There are no degrees of separation when it comes to Roland Hemond’s connections to professional baseball.
Sweeping affection and admiration for Hemond, the 88-year-old executive advisor to the Arizona Diamondbacks, were on full display during a recent whirlwind tour of the Northeast. It began at the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Cooperstown, N.Y., and continued with whistle-stop first pitch tosses at Boston’s Fenway Park and minor league McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I.
Hemond was also honored in his nearby hometown of Central Falls, R.I. where the youth baseball field he played on as a teenager was re-named in his honor and he was presented with a key to the city.
In his 67th major-league season, and approaching his 89th birthday, Hemond remains spry and enthusiastic, but one has to wonder how many more extensive road trips lie ahead. So it was especially poignant for Hemond to be reunited with his family and some of his longest lasting friends in baseball.
“It’s just been fabulous. I’ve been grinning from ear-to-ear all the time and how people are treating me so well and paying tribute to how I may have helped them some way somehow,” Hemond said. “There was no chance of that in my book. I never dreamed that would happen and now here it is, and for my children and grandchildren to see all this that’s also heartwarming.”
It all began as a family trip to Cooperstown sparked by the induction of Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell, who trained with Hemond’s son-in-law Dick Dent during his playing days, inspiring the Hemond clan to make to the trip.
The journey continued to pick up momentum with some prodding from Pawtucket Red Sox President Dr. Charles Steinberg, who previously worked with Hemond for the Baltimore Orioles. Steinberg has wanted Hemond to come and throw out a first pitch at McCoy Stadium ever since he learned that Hemond was at the first game played there in 1942.
These days, Hemond holds down the fort at Chase Field in his capacity as special assistant to Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall. In 2017, the seating area behind home plate where the working baseball scouts sit was renamed “The Roland Hemond Scout Section” in honor of his contributions to the organization. Hemond might still be found sitting there during any given game.
“I see quite a few of the games. I’m there on a daily basis basically. I’m going to try and keep working for as long as I can,” Hemond said. “It’s exuberant for me and I love it and I try and find ways and means to help young people grow in the game.”
Hemond has been working in the major leagues for 67 years, beginning as ballpark gopher with the old Boston Braves minor-league affiliate in Hartford, Conn., before earning a job typing scouting reports for the big league club in 1951. He famously typed out Hank Aaron’s scouting report submitted by Dewey Griggs in 1952 and has remained friendly with Aaron ever since.
“He was still a cross-handed switch hitter when we first met at Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1952. He told me he thought he had more power from the left side but then one day he hit a fan with a foul ball while batting lefty and said he’d never do that again,” said Hemond, who recently donated more than 2,000 scouting reports to the Hall of Fame.
Hemond advanced to the level of assistant farm director and continued to work for the Braves through the 1960 season. He married general manager John Quinn’s daughter Margo in 1958. The couple is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year.
Throughout his lengthy career he served as general manager for two teams — the Chicago White Sox (1970-85) and the Baltimore Orioles (1988-95) — and worked in the executive offices for seven different teams. He’s had two stints with the Diamondbacks: 1996-2000 and 2007–present.
He was named Major League Executive of the Year by the “Sporting News” in 1972 with the White Sox and with the Orioles in 1989, and won the United Press International version of the award with the White Sox in 1983.
Picture perfect at the Hall
Upon entry to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, visitors are immediately greeted by a statue of Negro Leagues ambassador and famed oral historian Buck O’Neil as part of the Hall’s Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award display.
Presented by the Hall’s Board of Directors not more than once every three years, the award honors “an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil.”
The award criteria suits Hemond to a tee. Hemond exudes an affable engaged spirit that transcends the baseball arena. He was the first living recipient of the award in 2011, after it was created and presented to O’Neil posthumously in 2008.
Hemond has a few awards of his own named after him, including honors presented the White Sox, “Baseball America,” the Society for American Baseball Research and the Arizona Fall League, which Hemond created.
Hemond is scheduled to be inducted to the Cactus League Hall of Fame at the league’s annual luncheon in February 2019.
