Don Mincher, the man largely responsible for saving organized baseball in Huntsville, Ala., and who brought rare perspective to the post of league president, passed away over the weekend at the age of 73.
Mincher had served as Southern League president from the spring of 2000 until last October, when he stepped down due to health reasons and was named president emeritus. This role may have been his final post in baseball, but his first impact on the game began many years earlier.
Mincher spent 13 seasons in the majors, retiring after the 1972 season with 200 home runs, over 1,000 hits and two All-Star Game appearances. In 1965 with the Twins, Mincher homered off of Don Drysdale in his first World Series at-bat.
Mincher would earn a ring seven years later with the A’s when Oakland toppled the mighty Reds in seven games in the 1972 World Series. In his lone at-bat of the Series, Mincher drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth of Oakland’s 3-2 win in Game Four.
That would prove to be his final at-bat in baseball, but he returned to the game 12 years later when Double-A baseball came to his hometown of Huntsville. When hearing the news that the Huntsville Stars were being formed, Mincher offered his services to team owner Larry Schmittou, who promptly named him general manager.
Mincher would remain in the role until 1994, when he assembled a group of local owners that kept the team in town. He ultimately sold his stake of the team in 2000 when he was appointed Southern League president.
“He really was a gentleman. He always wanted to do what was right,” Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said this afternoon. “I don’t know if I have seen many people exhibit the balance that Don did. He was concerned with how things affected the players, the umpires and the teams. And most importantly, he cared about how things affected the fans.”
Mincher did seem to have a keen understanding of how to run a baseball team. And he combined that with a great sense of humor. When talking to Baseball America’s Conor Glassey about the Birmingham Barons winning the Double-A Freitas Award in 2008, Mincher explained why it was so important for the Barons to focus on customer service and keep the ballpark clean.
“The one thing you want to do in minor league baseball is to keep the Mamas happy,” Mincher told Glassey. “If Mama walks in that ballpark and the bathroom is dirty, Mama isn’t coming back. Birmingham does that really well. Daddy’s going to come and bring the kids no matter what, but it’s important to keep the females happy to keep the entire family coming out to the ballpark.”
Mincher was often the cool head in gatherings at the Winter Meetings, a soft-spoken leader whose opinion was respected. “He was a guy who wouldn’t always talk a lot, but when he had things to say, people would stop and listen.”
And nearly everybody stopped to applaud at the 2010 Winter Meetings when Mincher was named King of Baseball. “He told me several times afterward how it touched his heart,” O’Conner said.
“I’m going to miss him,” O’Conner said. “I’m not supposed to have favorites, and I don’t professionally. But personally, Don was a special guy.”