Roland Hemond, longtime MLB exec, dies

December 13th, 2021

CHICAGO -- For seven decades, Roland Hemond was one of the most beloved and respected individuals in the game of baseball.

Hemond, who died Monday at the age of 92, influenced countless people and always had time for everyone he encountered through his gregarious, attentive and uplifting nature.

"Roland Hemond was one of the most respected executives that our game has ever known," Comissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "He mentored countless people in our sport and found ways to make our game stronger. Roland Hemond was a great gentleman whose contributions to our National Pastime will never be forgotten.”

“He touched a lot of people,” said former Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who was the assistant general manager and farm director under Hemond in Baltimore. “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.”

That personal touch for Hemond began in 1952 as the assistant scouting director for the Milwaukee Braves, contributing to National League pennants in '57 and '58, and to a '57 World Series title. Hemond moved west as the scouting director for the Los Angeles Angels in '61 for their debut season and stayed until 1970, when he joined the White Sox as their director of player personnel and eventually became general manager.

The White Sox drew a total attendance of only 495,355 during that 106-loss 1970 season, but Hemond revitalized the franchise through a number of shrewd moves, including the acquisition of eventual AL Most Valuable Player Dick Allen from the Dodgers on Dec. 2, 1971, in exchange for Steve Huntz and Tommy John. Hemond won the Sporting News MLB Executive of the Year award in '72, when the White Sox won 87 games and drew a total attendance of 1,177,318, and he presided over the team until '85. He also put together the iconic '77 South Side Hitmen and the '83 American League West division championship team led by manager Tony La Russa.

Roland Hemond (center) poses with White Sox rookie outfielder Ron Kittle (left) and hockey icon Wayne Gretzky on May 3, 1983.

Hemond’s run under White Sox owner Bill Veeck included a famous Winter Meetings story in which Hemond set up a table in the lobby of the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., with the sign “Open for Business Anytime,” according to reports about the event. The table even featured a ringing phone, with the calls coming from White Sox personnel, with the idea leading to several moves for the cash-restricted organization.

Hemond took over as the Baltimore Orioles’ general manager in 1988, producing a 33-win improvement in one season. He served as the senior executive vice president for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1996-2000, guiding the franchise through its debut season in 1998. He worked as an executive advisor for the White Sox from 2001-07, winning a 2005 World Series championship before returning to the D-backs as a special assistant to the president.

Along with being credited for developing the Arizona Fall League, Hemond served as the president of the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America, which provides financial assistance and college scholarships to current and former players, scouts and others connected with pro baseball. He also helped found the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, designed to give assistance to longtime scouts in need of special support.

In 2011, Hemond was awarded the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming the first person aside from the Hall of Famer O’Neil to achieve the honor.

“Roland was my first general manager as a player, and then years later, was the first person I called when I became general manager of the White Sox,” said White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams in a statement released by the team. “Roland was an invaluable advisor, confidant and friend as we captured the 2005 World Series. As one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors, there are a lot of people mourning Roland today while also telling stories of how he impacted their lives and the game. He will be missed by many.”

“To show the kind of special person he was: he never forgot a name,” said La Russa in the same release. “He was a great resource for a lot of us at the Winter Meetings. When the lobbies are flooded with people, if we didn’t immediately recall a name, Roland was always there to help us out. It’s a sad day, but he lived a remarkable life.”

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 Melvin with news that Roland was nearing the end of his life, and held the phone to Hemond’s ear so Melvin could say a few final words. Melvin is sure that Hemond’s influence helped him get hired as Rangers GM in 1994, an experience that led to another job as the Brewers GM from 2002-15.

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?”

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, Hemond’s boss and close friend, also saw Hemond along with Dave Dombrowski, Walt Jocketty and Melvin last month in Phoenix.

“We shared a few words together, and we were able to thank him for all he had done for each of us, our careers, our teams and for baseball,” Reinsdorf said. “Our thoughts go out today to his wonderful wife, Margo, their five children, his four grandchildren, and all people in baseball who mourn losing him but celebrate knowing him and all he leaves behind.”

Adam McCalvy contributed to this report.