a Dodgers Innovator, Dies at 93
His death was announced by the Seattle Mariners. Bavasis son Bill is executive vice president and general manager of the team.
In his years with the Dodgers, San Diego Padres and California Angels, Bavasi was enmeshed in enormous change. He championed the acceptance of black players in organized baseball, helped take major league baseball to California, put together an expansion team in San Diego and saw power shift from management to the players with the arrival of free agency.
In his 18 years with the Dodgers, from 1951 to 1968, Bavasis clubs won eight National League pennants and four World Series championships, including the teams only one in Brooklyn, in 1955, against the Yankees, building teams with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Maury Wills.
He was born Emil Joseph Bavasi in Manhattan, though he was not Emil for long. His sister Iola nicknamed him Buzzie because, he said, he was always buzzing around.
He started out in baseball in 1939 when the National League president, Ford Frick, whose son had roomed with Bavasi at DePauw University, recommended him for an office boys job with the Dodgers, then being run by Larry MacPhail. Soon, Bavasi was involved in his first deal or non-deal, as it turned out.
Bavasi, who had been a catcher of no great distinction for DePauw, was in a scouting meeting in which a right-handed pitcher for Purdue, whom he once played against, had been mentioned as a good prospect.
That night I got out my scrapbook, Bavasi recalled in Off the Record (Contemporary Books, 1987), written with John Strege. I looked up the box score of that Purdue game. DePauw had won and I had gotten three hits. So I took the box score into the office the next day. Larry MacPhail was prepared to pay this pitcher a bonus of $1,500. When he read the box score, he tore the contract up. Larry turned to me and said, If you can get three hits off him, we dont want him.
Bavasi was named business manager of the Dodgers Americus, Ga., farm team in 1940, then spent three seasons as an executive in the low minors before entering the Army, where he was a machine-gunner in the Italian campaign, winning a bronze star.
When he took over management of the Dodgers Nashua, N.H., farm club in 1946, Bavasi marked himself as the kind of man destined for bigger things.
Branch Rickey had broken baseballs color barrier with the signing of Jackie Robinson the previous October to a contract with the Montreal Royals, Brooklyns top farm team. Rickey had also signed four other black players. Two of them, John Wright and Roy Partlow, would also play in Canada, where they might expect little opposition. But the others, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, were earmarked for a farm club in the United States.
Rickey sought to place them with the Dodger club in Danville, Ill., but the management there said no. Then he tried Nashua. Bavasi said yes.
In a 1997 interview with The Boston Globe, Bavasi remembered challenging the manager of the Lynn Red Sox to a fight, with all the opposing players sitting nearby on the team bus, after a game in which, according to Bavasi, the manager had hurled racial slurs at Campanella and Newcombe. It was the first time in my life I had ever challenged anybody, Bavasi said, and here I was challenging an entire baseball team.
Campanella and Newcombe become stars with the Dodgers, and after running the Montreal farm team, Bavasi rejoined them when he was named Brooklyns general manager in November 1950. Three years later, Bavasi hired Walter Alston as the manager, and Bavasi remained his staunch backer, claiming to have saved his job when the owner, Walter OMalley, now with the team in Los Angeles, wanted to fire Alston after a 1962 playoff-series loss to the Giants.
After 18 years as general manager, he left the Dodgers in 1968 to become a part-owner and president of the expansion Padres. In 1977, when his son Peter took over operations of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays, the Bavasis became the first father and son to run different major league teams at the same time. Bavasi moved to the Angels in October 1977 as executive vice president, remaining with them through 1984.
In addition to his sons Bill and Peter, he is survived by his wife, Evit; two other sons, Chris and Bob; nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In Bavasis first 25 years as an executive before free agency arrived club owners held the upper hand. Nevertheless, Bavasi was challenged in 1966 by Koufax and Drysdale, star pitchers who tried to negotiate together while enlisting an agent. Bavasi insisted on dealing with them directly and eventually gave them hefty raises but much less than they had sought.
There were also pressures that could hardly be anticipated.
Money was scarce many times during my career, particularly during our early years in San Diego, Bavasi recalled in his autobiography. Every time we got a player with any value we would sell him. In one short span in the early 70s, I sold Al Santorini to St. Louis, Al Ferrara to Cincinnati and Ed Spiezio to the Chicago White Sox. Then my phone rang.
Am I next? the voice on the other end asked before hanging up.
It was my mother calling from Florida. She was 81 at the time.
I immediately phoned her back. Whats the matter? I said.
Well, you sold three Italians in a row. I figured I was next.