The Obit For John McHale

Longtime exec McHale Sr. remembered
Selig's mentor helped build Tigers, Braves, Expos

By Tom Singer / 01/17/2008 4:55 PM ET

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- John McHale Sr., an unsuccessful baseball player but one of Major League Baseball's towering executives for the latter half of the 20th century, died Thursday morning.

McHale, 86, passed away in a hospice near his home in Palm City, Fla.

News of the baseball patriarch's death cast a pall over the quarterly meeting here of baseball owners, who began the day by paying silent homage to his memory.

The owners' closed-door session began with an early morning moment of silence for a man Commissioner Bud Selig recalled as "a wonderful human being."

Attendees at the owners' meeting included John McHale Jr., MLB's executive vice president of administration.

Selig was more expansive in a statement about someone he had worked alongside for three decades.

"Both personally and professionally, John McHale was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known," Selig said. "After his playing career with the Tigers, John became one of the game's most distinguished officials, including in his role as general manager of that club.

"He was a longtime mentor of mine," the Commissioner added, "and I had the pleasure of serving with him on the board of directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball has lost one of its most respected figures. On behalf of all of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest sympathy to his family, including his son, our Executive Vice President of Administration, John, Jr., and his many friends."

Another one of McHale's pupils was Mel Didier, a scout for the Rangers who has been in baseball for 54 years. He was originally hired by McHale to be a scout for the Tigers in 1954 and was the Expos first director of scouting in 1969.

"John was good," Didier said. "He was one of the greats. He was a pure baseball man ... and when he went up to the front office, he had a real feel for what players go through. He was sharp as a tack. He had a great baseball mind."

Following a spotty playing career as a lefty-hitting first baseman that produced a career average of .193 in 64 games, McHale made a quick and meteoric transition into the front office.

Starting out as the Tigers' director of Minor League operations, McHale ascended to Detroit general manager by 1957, at the age of 35.

By 1959, he had moved on to be the general manager of the Braves and remained in that capacity until the middle of the 1966 season, thus overseeing the franchise's shift from Milwaukee to Atlanta.

Selig, a native of Milwaukee, remembered that he "got to know John McHale in 1958. I remember having hot fudge sundaes with him. So I knew him for 50 years, a very caring person."

McHale spun off baseball's old establishment in 1968 to help launch the Montreal Expos, and guided the National League expansion team through its first 22 seasons, until his retirement in 1990.

During a 20-year run as Expos president, McHale also doubled-up as the club's general manager from 1978 through 1984.

"I could talk about John McHale all day," Jim Fanning, who as both manager and executive worked alongside McHale in Milwaukee, Atlanta and Montreal, once said. "He was a fantastic man and knew every aspect of baseball. I don't think there is a blemish on his record. He was a mentor for so many people."

The mentor's most influential pupil was McHale Jr., who joined the Commissioner's Office in 2002 following his own decade in baseball front offices.

A 1971 graduate of Notre Dame -- also his father's alma mater -- McHale Jr. served as the Tigers' president and chief executive officer for six years. He then retraced his father's footsteps by being instrumental in the startup of another NL expansion team, the Colorado Rockies, acting as their executive vice president of baseball operations for more than three years.

The esteem in which McHale Sr. was held by baseball was reflected in his remaining a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee in 2001 -- when criteria for inclusion on the committee was revised -- despite having never been elected to The Hall of Fame himself.