Orioles’ New GM Roland Hemond Is a Demon for Hard Work
The morning sun has yet to burn away the fog of a muggy South Florida day, and traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway has just begun to thicken when Roland Hemond’s work day begins. He has been up since 6, and an hour later takes his place at a large table in the coffee shop of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Newspapers are at each chair, and coffee is being poured as the Baltimore Orioles’ new baseball hierarchy opens what has developed into a daily ritual--a morning breakfast meeting. If this is a normal day for Hemond, it won’t end until around midnight, or after he has made 50 or so phone calls, shaken a couple dozen hands, scribbled himself a pocketful of “idea” notes and, finally, buried his head into a book for an hour or so.
He recently finished “The Jesuits” because “my daughter urged me to read it.” He plowed through it diligently, a page or two at a time, but prefers the high-profile autobiographies of such movers-and-shakers as Lee Iacocca and Chuck Yeager.
“I like to know what makes successful people go,” he said. “Where do they get their drive?”
Among the many lessons his former boss, Bill Veeck, taught the Orioles’ new general manager is that reading and an interest in the outside world are occasionally as important as knowing the value of a 3-2 change-up. Veeck would devour four or five books a week, a remarkable accomplishment because he was famous for starting his work days at dawn and finishing them 18 or so hours later.
“He made time to read,” Hemond said. “He could get by on three or four hours of sleep a night, and if you worked for him you learned to get by on that, too. You find out you can.”
So, too, do the people working for Hemond, an elfish friendly fellow with a heavy Rhode Island accent and scuffed Reeboks. He’s the guy who never forgets a name or fails to return a phone call, the guy who occasionally gets so excited about this project or that trade that he forgets which door leads to his office.
He’s the guy who begins many lunches by telling a friend, “Let me just make one phone call.” He has just had an idea about a trade, and he wants to “throw out a flare.” He ends many meals the same way: “Hold on, this guy may be back from lunch.”
He also appears to have energized a baseball franchise that was almost comatose the last four years. He has done it by making five trades in his first four months on the job--as many as his predecessor, Hank Peters, made in his final 22 months.
It isn’t clear if the Orioles will be better in 1988, but they’ll at least be different. Of the 34 players left in camp late last week, 14 weren’t in the organization a year earlier.
Housecleanings sometimes leave bitter feelings, but he has come in with so much enthusiasm that, as one long-time employee said: “He’s impossible not to like.” It’s just not in the front office, either. When he traded outfielder Mike Young last week, one of his first phone calls was to Eddie Murray, Young’s best friend. He wanted Murray to know. A touch of courtesy.
He appears to be completely without pretenses, a man who recently walked into a room full of new acquaintances, held out a shirt cuff and said, “Could someone fasten this?”
His energy and enthusiasm seemingly are endless. When he ran the Chicago White Sox, he had staffers equipped with walkie-talkies at the winter meetings because if he had an idea he wanted to be able to pursue it--in a hurry. He also liked the gamesmanship of it.
“You could be talking a trade with one team, and you get a call on the walkie-talkie,” he said, smiling. “No matter who it is, you could always say into the microphone, ‘Oh, Buzzie Bavasi wants to talk to us?’ Sure, that’s part of it.”
Hemond hasn’t yet strapped a walkie-talkie on anyone with his new team. However, one day he did fly down a Memorial Stadium hallway so fast that he missed the door to his office. He slipped through a little-known back door, came back into the entry foyer and stunned his secretary, who said: “Where did you come from? I was just in there looking for you.”
There was also the afternoon he bounced into farm director Doug Melvin’s office, pointed at a sofa and said: “Excuse me, Doug. Let me just grab 10 (minutes), and I’ll be good for another eight hours.”
So while Melvin worked, Hemond lay down and shut his eyes for 10 minutes, then hopped up and said: “Now, this pitcher we were talking about. . . . “
And there was the afternoon recently when he handed a stadium cashier a $100 check to cash, but, in his rush to get back upstairs, forgot to wait for the money. The cashier chased him down and said: “Uh, Mr. Hemond, you forgot. . . . “
“I love the West Coast,” said Hemond, who once moved 16 players in 18 hours at one winter meeting. “You can get up at 5:30 and get people on the phone back East.”
All of these stories of long hours and of boundless energy weren’t lost on Oriole owner Edward Bennett Williams after he fired Peters last fall. Williams was disgusted that the Orioles were losing and that the farm system had been mismanaged, but his argument with Peters appeared to run deeper. Williams worked 60-hour weeks even after six cancer operations and admits he has trouble tolerating employees any less dedicated.
“Industry,” Williams said. “That’s what impressed me about Roland. He’s a hard worker. He’s enthusiastic about his work, and he was enthusiastic about the things I wanted to do.”
To Williams, industry is phoning the Detroit Tigers 30 minutes after outfielder Kirk Gibson jilted them to sign with the Dodgers. “You say, ‘Geez, I don’t want to sound like an opportunist, but if you’re looking for an outfielder. . . .’ ”
Hemond, after two years in the office of Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, says he’s rejuvenated by the chance to run a team again.
