Dodgers executive Bavasi dies at 93; built four Series winners
Updated: May 2, 2008, 8:47 AM ET
LOS ANGELES -- Buzzie Bavasi, who built Dodgers teams that won four World Series titles in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, died Thursday at his home in La Jolla, outside San Diego. He was 93.
His death was announced by the Seattle Mariners, whose general manager is Bill Bavasi, a son of the former Dodgers GM.
"Buzzie was one of the game's greatest front office executives during a period that spanned parts of six different decades," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "He loved the game, and he loved talking about it."
Emil Joseph Bavasi -- nicknamed Buzzie by his family for the way he buzzed around as a kid -- helped put together Dodgers teams that included future Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
As an executive in the Dodgers' minor league system, he helped Robinson, Campanella and Don Newcombe through their often difficult integration into professional baseball. Robinson went on to break the major league color barrier.
"I don't know where Roy Campanella and I would have been if Buzzie didn't give us a chance at Nashua [N.H.] in 1946," said Newcombe, now the Dodgers' community relations director. "I didn't always do the right thing as a player, but Buzzie always gave me a chance to straighten myself out and get back on track."
Bavasi was later part owner and president of the San Diego Padres before becoming executive vice president of the California Angels.
He spent 44 years working in baseball, including 34 in the major leagues. He began as a traveling secretary and publicity director for the Dodgers in Brooklyn in 1939.
After serving in various posts for the team, he was promoted to GM -- replacing the famed Branch Rickey -- before the 1951 season.
During his tenure as GM from 1951-68, first in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles, the Dodgers won eight National League pennants. They won their only World Series in Brooklyn in 1955. After the move west, the Dodgers won the World Series in 1959, 1963 and 1965 with Bavasi as GM.
Former manager and coach Don Zimmer said Bavasi "was like a father to me, from the time I was 19 years old. All my life, really. I can't describe how much he meant to me."
Bavasi was selected major-league executive of the year in 1959. He was with the expansion Padres from 1969-77 and the Angels from 1978-84.
After serving three years as an infantry machine gunner and earning a bronze star during World War II, he ran the Dodgers' farm club in Nashua starting in 1946.
Though tucked away in a small town in the New England League, Bavasi immediately found himself at the center of the Dodgers' effort to integrate the major leagues.
Former Negro Leagues players Newcombe and Campanella were signed and sent to the team in 1946, and Bavasi was assigned to handle their potentially tough arrival and development.
There were some ugly incidents -- Campanella said a catcher for the Lynn Red Sox threw dirt in his face and that the team used racial slurs with him and Newcombe.
But Bavasi and the two players handled the circumstances so well that all three joined the big-league team in a few years.
Bavasi's prime years with the Dodgers were before free agency, when GMs had far more power in dealing with players, who often didn't even have agents.
"We operated by the Golden Rule," Bavasi reportedly once said. "He who has the gold rules."
After an MVP season in 1962 when he stole a then-league-record 104 bases, Maury Wills came to Bavasi seeking a special contract incentive.
"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 told MLB.com last year. "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."
Wills well remembers that meeting.
"I thought I was going to get a big raise, but after 10 minutes in Buzzie's office, I was still happy I was on the team," Wills said.
In his most famous standoff as an executive, Koufax and Drysdale began a joint holdout on Feb. 28, 1966, seeking an unprecedented $1.05 million contract to be divided equally. They escalated their threat of retirement March 17, signing moving contracts, but Bavasi waited them out and they ended their holdout March 30, with Koufax signing for $130,000 and Drysdale for $105,000.
After a remarkable run with the Dodgers, Bavasi became the first president of the Padres in 1969 for owner C. Arnholt Smith.
"We had the four things necessary to a successful bid for a franchise," Bavasi said in the early 1970s. "We had a responsible [owner], population, climate and a new stadium."
Predictably the expansion Padres were no Dodgers, finishing in last place in their first three seasons. He stayed with the team until 1977.
Bavasi then headed to the Angels, where he was hired as GM in 1978 and sent a pair of teams to the playoffs before he retired in 1984.
He faced criticism in Anaheim for not re-signing free agent Nolan Ryan after the 1979 season when the pitcher had gone 16-14.
"We'll just have to find a couple of 8-7 pitchers to replace him," Bavasi said at the time.
Years later, after the ageless Ryan had thrown his sixth no-hitter in 1990, Bavasi sent him a message that read: "Nolan, some time ago I made it public that I made a mistake. You don't have to rub it in."
Former Angels GM Mike Port said Bavasi had a remarkable baseball mind.
"Eight National League pennants, four World Series titles, two American League Championship Series titles, more than two dozen of his former players who managed at the major-league level -- that just scratches the surface of Buzzie's accomplishments in the game," Port said.
"He could be your best friend or your best motivator. It was a privilege to have been mentored by him and worked for him," Port said.
Bavasi's survivors include his wife of 68 years, Evit; sons Peter, a former GM for the Padres and Toronto Blue Jays, Chris, Bob and Bill; nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements will be private. The family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Baseball Assistance Team or Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press