As Hemond and his family had pictures taken with the O’Neil statue, a curious observer was informed that the man who just finished posing was the award’s first recipient, and perhaps he should ask if he would also stand in for the next photo. As is his nature, Hemond readily agreed.
It’s not uncommon for Hemond to remove one or two of his three World Series championship rings (1957, 2001 and 2005) and place them in the hands of fans, or let people try them on.
“He does it all the time,” said his son Bob Hemond, “He did it yesterday at the Diamondbacks game. He’s very gracious about sharing things like that because he knows how special it is to those folks. He loves to provide that experience,” said Bob Hemond.
First pitch at Fenway
Hemond’s entourage grew at each stop, with about two dozen friends and family members gathering for the games in Boston and Pawtucket.
“He’s beloved by anyone who’s had any connection to him at whatever level, whether its minor league or major league. Whatever capacity, he’s just so sincere,” said Tony La Russa, current Red Sox vice president and special assistant to Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations.
Both La Russa and Dobrowski were hired by Hemond during his tenure as general manager of the White Sox. When Hemond throw out the first pitch on Aug. 2 it coincided with the anniversary of the day he hired La Russa to manage the White Sox in 1979.
La Russa, who knew Hemond was scheduled to be in Rhode Island the next day, played a major role in arranging the Fenway Park ceremony.
“So we were talking among ourselves here with (Red Sox chairman) Tom Werner and (owner) John Henry and we decided to have Roland recognized the day before Pawtucket,” La Russa said. “And they said, ‘The idea is that that’s the day he hired you and we’re thinking about doing something where he could throw out the first pitch to you,’ but it’s entirely a tribute to Roland Hemond. The fact that I’m here is a coincidence.”
Dombrowski first met Hemond when he was a college student interviewing the executive for a thesis he was writing on the changing rules for baseball’s general managers. Later they met again at the MLB winter meetings, where Dombrowski sought career counseling from Hemond.
“I would not have my career if it wasn’t for Roland, it’s very easy to say,” said Dombrowski, who was referred for his job as director of player development with the White Sox by Hemond when he was just 22.
“Roland was my mentor. He took me under his wings … I moved in relatively close to where Roland lived on the south side of Chicago, so not only did I do things with him at the ballpark all the time but a lot of time he took me along from a social perspective too,” Dombrowski said. “… And so he helped me shape my whole life at a very young age and I think how fortunate I was not only was I exposed to someone who was very smart in the game of baseball but also the opportunity to learn from him but also being exposed to someone who was as nice as Roland as a person they don’t make people any nicer than Roland.”
Family reunion in Rhode Island
From Boston it was on to Central Falls, R.I. The first stop on a long day’s tour of his old hometown was the Higginson Park Little League Field which was being renamed and dedicated in his Hemond’s honor.
“I made a lot of errors on this field,” Hemond said, addressing youth league and minor league players in an on-field ceremony.
Hemond was presented with a key to the city by Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.
“We have a lot of great people that come from Central Falls but to reach the status that Roland has reached by being a Hall of Famer and never forgetting his roots that’s what impresses me the most,” Diossa said.
Steinberg, the Pawtucket Red Sox president who previously worked with Hemond in Baltimore, came up with the idea to have Hemond throw out a first pitch at McCoy Stadium, setting consequent events in motion.
“This is a joyous occasion because we get to welcome home to Central Falls a little boy who was born here in 1929 to a family of immigrants. He was just like you. He loved baseball,” Steinberg said.
“He was at the first game played at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket in 1942 and he can tell you about it. He worked hard and treated people kindly. He is a prince of kindness … Above all else he has been a teacher. He has changed people’s lives.”
Just a few blocks away from the ballfield is Hemond’s childhood home at 35 Fletcher Street, where family members also gathered after the field dedication and also visited the Saint Raphael Academy junior high school he attended just blocks away from McCoy Stadium.
“This has been the most cherished day of my career right here in Central Falls, it’s beyond my wildest dreams,” Hemond said.