Peters missed Mantle, but little else

When Mickey Mantle was a high school senior in Commerce, Okla., in 1949, his class made a trip to St. Louis.

While there, Mantle was to work out with the old St. Louis #F Browns. A man who worked in the Browns' farm department at that time -- Hank Peters -- still remembers the day.


"It rained," Peters was saying at the monthly J. Patrick's sports luncheon, "and Mantle didn't get to work out for us.

"Can you imagine what would have happened if it hadn't rained? If we'd seen that guy for five minutes we would have signed him."


That would have been great for the St. Louis Browns, of course, and good for the Baltimore Orioles as well. The Browns were sold to Baltimore people and became the Orioles in 1954.

It would have changed a lot of things if Hall of Fame immortal Mantle, who died of cancer Sunday at 63, had played his career at Sportsman's Park and Memorial Stadium.

But scout Tom Greenwade saw Mantle -- it must not have rained that day -- and signed him for the Yankees. The rest is history.

Hank Peters, who was general manager of the Orioles from 1976 through 1987, is a treasure of baseball intelligence after nearly a half-century in the game.

It would not be accurate to say that the soft-spoken Peters is underrated as a baseball executive. Twice he has been chosen the game's Executive of the Year.

It was Peters who, as general manager of the Athletics under owner Charley Finley, put together the great Oakland teams that won three straight world championships from 1972-1974.

Peters was the GM here when the Orioles went to the World Series in 1979 and again in 1983, which was the last time the Baltimore team has won anything.

It was ludicrous when owner Edward Bennett Williams fired Peters after a couple of non-championship years and hired Roland Hemond in his place.


By no means was Peters finished, however.

He became the general manager of the Cleveland Indians and, along with the assistant GM he brought from Baltimore, John Hart, built the club that now has the best record in the majors, the team that is playing the Orioles here through tomorrow night.

Peters retired two years ago and returned to live in Baltimore. Hart then went on to advance the Indians even further by bringing in free agents such as Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez, both of whom were with the Orioles in Peters' Baltimore days.

"Hank showed us the way," says the magnanimous Hart, who himself is up for Executive of the Year now.

In an age when people believe pennants can be bought, Hank Peters knows better. His track record proves that his way -- which used to be the Orioles' way -- works.

"The first thing it takes," Peters told the luncheon audience, "is an owner with patience.


"When Dick Jacobs interviewed me for the Cleveland job, I told him, 'Look -- I'm 63 years old. I was just let go in Baltimore. I only plan to work another four years, and, if you hire me, we probably won't win any championships. But I believe we can lay the groundwork for a championship team.' "

Replied Jacobs: "Run the club as if you own it."

That was the smartest thing he and his brother, Dave, could have done.

Peters did not go out and acquire big-name, high-salaried free agents to plug a gap here and there. That would not have been the old Orioles' way. "We poured our money into scouting and development," Peters says. "We hired scouts. We expanded the farm system. It was the only way to go.

"In a short time, we signed 16 players who are now either with the Indians or playing elsewhere in the major leagues. And we signed selected free agents."

The Indians began to turn the corner when Peters plucked Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar from San Diego's farm system for Joe Carter. They pulled a steal when they traded catcher Eddie Taubensee to Houston for Kenny Lofton.


On the club currently playing the Orioles at Camden Yards, nine players are up from the farm system.

Today Cleveland is the envy of all baseball. It has a multi-talented team that appears to be championship-bound plus new ballpark, Jacobs Field, for which the Jacobs brothers contributed $10 million and did not get a sweetheart lease like the one the Orioles have here.

"Why don't more teams do it the way Cleveland did?" Arky Vaughan asked at J. Patrick's.

"Because," said Peters, "most owners are reluctant to turn all that responsibility over to someone else."

That's a familiar story in today's baseball -- the owner who acquires millions through his business and then assumes he is qualified to run a ballclub, too.

"What do you think of the way the Orioles are going about it?" asked Buck Ward.


The answer was vintage Hank Peters.

"Oh, I'm not on the inside there," Hank said. "I'm not around every day to know what goes into the decision-making. It wouldn't be fair for me to comment."

Comment or not, Peters had made his point.