Remembering Roland Hemond: Beloved executive was a friend to all in baseball — and helped save the Chicago White Sox from leaving town

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After undergoing triple bypass surgery at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn in the summer of 2002, Roland Hemond, then an adviser to Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams, was sent home to recover.

When I called Hemond at his residence to check up on him, he replied: “It looks like I will only need to go on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Thursday. We won’t need to use the 60-day DL.”

That was vintage Roland, a baseball lifer who was one of the sport’s most beloved — and respected — executives. He was a friend of all scouts, the media and everyone in the business from the clubhouse attendants to the owners’ suites.

Hemond, who died Sunday at age 92, had such a long and illustrious career, you could spend hours talking about every job he held.

But for those of us in Chicago, he’ll always be associated with the Sox. He worked for owners John Allyn, Bill Veeck and Jerry Reinsdorf and was credited with helping save the franchise with the Dick Allen trade in 1971.

If not for Hemond and the success of the Allen-led 1972 team, the Sox might’ve moved out of town. Hemond also hired an unknown scout named Jerry Krause, who was instrumental in two of the biggest baseball decisions Hemond made in Chicago before going on to become a Hall of Fame executive with the Chicago Bulls.

Krause was dispatched to the Dominican Republic in the late 1970s to watch Tony La Russa manage in the winter league, then persuaded Hemond to hire the young, untested skipper, starting La Russa’s Hall of Fame career.

La Russa was a 35-year-old novice when he began in 1979, and he ended the Sox’s 24-year postseason drought in 1983. Before his Hall of Fame induction in 2014 in Cooperstown, N.Y., La Russa credited Veeck and Hemond for having the guts to hire him.

“That gave me a real opportunity,” La Russa said. “I think Bill saw the law degree and didn’t know if I was going to be any good or not, but he thought I was interesting. And then he brought me over for ‘80.”

LaRussa said in a statement Monday that Hemond “touched and influenced more people than any other person in a really positive way.”

“For years and years, he’s been the most beloved figure in the game,” La Russa said. “He treated everyone with kindness and respect and they returned it.

“Roland was a very nice man, but he also had the ability to make tough decisions. People forget that he was the guiding force to convince Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn in the early days that acquiring Carlton Fisk would not only be a good baseball move but also would show fans and the baseball world that the White Sox were serious about winning.

“To show the kind of special person he was, he never forgot a name. He was a great resource for a lot of us at the winter meetings. When the lobbies are flooded with people, if we didn’t immediately recall a name, Roland was always there to help us out. It’s a sad day, but he lived a remarkable life.”

After the 1984 season, Hemond again acted on Krause’s advice and acquired a skinny, 19-year-old shortstop from the San Diego Padres named Ozzie Guillen, dealing a popular former Cy Young Award winner in LaMarr Hoyt. Guillen would become a fixture on the South Side and later managed the Sox to the 2005 World Series championship, the franchise’s only one since 1917.

Hemond was also part of that championship season, having returned to Chicago to serve as Williams’ special adviser.

“He became my first hire when I asked him to come aboard as an adviser and counselor,” Williams said in a statement. “Roland did that and more and was an invaluable adviser, confidant and friend as we captured the 2005 World Series.

“As one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors, there are a lot of people mourning Roland today while also telling stories of how he impacted their lives and the game. He will be missed by many.”

Hemond was involved in so many stories, it would be impossible to list them all. He practically lived at the ballpark, working from morning until well after the game.

“It was a joy to be Roland’s friend, and our relationship extended all the way back to old Comiskey Park, where in our cramped offices, we would sometimes find an exhausted Roland catnapping on a countertop in his tiny office,” Sox senior executive vice president Howard Pizer said in a statement,

Perhaps the most legendary story was the time Hemond and Veeck set up a booth in the hotel lobby at the 1975 winter meetings and put an “Open for business” sign on it. The Sox made a flurry of trades as other execs walked past shaking their heads. Winning was important to Veeck and Hemond, but having fun while doing so was also on their agenda.

On the final day of old Comiskey Park in 1990, Hemond told me the story of his only time on a baseball field during a game. It was the day in 1980 that Sox reliever Ed Farmer was bloodied in an on-field brawl with Detroit Tigers outfielder Al Cowens.

Veeck sent Hemond down from the owner’s box to give La Russa a message: Protest the game.

“I go down onto the field and I said, ‘Tony, Bill says to protest the game,’” Hemond recalled. “Tony says, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Premeditated assault.’”

Hemond laughed at the recollection, imitating Veeck repeating “Protest the game!”

“It was my major-league debut,” Hemond said with a grin. “But I never saw my name in the Baseball Encyclopedia.”

Hemond truly was baseball’s renaissance man, devoting his life to the game he loved, no matter the city or the job title.

Some people can make you feel better just by knowing them, and everyone felt that way about Roland Hemond.