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WHITESOXINTERACTIVE.COM. Totally Biased Coverage of the Chicago White Sox!

Hemond and Talent! 

By Mark Liptak 

Roland Hemond is ‘old school.’ How old? Let’s put it this way, Hemond was involved in the Braves scouting and minor league system when they were in Boston. In fact he has a 1957 World Championship ring from the Milwaukee Braves. Hemond was also scouting director for the Angels when they were still known as the California Angels in the 1960's. He was the White Sox General Manager from September 1970 through 1985, then he took over the Baltimore Orioles. He’s a three time major league ‘Executive of the Year’ award winner (1972, 1983, 1989). Hemond has forgotten more about baseball then others have even known. 

So when he says “it’s unfortunate that some owners today just don’t understand how important the scouting and development part of the game is,” you pay attention. 

Hemond was in Great Falls, Montana recently where I had the chance to meet him as he was scouting and watching the Great Falls White Sox of the Pioneer League. Great Falls is the class A advanced rookie league farm club of the Chicago White Sox...make that the World Champion Chicago White Sox. 

It was the first chance Roland, who is Executive Advisor to current GM Kenny Williams, had to get a look at the recent draft picks starting out their careers that they hope will eventually lead to a major league job. Right handed pitcher Kyle McCulloch of Texas was there. The 6-3 first round pick was throwing baseballs effortlessly. John Shelby was also there. The fourth round pick out of the University of Kentucky is the son of long time major league outfielder John Shelby and he looks like he was born to play baseball. 

But Hemond just wasn’t watching the players, saying hello to team executives and interacting with fans, he was also watching manager and former big league outfielder Bobby Tolan and his staff. 

“I’ll file a report on them and send it along to Dave Wilder (the White Sox Director of Player Development.) I look to see how they are teaching the kids, if they are following our instructions on how to prepare and develop them and if they are being positive.” 

That’s why Hemond was out on the field at Centene Stadium hours before the first pitch against the Missoula Osprey. He doesn’t miss much...everything is noted. Are the players stretching properly? Did that coach just show a kid the right way to position his hands for a bunt? Are the pitchers getting enough time to throw and how many pitches are they throwing? 

Ironically in today’s game, player development may be the only thing that connects ‘big market’ clubs to ‘small market’ franchises. Having talented young players fills needs in both philosophies. Big market clubs like the Yankees, Boston, the Dodgers and White Sox, often use their farm players to acquire proven major league talent for the stretch run. Small market franchises like Minnesota, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Kansas City desperately need talented youngsters, because right now, that’s the only way they have any chance to win anything. 

“There’s no one way to do it but I’ve always felt it comes down to getting and developing talent” Hemond says. “Some franchises have spent millions with nothing to show for it. The Yankees can spend that kind of money because they are bringing in so much of it. The White Sox under (owner) Jerry Reinsdorf, have always felt that whatever we’ve done, it has to make sense. Whether that’s a trade or signing a draft pick or getting a free agent.  Sometimes fans think that means they aren’t trying to win but that’s not true.” 

The White Sox also have a twist on a philosophy that runs contrary to some other major league clubs. Hemond elaborated. “We go after the best baseball players that we can get...not necessarily the best athletes. There’s a difference between the two.” 

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Look into Hemond’s blue eyes on a magnificent early summer day and you may see stitches in them. For a man who became a baseball executive in 1951, the game still hasn’t lost it’s charm, appeal and beauty. The guy who worked with Bill Veeck and made 135 deals involving 428 players as a general manager, is a lifer and it doesn’t matter if he’s in the owner’s box at U.S. Cellular Field or 1800 miles away in a minor league park. In fact, watching and talking to Hemond, you get the sense he’d rather be in a ballpark then anyplace else on Earth.   

Postscript: 

One of the experiences I always wanted to have took place Friday night when Roland and I went to ‘Legends’ Sports Bar & Grill in Great Falls to watch the Sox-Houston game. I’ve always wanted to catch a game with either a former player or someone who knew about baseball at the highest level. The three hours seemed to pass in a blur as Roland regaled me with insights, comments and stories. Among the stories were his days with Bill Veeck, ‘Disco Demolition,’ the motives behind the trade for Ozzie Guillen in 1985, why he stuck with a young Tony LaRussa and the behind the scenes actions that led to his being let go as General Manager after the 1985 season. 

I’m not at liberty to disclose these stories unfortunately because Roland is giving serious consideration to writing a book about his 54 years (and counting...) In major league baseball. 

Suffice it to say it was an unforgettable evening! 


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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