MILWAUKEE -- Legendary baseball executive Roland Hemond, the man who drafted Hank Aaron's first professional contract, had Milwaukee ties dating to his days as the Braves’ assistant scouting director. His influence extended well into this century as his one of his disciples, Doug Melvin, helped turn the Brewers’ fortunes for the better.
Hemond -- the former White Sox and Orioles GM who also held prominent front office positions for the Braves, Angels and D-backs, and who mentored future GMs including Melvin, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams and Reds advisor Walt Jocketty -- passed away overnight Sunday. He was 92.
“He was a wonderful person,” said Melvin, now a Brewers special assistant. “He impacted a lot of people, impacted our game. As a mentor, he wanted every young guy to have success in this game. If there was anyone I could have picked as a mentor, it would have been Roland.”
Melvin last saw Hemond in early November in Phoenix, when Hemond was among those inducted to the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame.
On Sunday, Hemond’s son phoned with news that his father was nearing the end. He held the phone to Hemond’s ear so Melvin could say a few final words.
“He touched a lot of people,” Melvin said. “He was a GM, he worked in the Commissioner’s Office, he founded the Arizona Fall League and he helped get pensions for non-uniformed personnel. He’s the one who gave the speech to the owners and convinced them they need to give pensions to those people. He did a lot for the game.
“And he was always thinking. He always wanted the game to get better, and at the same time he always loved the game. His recall, my God. He had the best recall of players, of events, of anyone I ever knew.”
The two didn’t know each other much when Hemond became GM of the Orioles in 1988, with Melvin as his young farm director and assistant GM. Melvin, a former Minor League pitcher, was still early in his career as a scout and front office executive.
“Roland clapped his hands and said, ‘Come on, kid, let’s go have some fun,’” Melvin said. “The first year we had that Orioles team that went 0-21. I said, ‘Roland, you said we were going to have fun. This isn’t fun.’ We laughed about things. And then the next year we won 87 games. That was fun.”
Melvin worked under Hemond for nine years and they became as close as family. Their own families vacationed together, including one memorable trip to Italy, and Melvin is sure that Hemond’s influence played a big part in Melvin being hired as the Texas Rangers' GM in 1994.
It was that experience that led Melvin to Milwaukee in September 2002. He ran the Brewers’ baseball operations until 2015, a tenure that included the team’s first postseason berth in 26 years, and first division title in 29 years.
Hemond’s most notable legacy, Melvin said, is the way he helped ensure success for the young men and women who worked for him, and that care extended throughout the ballpark.
“One of the great things Roland used to do was every year on the last day of the regular season, he would go around the upper deck and shake all the ushers’ hands,” Melvin said. “He made sure he shook their hands and thanked them for the job they did. It was little things like that which made Roland special. He always said the game is about the players, but there are so many other people that are so passionate about the game and put their heart and soul into it, and a lot of times for not a lot of money.
“He was a big supporter of the little guy, you know?”