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Baseball mourns Buzzie Bavasi

Baseball mourns Buzzie Bavasi

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Emil Joseph "Buzzie" Bavasi, the bold and often abrasive executive with three Major League franchises on both coasts and the patriarch of a family that continues to have an impact on big league baseball, has passed away at 93.

Bavasi died of natural causes following a brief illness in San Diego.

From the moment he became traveling secretary of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939 until he bowed out as executive vice president of the California Angels following the 1984 season, Bavasi earned a reputation as an imaginative, media-savvy front-office maven.

Perhaps best remembered for building the Dodgers' first World Series championship team in 1955, the only title of the team's long tenure in Brooklyn, Bavasi was also behind the California Angels' first two division titles in 1979 and 1982.

His friends and admirers in and out of baseball are legion.

"All of baseball today mourns the passing of one of its giants, Buzzie Bavasi," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Buzzie was one of the game's greatest front-office executives during a period that spanned parts of six different decades.

"He loved the game and he loved talking about it. Buzzie was a wonderful friend. He always gave me good advice and had an excellent perspective on the issues of the day. I will miss our long and frequent correspondence. My sympathies go out to his family and friends."

"I considered Buzzie to be a friend of mine and Gene's," said Jackie Autry, the widow of the late Angels owner and honorary president of the American League, "and a man I admired and respected for his vast baseball knowledge.

"His contribution to baseball will be sorely missed by all, and I know his wife, Evit, and his sons and grandchildren will miss this wonderful human being."

Mike Port, who succeeded Bavasi as Angels GM late in the 1984 season and now is MLB's vice president of umpiring, tied a bow around the baseball statesman's legacy, saying, "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 this game.

"He was just simply an outstanding baseball mind," Port added. "He could be your best friend or your best motivator. It was a privilege to have been mentored by him and to have worked for him."

"He was like a father to me," said Don Zimmer, the 77-year-old senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays who made his big league debut for Bavasi's Dodgers in the mid-'50s. "From the time I was 19 years old ... all my life, really. I can't describe how much he meant to me."

"Buzzie had a knack about him," said Ralph Branca, one of the mainstays of the Dodgers' post-World War II pitching staff. "He was good with the players, a very warm individual who worked his way up the ladder of the Dodgers' Minor League system."

New York-born and a graduate of Bronxville High School and DePauw University, Bavasi succeeded Branch Rickey as the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager in 1951. He formally retired from the game in 1999, having served as a special advisor to Autry.

In between those benchmarks, he served as the San Diego Padres' charter president and spearheaded organizations that captured four World Series and nine pennants.

Bavasi's survivors include Evit, his wife of 68 years; and sons Bill, the general manager of the Seattle Mariners; and Peter, the general manager of the San Diego Padres before becoming founding president of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977.

Other survivors are son Chris and his wife, Corinne; son Bob and his wife, Margaret; grandchildren Patrick, Cristina, Aimee, Amanda, Alexandra, Haley, Emily, Kyle and Katherine; and great-grandchildren Cooper, Lolly, Cole, Summer and Luke.

Bavasi respected the bottom line, both on the ledger and in the standings. He was always about substance; his fingerprints were all over the '55 club that ended the Dodgers' long run as Brooklyn's Bums. The season before, he had handed the managerial reins to an unknown, Walter Alston, and fleshed out the roster around core players Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella.

But Bavasi was also a staunch owner's man, known for irreverence.

A personification of "old school," he was one of the guardians of the reserve-clause brand of baseball.

He once said, "We operated by the Golden Rule. He who has the gold, rules."

Yet after free agency dawned in 1976, Bavasi adjusted to become one of its most fervent exploiters. With the Angels, and with The Cowboy's open saddlebags, he transformed a chronic loser into a division champ by corralling such free agents as Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Don Baylor, Bobby Grich and Fred Lynn.

"He was a very good baseball man who thoroughly knew the game and contributed a great deal for both the organizations he worked for, as well as the game itself," Carew said. "The organizations he worked for always came first in his mind, and he always tried to do the right thing for each of them."

"Buzzie was one of those rare baseball icons," Grich said. "His energy and enthusiasm were always contagious. It was a cherished opportunity to have been around him."

A proud man who always walked with his chest held a little higher when his often-questioned moves were clicking, Bavasi was not averse to eating crow when it was deserved.

He alienated much of Southern California in 1979, not so much for his inability to re-sign free agent Nolan Ryan to a new Angels contract but for his parting words about the icon, who that season had gone 16-14: "We'll just have to find a couple of 8-7 pitchers to replace him."

After the durable Ryan notched his sixth no-hitter 11 years later, Bavasi sent him a message: "Nolan, some time ago I made it public that I made a mistake. You don't have to rub it in."

As the passing of Bavasi sank in on Thursday, voices from throughout the game joined the chorus of grateful remembrances and sad farewells.

"The Dodgers, and the baseball world, lost a true pioneer today," said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. "Buzzie's contributions to the Dodgers are immeasurable. His passion for the game and loyalty to baseball was surpassed only by his devotion to family and a willingness to stand up for what he believed in."

"We were deeply saddened to learn of Buzzie's passing," said Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame. "His passion for and dedication to the game were unsurpassed, and I know he took great pride in seeing it prosper.

"He was an icon in Brooklyn as one of the architects of its only World Series title, and he took those winning ways west. He was a tremendous friend to the Hall of Fame on many levels, and I will personally miss our deep conversations about the game he loved so much."

"Our relationship was a very good one," said Jim Fregosi, the Angels' first iconic player, who was brought back by Bavasi to manage the team in 1978. "I enjoyed the opportunity to work for and with Buzzie. He was truly one of the genuine characters of our game."

Funeral arrangements will be private to the family only. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.), 245 Park Ave., New York, N.Y., 10167 or Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, 9665 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 801, Beverly Hills, Calif. 90212.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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