He once called his tenure as general manager of the Montreal Royals his best three years in baseball.
That’s lofty praise when you consider that Buzzie Bavasi was the architect of four World Series-winning teams with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Assembling talent like Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider, the bold New Yorker also captured eight National League pennants during his 18 seasons as Dodgers GM. He also served as the general manager of the San Diego Padres (1969 to 1977) and California Angels (1977 to 1984).
It’s baffling as to why Bavasi hasn’t already been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But this oversight could be remedied on Monday when results of the Hall’s Golden Era ballot are announced. This special ballot was designed to offer overlooked candidates whose greatest contributions came between 1947 and 1972 another chance for induction. A 16-member committee consisting of Hall of Fame players, executives and media will vote on the candidates.
Born in Manhattan on December 12, 1914, Bavasi got his start in baseball after he roomed with the son of National League president Ford Frick at DePauw University. Thanks to a recommendation from Frick, Bavasi was hired to work in the Dodgers’ office in 1939. His ambition and work ethic impressed the Dodgers’ brass and he was named the business manager of the club’s Americus, Ga., affiliate in 1940. He would spend three more seasons as a minor league executive before entering the U.S. army.
Following his military stint, he was named the general manager of the Class-B Nashua Dodgers in 1946. While Jackie Robinson was breaking professional baseball’s colour barrier in Montreal, two black players – Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella – were also part of Bavasi’s Nashua club at a time when racial tensions were much higher in the U.S. While his players were asked not to respond to the racial taunts, Bavasi was under no such dictum. In fact, when the manager of the Lynn Red Sox hurled racial insults at Newcombe and Campanella during one game, Bavasi challenged him to a fight.
A savvy businessman and shrewd talent evaluator, Bavasi would become the general manager of the International League’s Montreal Royals in 1948. During his three-season tenure with the Triple-A Royals, the club secured two league championships, won the 1948 Junior World Series and was a Junior World Series finalist in 1949.
In a letter to veteran Montreal sportswriter Pat Hickey in 2002, Bavasi said that the Royals – armed with stars like Don Newcombe, Duke Snider and Chuck Connors – made more money than the Dodgers at the time. An astute marketer, Bavasi also maintained a close relationship with the Montreal Canadiens. He also knew a good manager when he saw one: Bavasi hired Walter Alston to manage the Royals in 1948 and brought the low-key skipper, a 1983 Hall of Fame inductee, with him to Brooklyn when he became the Dodgers’ GM in 1951.
“I could write a book about my three years in Montreal, but it wouldn’t sell, because there is no way I would have anything negative to say,” Bavasi wrote to Hickey.
After 18 seasons as the Dodgers’ top executive, Bavasi would take over the expansion Padres in 1969. When his son, Peter, was tabbed as the first general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, it marked the first time in big league history that a father and son were GMs of expansion teams at the same time.
Not to be outdone Bavasi’s other son, Bill, worked as a GM with the Angels (1994 to 1999) and Mariners (2003 to 2008). He’s currently a special assistant to Reds GM Walt Jocketty.
The senior Bavasi passed away of natural causes in San Diego on May 1, 2008 at the age of 93.
Nice profile, Kevin. I wasn’t aware of Bavasi’s Canada connection, or the extent of his family’s involvement in baseball. I also really liked reading about his defense of Newcombe and Campanella.