GM dealt O's into winners

Executive built farm, made moves that started run of titles

Harry Dalton 1928-2005

October 24, 2005|By MIKE KLINGAMAN | MIKE KLINGAMAN,SUN REPORTER

He walked in off the street 51 years ago, a young Korean War veteran seeking work with the fledgling Orioles. Though he never played organized baseball, Harry Dalton landed a small front office job for $45 a week.

It was one of the smartest moves the club ever made.

Dalton, who died yesterday at 77 of Parkinson's disease at his daughter's home in Scottsdale, Ariz., helped sculpt some of the Orioles' greatest teams. He worked his way up to general manager and ran the franchise in its heyday, from the 1966 to 1971 seasons. During that time, Baltimore won four American League pennants and two world championships and played to a winning percentage of .603.

Those who worked for the young GM said it was an honor to be part of "Dalton's Gang," as the Orioles' brass was known.

"Harry was smart and demanding, but with no ego. He passed out responsibilities but wouldn't micromanage you," said Lou Gorman, the farm director who went on to become general manager of four other clubs. "He was great at extrapolating our opinions, distilling them and making a final judgment."

Chemistry was Dalton's trademark, off the field as well as on.

"Everyone in that office was alert, on his toes and knew where he was going. Nobody was ever `dumbed down.' That's the management style I copied from Harry," said John Schuerholz, the Atlanta Braves' general manager, who began in 1966 as an administrative aide in the Orioles' farm department.

Said Schuerholz: "Surrounding yourself, as he did, with talented people who are even more hard-charging than yourself is how organizations grow."

In 1970, after the Orioles' World Series victory over the Cincinnati Reds, Dalton was named Major League Baseball Executive of the Year.

A native of West Springfield, Mass., Dalton graduated from Amherst College in 1950. After a three-year service hitch, he moved to Baltimore and joined the Orioles, who had just relocated from St. Louis.

Hired as assistant farm director, Dalton, 25, immersed himself in baseball, moonlighting as a cabdriver to make ends meet. In 1961, he took charge of minor league operations. Five years later, he became GM.

"Everyone kind of knew that, sooner or later, Harry would be general manager," Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson said. "He was just a little brighter than everyone else."

Dalton was a shrewd trader, was a tough negotiator and had a keen eye for potential. As farm director, he oversaw the development of budding All-Stars such as Jim Palmer, Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, Davey Johnson and Andy Etchebarren.

Scouts, Dalton said, were the other sets of eyes that he could not do without.

"He was a good judge of talent, but more than that, he was a good judge of those who judge talent," said Bob Brown, then the team's public relations director.

"Harry believed in his scouts," said Etchebarren, the Orioles' minor league catching instructor. "But he could read players' personalities himself. He had a knack for knowing what was in their hearts and which ones would put the team first."

In Dalton's first four years of running the farm, the Orioles' minor league teams won nine pennants. In 1964, they had the best collective won-lost percentage (.565) in baseball.

"Harry shined in his overall knowledge of building a team from the bottom up," said Frank Cashen, an Orioles executive from 1966 to 1975.

As general manager, Dalton's first move was to pry Most Valuable Player Frank Robinson from Cincinnati, in exchange for pitcher Milt Pappas and two throw-ins.

Dalton's predecessor, Lee MacPhail, had laid the groundwork for the deal, the most important in Orioles history. In 1966, Robinson won the Triple Crown and was named MVP of both the AL and World Series.

Two years later, Dalton made his boldest move, promoting coach Earl Weaver to manager. It seemed an odd marriage: Dalton, the reserved executive, and Weaver, the fiery field boss. Nonetheless, Weaver led the Orioles to the World Series three straight years (1969 to 1971) and ran the team for 17 seasons en route to a place in Cooperstown.

"Harry was level-headed and I was hotheaded, but we got along fine," Weaver said. "I knew my place. He was the boss, a Hall of Famer at what he did."

Dalton swung two other crafty deals, acquiring pitchers Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson in 1968 and 1970, respectively. Both rebounded from losing seasons with other clubs to become 20-game winners for the Orioles.

"Having [Dalton] in the front office was like having Earl [Weaver] on the field - you didn't get out-managed or out-general managed," said Boog Powell, the former first baseman. "The talent in Harry's trades might have been equal, but he would end up with the better guy."

That savvy also surfaced during contract talks. Dickering with Dalton could be difficult in the pre-agent 1960s, players said.

"In 1968, I held out for an extra $500," Brooks Robinson said. "Finally, Harry left the room for 10 minutes and told me to `think it over.'

"When he came back, I said, `Harry, I deserve that $500.'

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