Roland Hemond, who died last Sunday at the age of 92, was Rhode Island’s gift to baseball.
The Central Falls native worked in the game from 1950-2017 and was a friend and mentor to dozens of players, managers, scouts, coaches, and executives along the way. His baseball family tree includes Dave Dombrowski, Ken Williams, Walt Jocketty, Doug Melvin, Dan Evans, and many more.
Hemond grew up a Red Sox fan and saw the first game played at McCoy Stadium in neighboring Pawtucket in 1942. He got his start in professional baseball for the Hartford Chiefs, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Braves. The job included everything from selling hot dogs and peanuts to sweeping up and announcing the lineups. That led to a position with the Braves late in the 1951 season. Hemond stayed with the team when it moved to Milwaukee in 1953.
He also met his future wife, Margo, with the Braves. She was the daughter of GM John Quinn. They married in 1958.
Hemond moved to the expansion Angels as farm director in 1961, then became GM of the White Sox from 1970-85. One of his decisions was to hire 34-year-old Tony La Russa as manager in 1979. He also gave Dombrowski his start, naming him as an administration assistant in minor league operations in 1978.
Dombrowski has since spent nearly 35 years as a GM or president of baseball operations and built several World Series champions.
“My great friend and mentor,” he said of Hemond.
Hemond was GM of the Orioles from 1988-95, then worked for the Diamondbacks as senior executive vice president from 1996-2000.
Along the way, he founded the Arizona Fall League and the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. Hemond worked diligently to help scouts who had fallen on hard times financially.
“Roland loved baseball and baseball loved him back,” said Worcester Red Sox president Charles Steinberg, who worked with Hemond in Baltimore.
Steinberg described a scene in 1988 when Hemond joined the Orioles. As staff members looked on, owner Edward Bennett Williams walked through the team offices followed by team president Larry Lucchino, vice president Calvin Hill, and manager Frank Robinson.
“It was a single line, very strident,” Steinberg said. “Then came this older, shorter, and rumpled man who was out of step. He stopped and introduced himself to each of us. That was Roland and it was true to form.”
In 1990, Hemond attended the final game at Comiskey Park. During a staff meeting in Baltimore a few days later, he told Steinberg he was disappointed in the lack of pomp and circumstance in Chicago and what a missed opportunity it was for the White Sox because of all the history they had there.
The Orioles were building Camden Yards at the time and preparing to leave Memorial Stadium.
A month later, motivated by Hemond, Steinberg had the outline of a script for the final game at Memorial Stadium in 1991.
Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas threw out first pitches. After the game, the tuxedo-clad grounds crew dug up home plate for transport to Camden Yards via a limousine that drove onto the field. Then 119 former Orioles players — Jim Palmer, Boog Powell, and Brooks and Frank Robinson among them — took their positions as the crowd cheered.
Steinberg said it was the template he used when working for the Red Sox for ceremonies honoring the 2004, 2007, and 2013 World Series champions, the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, and other memorable moments.
“It was all inspired by Roland,” he said. “Those ceremonies were all a product of that meeting we had back in Baltimore.”
Hemond also was a friend of the little guy in baseball. Whenever the major league teams he worked for needed to fill an open position, he advocated for finding candidates within the minor league system.
Glenn Geffner, who called Red Sox games on the radio from 2003-07, was a product of that culture. He was working for Baltimore’s Triple A team in Rochester when Steinberg first heard of him.
“We offered him a job, but Glenn wanted to stay in Rochester for another season,” Steinberg said.
When Steinberg accompanied Lucchino to the Padres in 1995, they hired Geffner as public relations director. That led to his becoming a full-time broadcaster with the Red Sox and, since 2008, with the Marlins.
“Roland was always very proud of that,” Steinberg said. “He knew the impact he had on so many people.”
Hemond was a great storyteller, and one of his best was about the 1975 Winter Meetings in Florida. At the behest of owner Bill Veeck, Hemond set up a table in the hotel lobby with a sign that said, “Open for business.”
The White Sox made six trades over a few days, with 22 players changing hands.
In 2018, La Russa, Lucchino, Dombrowski, and Steinberg arranged for Hemond to come to Fenway Park to be honored for his career achievements, followed by a visit to Central Falls the next day to see the home where he grew up.
“Frankly, we wanted to make sure he had that opportunity before it was too late,” Steinberg said. “He meant a lot to so many of us in baseball.”
James and Co. offer thoughts
The 634-page “Bill James Handbook” offers a complete statistical breakdown on the 2021 season along with some insightful commentary from James and other writers.
