BALTIMORE -- Syd Thrift, a former general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent nearly a half-century in baseball, died at 77.
He underwent knee replacement surgery Monday in Milford, Del., and died that night, said the Baltimore Orioles, one of many teams for whom he worked. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause o f death.
A drawling Virginian with a garrulous nature and endless font of baseball stories, Mr. Thrift brought a fresh eye to evaluating baseball talent and building teams. Although none of his teams reached the World Series and he was a combative figure who left many jobs in anger, his ideas had a strong influence throughout the game.
He helped found a forward-looking academy for training future big-league players in the 1960s, but he enjoyed his greatest success as general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s. He engineered a dramatic turnaround that led to three first-place finishes in the early 1990s -- but before then, Mr. Thrift had been fired.
A key to that turnaround was giving Jim Leyland his start as a major league manager.
Leyland, now manager of the Detroit Tigers, said he talked to Mr. Thrift about two weeks ago. ``We were talking about the team," Leyland said. ``He'd see all the games.
``He was the first one to give me a chance."
Mr. Thrift's long baseball career began in 1949 when he joined the New York Yankees' minor league organization. In 1989, he returned to the Yankees to be their senior vice president of baseball operations.
He worked in the Orioles' front office for eight seasons after joining the team in 1994. Five years later, he became the team's vice president of baseball operations, a job he held until 2002. After leaving the Orioles, he consulted for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays until his retirement in 2004.
``He was an innovator. He wasn't afraid to take a chance," said Mike Flanagan, now the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. After Mr. Thrift left, Flanagan and Jim Beattie shared the vacated role.
``It took two men to replace me," Mr. Thrift joked at the time.
Flanagan, a broadcaster and pitching coach with the team while Mr. Thrift was in the front office, said, ``Syd worked at a lot of different places for a lot of different teams, and did a good job at it. He had a very interesting personality. He was colorful."
Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo recalled Mr. Thrift's enthusiasm. ``Win, lose or draw, he was always trying to come up with new ideas and new things," he said. ``He just had a lot of energy toward those goals. He was relentless trying to get it done."
Mr. Thrift lived in Kilmarnock, Va., and was hosting a syndicated radio show at the time of his death.
He leaves his wife, Dolly, sons Jim and Mark, and five grandchildren.
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