Bavasi a legendary baseball character

Bavasi a legendary baseball character

Few men have been central characters for more of the second half of baseball's history than has Emil Joseph Bavasi, an executive/pioneer who had a profound impact on both coasts and could talk out of both sides of his mouth.

And Buzzie Bavasi indeed was a character during his half-century in the game, a shrewd but often tactless man who used all the wide berth accommodated by an era before political correctness.

Bavasi, 92, living in happy retirement in La Jolla, Calif., with Evit, his bride of 66 years, succeeded the legendary Branch Rickey as the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager in 1951. He retired from the Angels following the 1999 season. In-between, he also served as the San Diego Padres' charter president and spearheaded organizations which captured four World Series and nine pennants.

Although the bottom line is quite impressive, Bavasi was always more about flair than feat. A personification of "old-school," he was one of the guardians of the reserve-clause brand of baseball.

He once said, "We operated by the Golden Rule. He who has the gold rules."

Yet after free agency dawned in 1976, Bavasi became one of its most fervent exploiters.

For all those reasons, Bavasi is on the 2008 Veterans Committee ballot on Executives/Pioneers with Bowie Kuhn, Barney Dreyfuss, John Fetzer, Bob Howsam, Ewing Kauffmann, John McHale Sr., Walter O'Malley, Gabe Paul and Marvin Miller.

As many as four candidates can be elected by a 75-percent vote of the 12-member committee, which will meet via conference call on Dec. 2 to make its decision. The results will be announced on Dec. 3 during the first day of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Any living inductees will appear at a media conference on Dec. 4.

A separate 10-man ballot of managers and umpires simultaneously will be voted upon by a different 16-person committee. As many of as four of them can also be elected.

Bavasi's proudest career moment came early, in 1955, when he presented Brooklyn with the only, and long overdue, World Series title by a Dodgers team he would rule for 17 years with the iron hand given him by owner Walter O'Malley.

The epitome of that run obviously was the famed 1966 tandem holdout of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale; Bavasi waited them out for 32 days, ultimately talking them down from the three-year, $1 million package they sought to one-year contracts totaling $220,000.

But those different times placed the hammer in management's hands, and Bavasi wielded his wisely -- and wittily, often. Such as when Maury Wills tried to negotiate a little icing atop the $80,000 contract he was offered following his 104-steal 1962 season.

"Maury asked if there was any way he could get $5,000 more, and suggested if he made the All-Star team, I would give him a $5,000 bonus," Bavasi recalled. "I thought about it for a second and said, 'That's a good idea, Maury. But if you don't make the All-Star team, I'll take $5,000 back.' Maury signed for $80,000."

Consequently, Bavasi naturally has been aghast at the shift in the game's finances. When Alex Rodriguez signed his landmark contract in 2000, Bavasi scoffed, "The guy makes $25 million a year and he gets another $100,000 for making the All Star team? If I was paying a guy $25 million a year, he sure as hell better make the All-Star team."

Some men occasionally let their guard down. Bavasi never had his up. His candor cut players and endeared him to journalists.

A couple of years after reigning as the American League's 1979 MVP, Don Baylor was suffering through a horrible season when Bavasi swept through Anaheim Stadium's press lounge and spotted a group photo on the wall of Baylor, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Fred Lynn.

"What's Baylor doing in that picture with those hitters?" Bavasi cracked.

Bavasi alienated most of Southern California in 1979, not so much for his inability to re-sign free agent Nolan Ryan to a new contract as for his parting words about the Angels icon who that season had gone 16-14: "We'll just have to find a couple of 8-7 pitchers to replace him."

After the durable Ryan notched his sixth no-hitter in 1990, Bavasi sent him a message: "Nolan, some time ago I made it public that I made a mistake. You don't have to rub it in."

That was Bavasi, never afraid to eat his own crow. He didn't hide from his mistakes, nor ever hid his opinions. His demeanor and approach may not translate to a different age of baseball, but his sensibilities still apply.

Upon being appointed MLB's youngest general manager in 2003 by the Red Sox, Theo Epstein credited a man 60 years his senior with the best advice he ever received.

"Buzzie Bavasi said to remember that every time you're about to make a deal, the guy on the other end of the phone is just as smart as you are, probably smarter," Epstein had said.

Bavasi is a bona fide baseball patriarch. Eldest son Peter was Padres general manager before stints as president of the Blue Jays and Indians. Bill Bavasi is the current GM of the Mariners, and held the same post with the 1994-99 Angels.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.