“You get up in the morning and read the standings and the box scores,” he said. “You’re comparing yourself everyday to all the other teams. You celebrate the victories; you push on after the losses. You watch kids develop and guys like Eddie Murray play in their prime. That’s the fun of it.”
The first thing to understand about 58-year-old Roland Hemond is the way he pours himself into his job. He and his wife of 29 years no longer live together, and his five children are scattered around the country, so he spends most of his days working and his evenings alone.
If he’s not on the telephone, he’s reading a press guide. If he’s not discussing a trade, he’s thinking about one. Under Hemond, the White Sox discovered Jorge Orta in an obscure Mexican League, reliever Kevin Hickey in a Chicago softball league and Harold Baines on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He got future Cy Young winner LaMarr Hoyt as a throw-in on a deal with the Yankees, talked free-agent Carlton Fisk into leaving Boston and picked up a big, strong kid named Ron Kittle in 1978 after he had suffered a career-threatening injury and been released by the Dodgers.
During the White Sox championship season of ’83, Kittle hit 35 homers and drove in 100 runs.
Baseball has been Hemond’s life for 37 years, since he did everything from sweep out concession stands to handle the public-address system for the Hartford Braves, and most of his personal relationships are offshoots of his work. Friends say he thinks nothing of working a 20-hour day or of driving 200 miles on short notice if there’s a possibility of finding a left-handed reliever.
A few days before he left for spring training, his days were running 16 or more hours. One included working the trade telephones in the morning, lunching with reporters in Washington at noon, attending a Washington news conference in the afternoon, then driving to Wilmington, Del., for a banquet.
The second thing to understand is how much he enjoys winning. “I draw it out,” he said. “I want to enjoy the good things.”
So he celebrates the victories “like no one I’ve seen,” said Oakland Manager Tony LaRussa, who worked six seasons with Hemond in Chicago.
When the White Sox won at Comiskey Park, Hemond might spend several hours nursing a drink and telling stories. But if the White Sox lost, “I left. I went home and tried to get to sleep. I wanted to sleep that game off and get on with the next one.”
He’s a mesmerizing raconteur, who says: “I do like to tell stories, but not during games. I watch the game because I might be watching the greatest game ever played. I can’t tell stories about it if I don’t watch it, and I don’t want people to think I care more about telling stories than doing my job.”
The third thing to know about him is that baseball people, even some who have fired him, hold him in something amounting to reverence.
“I have the utmost respect for him,” said White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who fired Hemond after the 1985 season, Hemond’s 15th in Chicago. “He has class, dignity and intelligence.”
“They don’t make people nicer than Roland Hemond,” said Dave Dombrowski, now the Montreal Expos’ assistant general manager but once Hemond’s right-hand man in Chicago. “He loves what he’s doing, and he shows it every single day. His vibrance rubs off on the people around him. His motto has always been to ‘enjoy the moment,’ and he does that. He has a young mind and is open to suggestions. Yet he also calls upon past experiences. He’s one of those rare people who loves what he’s doing.”
Dombrowski remembers a couple of times when Hemond’s enthusiasm was tested. One of those was in 1985 when Reinsdorf fired Hemond and put Ken Harrelson in charge of baseball operations.
“It was announced as a promotion for Roland, but everyone knew what was happening,” Dombrowski said. “I had a knot in the pit of my stomach. I mean, I was just devastated. It happened on a Wednesday, and on Sunday we went to church together. He saw how I was acting and said, ‘Dave, please smile. Don’t let people know you feel that way.’
“I said, ‘Roland, I feel terrible. I just feel awful about this.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Look at the positive side. You can learn and benefit from things like this.’ And he believed what he was saying, although I’m sure a lot of people would be astounded he could feel that way.”
After 15 years of bird-dogging talent, talking trades and living inning by inning, Hemond was fired in late 1985 and eventually became a consultant to Ueberroth. He said he poured himself into that job, too, helping develop a youth baseball program, an umpire-development program and an amateur baseball program.
He says he understands people have trouble believing he was happy in the job, adding, “I’m not going to let anyone spoil my enthusiasm for living. I missed the excitement, but I fabricated pleasures. We worked hard on the youth programs and things like that, and I saw improvements made. That’s a great pleasure.”
Still. . . .
“To me, the great pleasure is a ballpark filled with people,” he said, massaging his third or fourth cup of Decaf of the morning. “I look at what Minnesota did last year. To go from 90 losses to a championship was something that was sheer pleasure to watch. That was a baseball man’s dream and what I want to see for the Orioles.
“I hear people say they hate to lose, but to me that’s negative. I love to win, and I want to enjoy the wins. If my enthusiasm rubs off on the people around me, so much the better. I want them to live for the moment, to have enjoyment out of the things they do everyday. You fight the clock everyday, and if you don’t enjoy every moment, a great life can pass you by.”