MINNEAPOLIS -- Turn on the microphone and just let them talk. A few former players and one of the game's great executives took center stage at the Marriott City Center on Saturday, as the Society for American Baseball Research wrapped up the business end of its annual conference.
SABR 42 will actually end on Sunday morning with a board meeting, but the final research presentations and lecture discussions took place on Saturday. The first panel discussion featured a few former players with local ties, including a guest appearance by former Twins catcher Tim Laudner.
Laudner, who works as an analyst for Fox Sports Net, had to leave early in order to work a doubleheader at neighboring Target Field, but he got the discussion started by greeting the crowd. Laudner poked fun at the statistical-minded audience, but at heart he was one of them.
"I don't know anything about OPS or ESP," said Laudner. "But what I do know is that as soon as I walked into the room, we did share a common denominator. ... I think it's fairly obvious that the common denominator is truly a love and a passion for the greatest game on this earth."
Laudner, a member of the Twins' World Series team in 1987, was joined by a few other players of modest renown. Former infielder Frank Quilici shared the stage, as did Bob "Rocky" Johnson and Bill Davis, a member of the University of Minnesota team that won the College World Series in 1964.
That group was the opening act for Roland Hemond, a three-time Major League Executive of the Year, who would speak to the audience in the same room just a few hours later. And they kept the audience laughing with wide-ranging tales of their experiences as big-league players.
Johnson, a soft-spoken man who played for eight big-league teams, spoke a bit about rooming with Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson and told how he had gotten his nickname by being mistaken for Rocky Colavito. Johnson drew laughs by saying he didn't even know how to spell Colavito at the time.
Davis, who hit just one home run in the Majors, shared his story of how he had come to the big leagues, and had his hopes dashed by an Achilles tendon injury. Davis did suit up in the first-ever game for the Padres, and he related what it was like to work with a trio of famous managers in Cleveland.
"Birdie Tebbetts, if you couldn't hit, he related it to something your mom did to you as a child," he said. "Alvin Dark was a guy that if you if couldn't do something, it was because you didn't go to church on Sunday. Joe Adcock, if you couldn't do something, it was because you didn't do it the way he did it. Birdie was a character, but he was a good manager and became a good friend of mine."
The laughs continued for Hemond, who spoke about his wide-ranging career in the game. Hemond, who is credited for birthing the Arizona Fall League, told stories from his days as general manager of the White Sox and Orioles, and even shared a laugh about his current position.
Hemond, now billed as Arizona's special assistant to the president, got a kick out of his title.
"You know what that means?" asked Hemond, the namesake of an annual SABR award. "I can attend the SABR conference and not worry about the club. I've become ceremonial."
The audience sat rapt in attention for Hemond, who began his career working for Gene Autry with the California Angels and later worked with Bill Veeck, one of the game's great characters. Hemond told of how he had first hired Tony La Russa to manage, and how he had traded for Ozzie Guillen.
The La Russa hire -- which occurred with the White Sox -- is one of Hemond's proudest accomplishments, but the Guillen acquisition took a little luck. Hemond's scouts had seen Guillen, who profiled as a slick-fielding shortstop, but the executive was still surprised by his small stature.
Hemond, no giant himself, said that his first impression of Guillen was one of despair. The executive encounted the infielder without a shirt on and estimated his weight at 140 pounds, 15 less than his listed weight. "I think we traded for a jockey," said Hemond in a bit of understated sarcasm.
Hemond spoke warmly and admiringly of Veeck, the former owner of the White Sox, calling him "incomparable" and "a genius," among other compliments. Hemond said that Veeck possessed limitless amounts of energy and that the two would stay up all night trying to make the team better.
"He helped me so much," said Hemond. "He said, 'Let your imagination run rampant. Propose anything. I'll tell you if it's been tried before and whether it did work, or if it can't work. ... The calendar said it was five years, but it was really 10, because I'd only get [around] three or four hours of sleep."
Hemond, recognized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as a recipient of the Buck O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award, told of how he had acquired great players like Dick Allen and Carlton Fisk, and he gave a behind-the-scenes account of watching Cal Ripken Jr. play.
The executive's first year in Baltimore -- 1988 -- coincided with the team's 0-21 streak to start the season, but he helped the Orioles make a rapid return to respectability. Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record in 1995, Hemond's final season at the helm of the Orioles.
"I had the dubious distinction of firing his father six days into the season. It took a lot of guts, but no brains, right?," asked Hemond. "But Cal Ripken and Billy Ripken showed me great respect. They still did the best they could day-in and day-out, and they never knocked the decisions."