Among the items are that Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts have combined for minus-40 defensive runs saved the last three seasons. Both are among the three-year trailers at their respective positions.
Of course, both are among the best hitters at their respective positions, too. But you have to wonder when — or if — the Sox will address the longstanding defensive issues on the left side of the infield.
Backup catcher Kevin Plawecki was credited with stealing 18 strikes last season, meaning pitches outside the strike zone he framed well enough to get a called strike. That was 18th most in the majors among the 60 catchers listed.
Christian Vázquez came in at minus-2. Twenty-six catchers had minus-3 or more, with Kansas City’s Salvador Perez at a whopping minus-96.
James writes that he is skeptical of framing data. In general, it’s fair to say using analytics to measure catchers remains an inexact process.
The Red Sox used 1,949 shifts last season, eighth in the American League. The White Sox shifted the fewest times in the majors, the Twins the most.
The Rays used a four-man outfield 48 times last season and the Blue Jays 38 times. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Orioles never did it. The Sox were plus-3 in terms of taking extra bases, 22nd in the majors. Kiké Hernández took the extra base 23 times, but his teammates were otherwise in single digits with Vázquez and Hunter Renfroe deep into the negative side.
You likely won’t be surprised to learn that J.D. Martinez was among the leaders in unproductive outs, meaning a batter could have advanced a runner with an out and did not.
Bogaerts (20), Alex Verdugo (19), and Devers (18) had the most productive outs for the Sox. That makes sense: They’re well-rounded hitters with a sense of situation.
Martinez (90) and Renfroe (80) were in the top 25 in unproductive outs. They’re both hitters who generally swing the same way regardless of the situation. Of course, you can argue that’s what they’re paid to do given their power.
Martinez did have a .335 batting average with runners in scoring position, fifth in the AL. Devers had a .521 slugging percentage against righthanders, best in the AL. He also had 22 homers on the road, tied for third in the league. Bogaerts swung at the first pitch only 16.3 percent of the time last season. Among AL hitters, only Jose Ramirez (13.5 percent) was more selective.
Hirokazu Sawamura led the AL with six intentional walks last season. Here’s an odd one: Nate Eovaldi (54) and Eduardo Rodriguez (41) led the AL in doubles allowed.
The Red Sox challenged 33 calls and 20 were overturned. Their 60.6 percent success rate was fourth in the majors. The Rays were lowest with 12 of 38 (31.6 percent).
The Handbook also does projections for 2022. It has Jackie Bradley Jr. with a .642 OPS. The call on Bobby Dalbec is 27 home runs and the prediction on Jarren Duran is .210 with a .561 OPS.
Chris Sale is projected for 11-7 with a 3.27 ERA, 217 strikeouts, 160 innings, and 29 starts. The Sox would sign up for that now.
A few other observations on the Sox:
▪ The Sox have had approximately a dozen players play winter ball, two who are on the 40-man roster.
Righthander Kutter Crawford allowed one earned run on 15 hits and struck out 23 over 21⅓ innings in five starts for Estrellas in the Dominican League. He’s back home now.
Crawford, 25, had an emergency start for the Sox in September and allowed five runs in two innings against Cleveland.
Changeup artist Phillips Valdéz appeared in one game for Estrellas and was hit hard.
Victor Santos, a 21-year-old righthander, has pitched 13 games in relief for Escogido and has a 2.70 ERA and 1.32 WHIP.
Chase Shugart is with Mayaguez in Puerto Rico. The 25-year-old righthander has only pitched an inning so far. He was 6-6 with a 4.78 ERA for High-A Greenville last season.
Pedro Castellanos, a 24-year-old first baseman/outfielder, is playing for Lara in his native Venezuela and has hit .304 with a .908 OPS in 33 games. He had an .835 OPS in 87 games for Portland last season.
▪ An auction of memorabilia collected by Bill Russell netted more than $5 million this past week. The collection included two items connected to the Red Sox.
An autographed Celtics shooting shirt Russell wore while taking part in the Opening Day ceremonies at Fenway Park in 2016 fetched $1,800.
Russell also parted with a wooden gift box the Red Sox presented him when he visited Fenway in 2006 for a charity event. The box contained a baseball-shaped paperweight made by Tiffany & Co., a note from team owner John Henry thanking Russell for attending, and photos of Russell with Terry Francona and Manny Ramirez. That auction lot also contained a Christmas card from the Red Sox that David Ortiz signed.
