NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Front offices and scouting departments are increasingly skewing younger, but on Tuesday night at the Baseball America Awards Gala a trio of the sport’s most seasoned executives stole the show.
Every year, BA gives the Roland Hemond Award for achievement in scouting and player development to honor the former general manager of the White Sox and Orioles and the innovator behind the Arizona Fall League. Hemond introduced the winner of his award, given this year to veteran executive and Hall of Famer Pat Gillick.
But before Gillick began his own acceptance remarks, he made sure to honor another one of baseball’s most recognizable faces sitting in the star-studded crowd in the ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, site of this year’s Winter Meetings.
That would be John Schuerholz, most famously the GM of the Braves throughout their renaissance in the 1990s until 2007. Schuerholz’s son, Jonathan, was also on hand as part of the contingent accepting on behalf of the Rome Braves, recipients of BA’s Team of the Year Award.
“He’s been a longtime competitor of mine, one of the guys I respect because he’s one of us. He’s a player-development and scouting guy,” Gillick said, before asking Schuerholz to stand up and receive his round of applause.
In his own acceptance speech, Gillick, the architect of the Blue Jays’ two World Series winners, the Phillies’ 2008 champions and Seattle’s 116-win team in 2001, again turned the spotlight toward others who helped him achieve his level of success and longevity.
“Today’s a very special day for me, because it gives me the ability to thank the men and women who work under the radar in player development and scouting,” Gillick said. “Their knowledge, work ethic, instinct, passion and love for the game, it’s quite amazing.”
“Thanks to our scouts for providing the players for player-development and the ingredients, really, to develop major leaguers. And thanks to the managers, coaches and instructors and player-development for having the knowledge, experience, the patience and the persistence to develop these young men.”
Before Gillick took the dais, Hemond gave an impassioned endorsement of his friend and his longtime competitor, especially his impeccable ability to recall anything and everything about a player whenever it was needed.
“I never tried to negotiate a trade with him. He’d get the best of you.” Hemond said. “His photographic mind was beyond description. He gained the nickname of ‘Yellow Pages’ over the years because he could remember telephone numbers at will.”
And at the end of his speech, Gillick turned the praise back toward his old friend, Hemond.
“Roland doesn’t talk too much about his career and doesn’t talk too much about himself. He was a three-time major league executive of the year, he was the founder of the Arizona Fall League,” Gillick said. “And probably many of you here tonight have really been struck by one of the main things Roland has done over his career . . . Roland is happy, as you can tell, when he makes other people happy.”
Before the old guard took the stage to round out the evening, the ceremony kicked off with a winner from baseball’s new generation when Indians president Chris Antonetti, 42, was honored as BA’s Major League Executive of the Year.
Antonetti, who was elevated to his current position in 2015, had previously spent nine years as an assistant GM with the Indians and five more as the team’s general manager. During that time he helped put together the club and front office that was one win away this season from its first World Series win since 1948.
In keeping with the theme of the evening, Antonetti made sure to thank some of the executives who gave him his first chance as an intern two decades ago.
“It’s hard for me to believe that anybody, or any executive, has been more fortunate than me for those people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with,” he said. “I will be forever indebted to Dave Littlefield and Neal Huntington for taking a chance on me when they offered me an internship with the Expos 20 years ago. I’m still not quite sure why they offered me the position. I was 22 years old with little playing experience and no previous exposure to a major league front office, but their belief in me started me on this incredible journey in baseball.”
The evening closed with the honoring of the Cubs with the Organization of the Year Award, bestowed upon them not only for winning the club’s first World Series in 108 years, but also for the countless shrewd moves in the years prior that helped them reach that peak.
“When the Cubs drafted Kris Bryant, there were a lot of people who said they need pitching more than they need another bat, but they obviously drafted a player who went on to become the MVP,” Baseball America National Writer Ben Badler said while explaining why the Cubs were the winners of this award. “Kyle Schwarber was another guy who was not necessarily a consensus guy where he was, but the Cubs had conviction in him, and that certainly has paid off big-time for them.”
And in accepting the award, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts explained why the honor might necessitate a little bit more construction at Wrigley Field.
“When we were on that stage (at the World Series), someone from FOX comes out and says ‘Here’s one for your trophy case,'” Ricketts said. “And I was like, ‘We’re the Chicago Cubs, we don’t have a trophy case.’ Now we have another reason to keep building a trophy case.”
Other award winners on hand Tuesday included High School Player of the Year Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to the Phillies; College Player of the Year Kyle Lewis, the No. 11 overall pick (Mariners); Ripken Youth Coach of the Year Len Story of Anchorage, Alaska; Augie Garrido, Tony Gwynn Lifetime Achievement Award winner; Minor League Manager of the Year David Wallace (Indians); and HOK Minor League Executive of the Year Tom Kayser.
Grant Paulsen, host of Sirius XM’s “Minors and Majors” show and a Washington, D.C., radio personality, served as master of ceremonies.