Emil J. "Buzzie" Bavasi, the forceful general manager who shepherded the Dodgers through their World Series-studded transition from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, died Thursday. He was 92.
Bavasi, who also had served as an executive with the Angels and San Diego Padres, died in San Diego of natural causes. His death was announced by the Seattle Mariners, whose general manager is Bill Bavasi, Buzzie's son.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, May 06, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Bavasi obituary: The obituary of Emil J. "Buzzie" Bavasi in Friday's California section said that Rod Carew and Fred Lynn had won most valuable player awards as members of the California Angels. Carew won while playing for the Minnesota Twins and Lynn for the Boston Red Sox.
One of the last of a midcentury generation of wisecracking wheeler-dealers of ballplayers, Bavasi joined the Dodgers organization in 1938 with a minor-league job and stepped down with the Angels in 1984, lamenting that the game had changed irreversibly when agents began representing players in contract negotiations.
Along the way he built Dodgers rosters that reached eight World Series and won four championships, beginning with the team's only title in Brooklyn, in 1955, through the 1960s glory years in Los Angeles. He also led the Angels to their first two division titles, in 1979 and 1982.
"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 in a statement. "He loved the game and he loved talking about it. . . . I will miss our long and frequent correspondence."
In the years before baseball free agency, Bavasi kept players' salaries low through a variety of inventive maneuvers. But he was less successful in his two most-publicized battles -- the dual holdout of star Dodgers pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the spring of 1966 and the failed attempt to re-sign standout pitcher Nolan Ryan with the Angels after the 1979 season.
Bavasi didn't want to set a precedent by paying Koufax or Drysdale $100,000 salaries, but Koufax ultimately signed for a then-unheard-of $125,000, and Drysdale got $110,000. The $1-million threshold was crossed 13 years later, when Ryan signed with the Houston Astros after the Angels and Bavasi refused to meet his price.
Ryan, a Hall of Fame member, pitched 14 more seasons and is baseball's all-time strikeout leader with 5,714.
"I've had to take the abuse for that over the years, but that's fine," Bavasi told The Times in 2005. "Stay around long enough, and there's going to be abuse."
Although his reputation as a dynamic baseball executive became somewhat tarnished during his time with the Padres and Angels, Bavasi will be remembered best for building championship Dodgers teams while staying within the budget of parsimonious owner Walter O'Malley.
Emil Joseph Bavasi was born in New York City on Dec. 12, 1915, and raised in Scarsdale, N.Y. His French immigrant father, Joseph, was a newspaper distributor.
His sister Lolly nicknamed him Buzzie after their mother, Sue, mentioned that he was always "buzzing around the house."
A contact Bavasi made in high school at Fordham Prep became as valuable as his degree from DePauw University in Indiana.
The friend was Fred Frick, son of then-National League President Ford Frick. Bavasi intended to go to law school, but Ford Frick introduced him to Dodgers President Larry MacPhail, who gave Bavasi an entry-level job in the team's minor league department for $35 a week in 1938.
Within two years, Bavasi was made general manager of the Dodgers' Class D farm team in Americus, Ga. By 1943, Bavasi had worked his way up to the front office of the Dodgers' Class B team in Durham, N.C., when he was drafted by the Army and sent to Italy.
He served 18 months in World War II combat as a staff sergeant in a machine gun unit and was awarded a Bronze Star.
Discharged in 1946, he became general manager of the Class B team in Nashua, N.H. Walter Alston, the future Dodgers skipper, was the manager of the team, and -- in the season before infielder Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier -- two of the players were African American: catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe.
"I'll never forget one night in Lynn, Mass.," Campanella said in 1983. "Newcombe had pitched, and I hit a home run, and we won the game. We were all dressed and sitting in the bus. Buzzie said he was going inside to pick up the check. All of a sudden, we heard Buzzie and their manager fighting. We went in and broke it up. We found out later that their manager" had used a racial slur when he told Bavasi, " 'Without those two [black players], you wouldn't have won.' Buzzie went after him."
Bavasi spent 1947 as an assistant in the Dodgers front office and the next three years as general manager of the triple-A team in Montreal.
His big break came in 1951, when O'Malley took the reins of the Dodgers from Branch Rickey and made Bavasi vice president and general manager.
Perhaps Bavasi's biggest mistake as a Dodgers executive was allowing eventual Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente to get away.