Russell signed the box, which went for $1,000.
Free agents look to the Pacific Rim
With MLB players locked out by the owners, a significant number of free agents are making deals in Asia rather than wait and see what awaits them in January or February.
Matt Andriese was the latest. The 32-year-old righthander, who spent part of last season with the Red Sox, signed with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan for $2.1 million and a potential $500,000 in incentives.
Shortstop Freddy Galvis signed for two years and a reported $6 million with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan. Galvis, who is 32, has 10 seasons of major league experience, seven of those with the Phillies.
Yasiel Puig landed a one-year, $1 million deal in South Korea with the Kiwoom Heroes. The 31-year-old outfielder hasn’t played in the majors since 2019.
Puig may not have had much choice. The Washington Post reported three women claimed Puig sexually assaulted them in 2017-18, two of whom were paid off to drop the charges. MLB did not issue a suspension, but major league teams have been wary of Puig since.
Righthander Wilmer Font, who has six years in the majors, decided to stay in South Korea with SSG Landers. Outfielder Mike Tauchman, who played 75 games for the Giants and Yankees last season, signed with the Hanwah Eagles of the KBO for a guaranteed $1 million.
Righthanded reliever Adam Plutko, who spent most of his career with Cleveland, took a deal with the LG Twins in South Korea for $500,000 and incentives.
Veteran Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco is considering teams in Japan. The 30-year-old has a .606 OPS the last two seasons and would probably do better overseas than looking for a new team in the majors.
Tufts graduate Peter Bendix was promoted to general manager by the Rays on Thursday. Bendix, who started with the Rays as an intern in 2009, is one of the growing number of executives across the game who took the sabermetrics class at Tufts taught by Andy Andres and turned it into a career. The group includes Nationals assistant GM Mike DeBartolo, Dodgers director of player development and scouting Matt McGrath, Cubs director strategic modeling Jeremy Greenhouse, Guardians director of baseball operations Alex Merberg, and Cardinals development analyst Julia Prusaczyk . . . The world needs more copy editors. Just ask Topps. The famed baseball card company released a set honoring the Braves for winning the World Series. The back of the cards included this passage: “The Braves displayed an all-around team effort and punctually defeated the Houston Astros in five games. Guided by a series filled with timely hits and brilliant pitching performances, the Dusty Baker-led squad is on top of MLB.” The Series went six games, not five. Brian Snitker manages the Braves, not Baker. Topps apologized for the errors and said it would issue corrected cards . . . Speaking of being careful with what you type, the Mets signed 18-year-old outfielder Jaycey Benita. His full name is Miriojaycey-Rachidnycander Ray Jean Tadeo Benita . . . Ryan Flaherty is expected to be named to the Padres’ coaching staff this coming week. The 35-year-old Maine native played in the majors from 2012-19 and has been a scout and minor league coach with San Diego since 2020. Don’t be surprised if Flaherty quickly becomes a managerial candidate. His father, Ed Flaherty, has coached Southern Maine since 1986 and has two national championships . . . According to Baseball-Reference.com, Shohei Ohtani’s player page was the most viewed in 24 states this year, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Bobby Dalbec led in New Hampshire, Kyle Schwarber in Maine, and Aaron Nola in Connecticut . . . The Royals replaced longtime communications director Mike Swanson by hiring Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger. The Royals wanted somebody with ties to Kansas City who would work well with the media. It was a forward-thinking move at a time when fewer and fewer media outlets staff games in person because of the expense or the roadblocks teams put in their way . . . In its list of “influential sports property influencers,” Sports Business Journal listed Rob Manfred ninth behind the commissioners of the NFL, NHL, WNBA, and MLS, along with three NASCAR executives, and the president of the International Olympic Committee. The commissioner of baseball is ninth? That’s some elite trolling . . . Three books that would make excellent gifts for a baseball fan: “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” by Tyler Kepner, “Our Team” by Luke Epplin, and “The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell” by Lonnie Wheeler . . . Congrats to Boston College grad Mike Teevan, who won the Robert O. Fishel award for public relations excellence in baseball. Teevan is MLB’s vice president of communications. He got his start as a Red Sox intern from 2000-02 . . . Happy birthday to Cecil Cooper, who turns 72 on Monday. The lefty-hitting first baseman was with the Red Sox from 1971-76, hitting .283 with a .772 OPS. He was traded to Milwaukee for Bernie Carbo and George Scott and went on to a distinguished 11-year career with the Brewers, making the All-Star team five times and hitting 201 homers.