Jim Henneman: Roland Hemond’s Passing Draws Stories About One Of Baseball’s Colorful Characters

It didn’t come as any surprise last week that the passing of Roland Hemond, longtime baseball executive and former Orioles general manager, drew many tributes — and more than a few stories about one of the game’s most colorful characters.

Murray Cook, former general manager for the Pirates, Expos and Yankees, weighed in with one about the time he negotiated a trade with Hemond. Traditionally, teams involved decide mutually how and when trades are made.

“It was during the Winter Meetings in 1984 [in Houston] and we were sending pitcher Bob James to the White Sox for infielder Vance Law,” Cook recalled. “Before we made the announcement Roland asked me if it would be OK if he made the announcement.”

“I said sure, go right ahead. Then Roland went up to the microphone and read the entire announcement in French. The [Montreal contingent] French-speaking media went bonkers,” Cook continued. “They ate it up. Of course, none of us knew that, being from that area, Roland was fluent in the French language — and I’m sure he realized making the announcement like that would get a reaction.”

Which, of course, it did. Just as one Hemond didn’t make would have done years later, when he was the Orioles’ general manager. It was 1989, when the Orioles went into Toronto for a three-game series on the final weekend, trailing the division-leading Blue Jays by one game.

The Orioles needed a three-game sweep to win outright, or two out of three to force a one-game playoff, which would have been played in Baltimore. Realizing in even the best-case scenario the Orioles needed another starting pitcher, Hemond targeted Expos left-hander Mark Langston, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the year.

Hemond revealed after the fact that in his perfect scheme the deal would come off unannounced until after Langston warmed up in the bullpen before starting the last game of the season.

“That would have been great,” he said, enjoying a replay of his potential ploy. He wasn’t able to sell the Expos on the idea, however, and when Langston pitched [and lost] to the Phillies on Friday that final weekend, any possibility of making the trade was killed.

Hemond didn’t initially reveal who the Orioles were offering for Langston, but years later said Arthur Rhodes, then a highly touted left-handed prospect who went on to have a lengthy career as a reliever, would have been in the deal.

Ironically, there was a common denominator to both stories — Dave Dombrowski, current president of the Phillies and a longtime front office executive who broke in under Hemond with the White Sox before becoming general manager of the Expos in 1987.

“I was still with the White Sox, and I remember Roland making that announcement,” he said via phone this week, recalling the 1984 Winter Meetings.

Dombrowski told MLB Network last week that he couldn’t remember ever making a deal with Hemond because “he probably taught me too well, not to let him take advantage of me.”

Dombrowski confirmed Hemond may have been trying to do just that in those discussions a few years later.

“I do remember we talked about Langston,” he said. “I don’t remember all the details, but Roland was thinking he might be able to pitch one or two games for the Orioles.”

The Expos had traded Randy Johnson and two other young pitchers for Langston in May 1989.

“We had a lot invested in Langston and almost signed him [to an extension] in August,” Dombrowski said. “We felt we still had a chance to sign him.”

Hemond’s chance of making a “dream deal” was foiled because his protégé couldn’t be foiled, or fooled, by the mentor he fervently admired. Dombrowski wasn’t the only one, both in the game and out, who have great memories of Hemond.

What follows is a sampling of responses from my Dec. 15 column about Hemond:

Ernie Accorsi:

Great piece about a wonderful man. I worked with him for six months and until the Fourth of July sat with him in his box every night at Camden. I treasure those nights. He was such a joy to be with. Right before George [Young] called about going to the Giants, Roland told me he wanted me to switch to the baseball department, which I jumped at. I stayed in touch with him over the years and even though my time with him was brief I love the memory of it.

Richie Bancells:

It made me sad when I heard about Roland’s passing. The current game could use people like him. He was not only a great person to work for but became an important mentor to me. Long after he was no longer with the Orioles and I would see him at the winter meetings, he always had time to talk. Amazingly, he would ask about Carol and the kids. He recalled all their names, ages at the time and sincerely asked how they were doing.

Funny, at my age I now get the naps and enjoy them!

Scott Dance:

He was a great neighbor. We sat on the water’s edge benches at the Anchorage many mornings discussing all manner of things. A really good guy.

John Schuerholz:

Roland was a wonderful, honorable man who loved baseball and the many friends he had.

A most pleasant man no matter the circumstances.

I will miss him greatly as he was a dear, dear friend with impeccable integrity.

Thomas P. Simon:

Nice piece, Jim. Roland sure left his impact on SABR. What a great guy, willing (as you say) to talk baseball anytime, anywhere.

Warren Sollod:

Yes he was … one of a kind!

Gary Thorne:

Great job. Loved Roland. Such a good person to be around. Never forget his dancing routines on Friday nights at the HOF.

Merry Christmas and be well.

Dave Trembley:

Tremendous tribute to as good a person one could ever know — baseball man forever.

Merry Christmas

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonliine.com

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles