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 Longtime scout, executive Lajoie dies

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PostSubject: Longtime scout, executive Lajoie dies   Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:49 am

Longtime scout, executive Lajoie dies
Baseball 'lifer' played key role for '84 champion Tigers
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com | 12/28/10 10:24 PM EST

Longtime baseball scout and executive Bill Lajoie, who played a key role in building the 1984 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, passed away in his sleep at his home in Osprey, Fla., on Tuesday afternoon at the age of 76.

Lajoie spent the past two seasons as a senior advisor to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, but his career in baseball spanned more than 50 years.

"Mr. Lajoie impacted the lives and careers of a countless number of players, scouts and front office executives," Huntington said in a statement. "He was a terrific evaluator of talent, an outstanding baseball man, a tremendous mentor and a better friend.

"Those who have been fortunate enough to have known him will miss Bill dearly."

A Michigan native who grew up near Detroit, Lajoie is likely best known for his work with the Tigers. He spent 23 years in the Tigers organization, including seven as the club's GM. He took over that role in 1984, and in his first season, he helped construct a team that went 104-58 in the regular season before capturing the World Series title.

Said David Dombrowski, Tigers president, CEO and GM: "Bill played an integral role in building the Detroit Tigers into a world championship team in 1984 and a division title winner in 1987 as the club's general manager. Bill was a respected and highly regarded baseball executive who made significant contributions to the Tigers franchise and the game of baseball. The Tigers organization extends its sincere condolences to the Lajoie family."

An All-American at Western Michigan University, Lajoie spent nine years playing the outfield in the Minor Leagues after he graduated from college in 1956. He joined the Reds as a scout in 1965 before joining the Tigers in 1969 as both a scout and a Minor League manager. In 1974, he was promoted to scouting director, a role that he held until 1979, when he became the club's assistant GM.

Since leaving the Tigers in 1990, Lajoie worked in an advisory role in the front office with the Braves, Brewers, Red Sox and Dodgers before joining the Pirates.

Kelly Thesier 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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PostSubject: Re: Longtime scout, executive Lajoie dies   Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:54 am

Last Updated: December 28. 2010 10:42PM
Lynn Henning
Bill Lajoie was a master at evaluating talent

Without an eye and a baseball mind as sharp as Bill Lajoie's, there was no 1984 dream, no 35-5 record during those crazy first 40 games, no World Series victory during a year that turned the Tigers into Motown fairy-tale characters.

There would have been no Tigers mini-dynasty during the 1980s, when the decade's best baseball team played its home games at Tiger Stadium.

It was almost all due to Bill Lajoie, the architect and the interior decorator of the Tigers' last world championship club.

He died Tuesday, in his sleep, at his home just outside Sarasota, Fla. He was 76. And he was the most innately brilliant baseball talent evaluator of my lifetime.

It was Lajoie who, as Tigers scouting director, saw the future of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, Dan Petry -- and Kirk Gibson, a football player from Michigan State that Lajoie sneaked into a Tiger Stadium workout that paved the way for Gibson turning down the NFL for a Tigers contract.

Lajoie, with his eye for nuance as well as skill, understood how to turn those gifts into gold once he became Jim Campbell's successor as Tigers general manager. He and Sparky Anderson, then the Tigers manager, not only needed a chokehold closer for the bullpen in 1984, Lajoie understood they needed a defensive replacement at the least appreciated defensive position on the infield, first base. It is why Dave Bergman was included in the whopper, world championship-clinching trade at the end of spring training that brought Guillermo Hernandez and Bergman to Detroit.

It was a trade made entirely by Lajoie that sealed the most astonishing start to any professional sports season in Detroit history -- the dreamy 35-5 sprint that entranced all of Motown as it spun on, day after day, victory after victory, one moment of disbelief followed by yet another moment of baseball improbability.

Lajoie did it. And he did it because he was able to see in other players what he had the courage to also see in himself: strengths and weaknesses and how they could determine, at critical moments, a championship player as opposed to one who would end a game with a grimace and acceptance that he could not triumph when the pressure was greatest.

That's why Lajoie had such a revealing habit during his days as a talent evaluator, and later as Tigers GM. He would sit in the stands and watch opposing players take batting practice.

He would observe them around the cage, note how they approached their at-bats, how they mixed with teammates, even at the most inconsequential of moments.

It was a window into what he could expect from that player in the eighth or ninth inning of a one-run ballgame.

Lajoie was a genius at identifying who had the ability to wipe pressure from his psyche, who had the mettle to put their bat on an 0-and-2 slider with a man on second and a single needed to tie the score.

He could see it because he, in fact, was not quite able to be that kind of player. Imagine the courage it took to admit that he was a tad shy there -- that for his amazing cerebral understanding of the game, he wasn't quite skilled enough, or as impervious to pressure as he would have wanted to be, to handle such an assignment on baseball's grand stage.

He came within a whisker of playing in one big-league game. The Baltimore Orioles called him up 50 years ago when Hank Bauer was their manager. Lajoie dressed for the game. He was in the dugout.

He was ready to break into the big leagues.

A few minutes later, Bauer gave him the word that the Orioles had just made a roster move -- that morning. Lajoie was headed back to the minors.

And in a piercing way, in a way to which so many of us could relate, he was almost relieved.

What he didn't quite understand that morning was his other calling. He was a brilliant baseball man whose skills were overwhelmingly tilted toward scouting.

Eventually, he came to understand just that. And ultimately the Tigers came to be the beneficiaries of Lajoie's extraordinary insight as a scout and evaluator.

An anecdote:

It was July of 1975. I was a kid sports writer who had been able to get a press pass to the 1975 All-Star Game at Milwaukee. Lajoie was there, as Tigers scouting director. He was asked a question: Who would the Tigers have at the All-Star game the following year?

Lajoie answered, instantly: Ron LeFlore. It was a bold statement, given that LeFlore, at that time, was barely a year out of prison and striking out a great deal as a Tigers center fielder.

A year later, LeFlore was batting .300 and had a 30-game hitting streak in his hip pocket. He was elected starting center fielder for the 1976 All-Star Game.

Of all the baseball people Detroit has handed us through 100 years, Lajoie was the most important you've probably forgotten about.

He was the 1984 Tigers. He was the man who put them together, who finished off the last world-championship baseball club of our experience.

lynn.henning@detnews.com


From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101228/OPINION03/12280421/Bill-Lajoie-was-a-master-at-evaluating-talent#ixzz19TtNV4fYkuF


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PostSubject: Re: Longtime scout, executive Lajoie dies   Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:59 am



Last Updated: December 28. 2010 9:07PM
Bill Lajoie: 1934-2010
Bill Lajoie was unsung hero of Tigers' 1980s teams
Tom Gage / The Detroit News

He could be gruff, he could be tough -- but most of all, at what he did, he was excellent.

Bill Lajoie died in his sleep Tuesday. He was 76.

At the time of his passing he was a special assistant for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since his years as general manager of the Tigers, he'd been a special assistant for many major league teams — because far and wide, his baseball knowledge was appreciated, his wisdom helpful.

But it was as the general manager of the Tigers in the 1980s — the 1984 team winning the World Series and the 1987 team getting to the postseason with an outstanding last-week run to the wire — that Lajoie made his most indelible mark.

His accomplishments often came without much public acclaim, because Lajoie wasn't a public person. But after being an outfield prospect earlier in his career, then rising in the front-office ranks of his hometown team, he recognized talent, he knew talent -- and especially knew how to apply the finishing touches to make a team complete.

"I roomed with him for 10 years in Lakeland," a saddened Tigers manager Jim Leyland said over the phone after learning of Lajoie's death. "He was a great teacher for me.

"We'd sit there and talk baseball, hours on end. I would write a lot of it down because he really knew the game. And he really knew talent.

"But his greatest knack was finding the pieces that completed the puzzle."

It used to be said that Lajoie could find players under rocks — meaning exactly what Leyland said: He found players that completed the puzzle, whether it was Ruppert Jones in 1984 or Bill Madlock in 1987.

"I'm really going to miss him," Leyland said, "because as I'm recalling those days now, I can't help but think about how much I learned from him."

Leyland was a manager in the Tigers' organization for much of the time that Lajoie worked for the Tigers. At the end of the day, they'd sit in Fetzer Hall in Lakeland and not only talk about baseball strategy, but about players as well.

"He could be stubborn," Leyland said, "and I can be that way, too. He would say, 'You're keeping this guy,' and I would reply, 'No, I'm not' — but he would have the last say, and, you know what, he was right."

The gruff side of Lajoie was just that — gruff and tough. He'd bark at reporters for asking questions he either couldn't or didn't want to answer. But there was a much softer side to him.

All you had to see was how emotional he got when Lou Whitaker signed one of his multi-year contracts to realize how much the Tigers' players meant to him.

But, again, he didn't always get the credit he deserved. In 1987, for instance, when the Tigers had indeed sprung what Kirk Gibson called "the biggest bear trap of all time" by catching and passing the Toronto Blue Jays in the final week, Lajoie — to some — was overlooked.

Detroit News columnist Jerry Green, in fact, tapped Tigers president Jim Campbell on the shoulder while the Tigers celebrated in their clubhouse and asked if he'd forgotten to give Lajoie sufficient credit during a postgame interview.

Campbell exploded with rage, getting into an argument with Green in Sparky Anderson's office while champagne flowed just outside the door.

Anderson and Lajoie could not have been more different, of course. But they understood each other, stayed out of each other's way, and respected each other.

Last month, following Anderson's death, Lajoie said over the phone, "I'm glad you called because there's something I want to say that I've never said before. Sparky Anderson was the best manager I've ever known from the seventh inning on.

"With the game on the line, he was outstanding."

And Lajoie, at his job, was outstanding as well.

But that's quite a group that is together now talking about those great Tigers teams — Ernie Harwell, Sparky and now Bill Lajoie.

All of them gone in one sad year.

tom.gage@detnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage


From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101228/SPORTS0104/12280418/Bill-Lajoie-was-unsung-hero-of-Tigers--1980s-teams#ixzz19Tu3quIm


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