'Pioneer' Syd Thrift dies at 77
BY MIKE HARRIS
Sydnor W. "Syd" Thrift Jr., a former Richmond resident and former executive for several major-league baseball teams, died Monday night. He was 77.
Mr. Thrift died in Milford, Del. He had knee re- placement surgery Monday afternoon. Cause of death is undetermined pending an autopsy, his wife, Dolly, said yesterday.
A 1949 graduate of Randolph-Macon College, Mr. Thrift was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame in 1997. He was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. Mr. Thrift received an honorary doctorate from R-MC in 1992. He was a left-handed pitcher who played four seasons in the minor leagues after leaving R-MC.
Mr. Thrift and his family lived in Richmond in 1968-69, Mrs. Thrift said, while he worked in the scouting department for the Kansas City Royals. He was then named director of the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in Fort Myers, Fla.
He served as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates from Nov. 7, 1985, to Oct. 4, 1988. He was the executive vice president for baseball operations/general manager of the Baltimore Orioles from Dec. 22, 1999 through the end of the 2002 season. Mr. Thrift also worked for the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics in various capacities.
Frank Robinson, current manager of the Washing- ton Nationals, worked with Mr. Thrift for four years in Baltimore.
"He was an innovative type guy," Robinson said. "He tested our whole roster for eyesight one year and did things with ordinary stuff like stretching that no one else in baseball was thinking about or doing. He just liked to find little things to help athletes get better. He was a good, lifetime baseball man, kind of a throwback to the old days."
Said Washington general manager Jim Bowden: "I started as Syd's apprentice. He brought me over to the baseball side of the office in Pittsburgh before the 1986 season. We probably worked every day of the year but Christmas. Syd had an active mind and could get inspirations almost any time. We were the first team to computerize our operations. One day, Syd just decided we needed to do it. He was a true innovator."
In Pittsburgh, Mr. Thrift hired Jim Leyland to manage the Pirates. Leyland is now manager of the Detroit Tigers.
"He was the one guy who believed in me. I'm forever indebted to him," Leyland told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Syd was a bright guy, a very smart guy, articulate. He was a creative person."
Bruce Baldwin, general manager of the Richmond Braves, said "our industry has suffered a loss. Syd was one of the pioneers of our industry. He had a unique ability to couple old-school thoughts with new thoughts and progressions. He visited [The Diamond] often, and he was always curious about what was going on and was always willing to lend a hand."
Mr. Thrift lived in Kilmarnock at the time of his death, where he was the host of a weekly radio show called Talking Baseball. He was a native of Locust Hill.
"Baseball," Dolly Thrift said, "was his passion."
Besides his wife, Mr. Thrift is survived by sons James Thrift of Sarasota, Fla., and Mark Thrift of Fairfax and five grandchildren. Mr. Thrift is also survived by two sisters, Lucy Chenery of Glen Allen and Louise Owens of Richmond.
Graveside funeral services for Mr. Thrift will be conducted at 1 p.m. Saturday at Middlesex Memorial Cemetery in Urbanna. The family will receive friends Friday at Bristow-Faulkner Funeral Home and Cremation Service, 15 C.F. Edwards Lane in Saluda, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Memorial gifts may be made to the Virginia Special Olympics, 3212 Skipwith Road, Suite 100, Richmond, Va., 23294.