related corrections above: from 59 to 83 is 24 years, and 70 years ago I believe the Braves were still in Boston.

ParisSox

Wonderful write-up Jim. Many wonderful memories of Roland Hemond and his eye for talent. RIP monsieur.

As Cirensica

Wonderful column Jim. Thank you.

grittyiq

Great article. Did not know much about Roland Hemond and had no idea how fundamental he was to the game or even the White Sox. But now I do